Why Do Some Professional Boxers Not Wear Headgear?

Last Updated: 07.12.19

 

Even though choosing a pair of Everlast gloves for boxing is not something you can go wrong with, what about headgear? Time and time again, this topic has been one of the most debated in the world of boxing. Should professional boxers start wearing it or should amateur ones wear it less?

Despite the differences in the two types of boxing, headgear is still a very important item on both their agendas, as it really separates people into two camps. If you’re feeling a little bit curious, keep reading to find out more about how the world of boxing looks at this issue.

 

A little bit of information

For many years, headgear was mandatory for amateur boxing as it was considered one of the best ways of keeping the fighters safe. Pro boxing, on the other hand, is viewer-centric so the associations really care more about putting on a show for the fans and bringing in the money so they can keep doing what they are doing.

Not until long ago, amateur boxing federations required all their members to wear specified gear while professional ones did not. Actually, amateur fights as a whole have developed rules geared toward safety that you will not find in the pros. Headgear has always been an important part of this as people thought a little padding around the head can prevent the worst of it.

On the other hand, everything changed in 2013 when using headgear was also banned as a practice for the amateur fighters after studies had shown it really heightens the risk of concussions. While sounding counterintuitive, the theory states that, among other things, opponents don’t apply as much force if their adversary’s head is unprotected.

Headgear can also obscure peripheral vision and makes it harder for the person wearing it to see, especially when they are on the receiving end of a blow aimed at the side of the head. As we said, research has concluded that due to factors like the opponent using less force and the boxer being able to see better and dodge more easily, no headgear is the better way to go.

 

 

What about professionals?

Professional boxers do not wear headgear during matches, as these are the official international rules. The reason for this is simple and actually split into more than one argument: Pro boxers need to be seen and have their face recognized due to the amount of public exposure they get.

Also, the world of professional fighting does not pay as much attention to the athletes and instead opts to focus on the entertainment part of the show, so a broken nose or bruised eye will not matter as long as the viewers keep coming in.

On the one hand, think about it: Could the famous bouts have had the same impact if the boxers were wearing headgear that rendered them near unrecognizable? Imagine Pacquaio vs Mayweather without being able to see “Money” Mayweather’s smug look or the Phillipino’s intensity.

On the other hand, headgear was first introduced in amateur boxing as a way of increasing the boxers’ safety, so one could argue that the pro leagues care more about profits and less about veteran boxers possibly being unable to recognize their grandchildren when they grow old.

However, A.I.B.A. (International Boxing Association)’s research has concluded that concussions in amateur boxing near tripled when head guards became mandatory, so they may not be that accurate as a protection method.

 

What did the study say?

A.I.B.A’s study concluded that removing the padded headgear will reduce the risk of concussions for all male boxers. According to their research which was published online in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, the number of concussions decreased by more than 40 percent when head guards were removed from the equation.

However, one possible flaw that this research might have is the fact that it did not track concussions per se but it used referee stoppages in the ring due to head blows as solid proof for possible concussions, which is another thing entirely.

Another research focused on the 59 years of rule changes in amateur boxing and the long-term effects on boxers’ health. What it found was that referee stoppages because of the repeated head blows did indeed rise somewhere in 1984 when headgear was first introduced but has since stabilized and dropped to levels which are below the pre-headgear period.

 

Current situation

A.I.B.A. has now removed head guards in all Olympic-style men bouts and is strongly backing the claim that the safer approach is without using them. While not something that everybody was ready for, this does seem to have brought a positive change to the sport.

What was not positive, however, is the effect that this rule change had in the 2016 Olympics, the first ones where headgear was no longer being used. While male boxers did not have to wear it anymore, women were still not allowed to compete without it.

The hard-to-believe reason that A.I.B.A. relied on was that there was a “lack of scientific evidence” to point out the fact that women would also benefit from fighting without headgear just as much as the men would.

While this may simply mean that the Association did not care enough to implement female boxers into its study, the obvious case of sexism really rattled some nerves around the boxing world so it will be interesting to see how the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will pan out.

 

Critical evidence

Dr. Charles Tator, a neurosurgeon from Toronto Western Hospital in Canada, came out with the claim that A.I.B.A.’s research did not take into account the actual damage from being repeatedly hit in the head and only bothered to look at possible concussions. Boxing, he said, is about more than that so removing headgear simply based on concussions is not accurate at all.

It’s obvious that with boxers fighting with exposed faces, cuts, bruises, and bleedings become a lot more possible but that is simply the nature of the sport. One of A.I.B.A’s researches took 15.000 boxers into account, half of whom competed with headgear and the other half without headgear.

While trauma to the face was obviously more developed in the “without headgear” section, in the 7.352 rounds that took place, the rate of concussion was 0.38 percent, compared to the 0.17 percent for the boxers fighting without head protection.

We can thus understand that while the study about concussions might be completely correct, there are other educated opinions that argue that it does not take the whole spectrum of problems into consideration.

 

 

Conclusion

Headgear is a very hot issue in the world of boxing. While so-called “professional” boxers don’t wear it due to strict rules and monetary considerations, amateur leagues focus on other reasons entirely.

Even though head protection was once the staple of amateur boxing and one of the main differences when moving up to the pros, this is no longer the case. Fighters, at least male ones, no longers have their heads covered and this has led to some interesting debates, particularly regarding the female problem at the 2016 Olympics.

It appears that the rules will remain unchanged for women due to the belief that a woman boxer will not be strong enough to administer concussion-causing blows. It’s very likely that we might still see some changes as the next Olympics approach due to the tendency to treat both sexes the same way, especially in a sport where this is not a very important factor.

 

 

 

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