Does wearing headgear make you feel sheepish?
If you feel like a dork wearing headgear, you are not alone.
Sporting cauliflower ears, a broken nose, cuts, bruises, scars, busted jaws or having your eyes swell up so bad you can’t see, is also not a good look.
Headgear is necessary if you are sparring, fighting or boxing with a partner.
I am going to cover one important misconception regarding headgear, how headgear protects you, the different types and styles of boxing and MMA headgear, how to choose the best one for you, and finish of with a review of 16 of the best.
Should Wear Headgear?
Many were shocked to learn that male boxers in the 2016 Rio Olympics would not be wearing headgear.
The change came about based on two studies sponsored by AIBA Amateur International Boxing Association that implied not wearing headgear was safer than wearing it.
The studies and resulting changes to Olympic boxing, were conducted by AIBA, and some say the AIBA made changes for reasons of publicity and promotion, not boxer safety.
It should be noted that the two studies did not track actual concussions or injury; they tracked referee stoppages due to head blows.
Dr. Kevin Curley, with Winthrop University notes that the two studies are not peer reviewed and further study and review should be conducted before making such a sweeping change in policy.
The push to compel amateur boxers to wear headgear began in 1982, after a televised death of a South Korean boxer.
The pressure was applied by the American Medical Association, who wanted to ban boxing. From that point on amateur boxers were required to wear headgear until the AIBA changed the policy in 2013.
The AIBA is not a medical association. Logically they should involve medical professionals in this decision, right?
Neurologist Paul McCrory criticized the AIBA for changing the rules of amateur boxing to be more like professional boxing. He believes that changes should be made with guidance from international concussion groups and he says:
Recently, the AIBA removed its current president CK Wu for issues pertaining to rigged judging and financial mismanagement. Wu was replaced by Gafur Rakhimov, a man thought to have links to organized crime and heroin trade.
The bottom line:
Before you decide if you should wear headgear or not, carefully consider the source of your information.
Veteran boxing Coach of 40 years, Sid Kahn, believes amateur boxers should be wearing head guards and disagrees with the AIBA ruling.
How can Headgear Help Protect Your Head?
Reason 1, Your brain, like butter
Cyclists, Motorcyclists, Football players, Baseball Players and countless other athletes wear helmets or protective headgear of some type.
The answer seems obvious. To help protect the brain. I don’t care what the AIBA says, I am going to listen to the neurologists and experienced boxing coaches and wear headgear in the ring.
It is true that headgear alone can not completely prevent concussions, but that does not render them useless. In fact, this study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine says headgear will help reduce the risk of superficial injury and concussion .
Frankly, I think there needs to be more study of headgear and how it related to injury prevention, but until then, I will keep my helmet on, thanks!
Children may take longer to recover from a concussion than adults, are more likely to have a second concussion, after experiencing the first one, and the impact of a second concussion may be more severe for a child.
Reason 2: Your nose
Most boxers and MMA fighters can agree that your nose is at risk as you are sparring.
One kick or hit to the face can break your nose or damage the cartilage. If you do not take steps to protect your schnozzle, you may end up with one like Owen Wilson.
Reason 3: Your eyes cuts and swelling end a match
It seems so obvious, but if you are an amateur boxer, or you practice MMA for exercise and enjoyment of the sport, you probably are not willing to risk your face, your beautiful face, or your health, for the sake of the sport.
One cut on the face can end your match, not to mention scar you-possibly for life.
Facial cuts can be pretty serious because they tend to bleed- a lot. If you can’t get the bleeding under control, you may need to make a visit to the hospital for stitches.
Headgear can prevent many serious cuts.
In case you did not know:
Some boxers, not you or anyone at your club of course, have been known to sneak in a head butt. If you are not wearing a headguard, the head butt not only hurts like heck, but can gash open your forehead and really ruin your day.
In addition to that:
Repeated hits near the eye area can cause your face to swell to the extent you can not see.
Good headgear will protect your eyes.
Reason 4: Your jaw
I hate to even bring this up, because it is just so gross, but a jaw injury might be one of the worst boxing or MMA injuries you can experience.
A hit to the face can dislocate or fracture your jaw, or worse.
The first best protection against a jaw injury is to not get hit.
The second best protection is to keep your head down. That is why coaches are always saying “Keep your head down”.
The third best protection is headgear with a chin bar.
Headgear can offer some jaw protection, but as with all combat sports, your jaw is vulnerable, headgear or not.
I am not going to insert a picture here of a boxer with a broken jaw because I like you, and I don’t want to ruin your dinner.
Headgear Types for Boxing and MMA
Cage style headgear has a cage made of metal or hard plastic that covers the face area.
This is the least common style, and while it does offer a lot of protection, it can really limit visibility, so you may not see the punch or kick coming in the first place.
The Facesaver style of headgear has a bar over the nose, mouth, or chin which is designed to prevent injury. The facesaver is usually effective at protecting the face, but it does cause some problems.
The bar on the facesaver makes it challenging to see the floor, and of particular importance, it makes it hard to see kicks and knee hits coming up from the floor.
Some say the facesaver style is better for boxing than MMA. Others disagree. Does not matter, really, it is up to you to decide what works best for you.
This is the style of gear you get to prevent (hopefully) breaking your nose or injuring your jaw.
The Two Open Face Styles
Like the name implies, the face on this headgear is open. It may have cheek protection. It can be either Full Face or Mexican style.
What it does better than other styles allow you to see better. Facesaver style headgear has better visibility than other styles, but less face protection.
Most competition headgear is Full face.
Full Face Open Face Headgear
Full face headgear has an open face with some cheek protection at the sides. It usually has a chin strap to secure the mask, but no padded bars covering any part of the face.
Mexican Style Open Face Headgear
Mexican style open face headgear is similar to full face headgear.
The difference is that Mexican style headgear has larger cheek pads which theoretically protect the face, specifically cheeks and nose better.
What is the Difference between Boxing vs Muay Thai vs MMA Headgear?
Some say closed face ‘facesaver” style headgear for is better for boxing, while others think it is the best headgear for MMA sparring.
The reasoning is that the face bar on facesaver style headgear impedes downward vision, and MMA fighters need to see what is going on from the ground, and boxers do not as much.
Others think facesaver headgear is best for MMA because the face bars protect your face from kicks and elbows that occur in MMA fighting.
Ultimately, the choice is up to you, what you find comfortable and effective.
What to Keep in Mind before Choosing Headgear
The best boxing headgear for 2022 is built with what some manufacturers call “Three Point adjustability”.
Just what does that mean?
On full face and Mexican style headgear, there are three potential places you can adjust the headgear.
- The chin strap- this should be adjustable, ideally with a buckle and not Velcro because Velcro can lose its “stick”.
- The drawstring type lace at the top, or crown of the head. The best boxing headgear for 2022 has a drawstring like this that you simply cinch tighter to make the faceguard mold to your noggin.
- The back closure– it can be lace up, or Velcro. Large up is best, but it is not common, most use Velcro, and that’s OK, but it may lose it’s stick.
With these three points, you can adjust the headgear for a perfectly aligned, tight fit. So look for headgear with all three points.
Note: facesaver style headgear has the bar instead of a chin strap.
The headgear should be tight, even to the point of leaving impressions on your cheek, but not to the point of giving you a headache. Snug headgear does not shift, which means you won’t need to adjust it constantly as you are sparring.
Adjusting headgear is the last thing you want to do while sparring; it leaves you wide open for a hit.
Don’t worry if new gear seems snug. Using it, sweating in it, getting hot in it will break it in, and it will eventually conform to your face better than when it was new.
Visibility is best with full face style headgear because there is no face bar to obstruct your view.
However, visibility varies by maker, and by your face anatomy and shape.
Headgear is a very individual thing, and what works well for one fighter, may not be best for another, so you will likely try a few before finding your perfect headgear.
The best sparring headgear is made from real leather. There are some decent choices out there, such as the RDX headgear which is made from synthetic leather, that have good quality too.
It’s what’s inside that counts
The material that lines the inside of the headgear matters. Microfiber or some other breathable, moisture wicking, cooling material is preferred.
You do not want sweat to accumulate in the headgear because it can cause the headgear to slip and slide, which means adjusting, which means you are open to a shot to the face. Capiche?
Some really good headgear may not have a fabric lining. Some are leather inside and out. In this case, you may want to wear a Skullcap Helmet Liner which not only keeps your hair out of your face, but absorbs sweat and helps secure your headgear.
Competition or training?
This is easy. Either the gear is rated for competition, or it is not. If you are competing, even as an amateur, you may be required to use headgear that is USA boxing approved if you are in the US.
Companies usually make a big deal out of being approved, so it will generally say so in the product description. If not, you can assume it is not USA boxing approved.
Plenty of good headgear is not approved, so do not take approval as a sign of a superior product.
How to Wear Headgear – Getting the Right Fit
Line up the viewing window
Getting the right fit for your headgear starts with putting it on so the eye windows top edge is about ½ inch above your eyebrows.
Remember, as you are fighting, you need to keep your chin down, so do not place it so low you block your vision.
Next, tighten the chin strap
Then start tightening at the crown, using the drawstring lace at the top.
Finally, secure the back, so the headgear is quite snug. Be sure to press down hard on the velcro to make sure it is secure.
Top 16 Best Boxing/MMA Headgear Reviews 2022
1. Ringside SG-P Headgear
A high-quality model that offers a fabulous level of protection for your temples, cheeks, and ears. Your best friend for sparring sessions.
- Top-notch head protection. Uncompromisingly secure.
- Durable leather construction leads to enhanced durability.
- Thin and lightweight but a strong model.
- Unfortunately, USA boxing doesn’t approve this model for competitions.
- Chin strap might create problems if you don’t keep your chin down.
- Visibility issues.
We believe this is the best boxing headgear for sparring as it covers the lateral sides of your faces and prevents swelling when you get hit by a powerful hook or weaving overhand.
2. Contender Fight Sports Competition
This is a competition-approved model. It remains still even when you eat knees or elbows to the head, thanks to an awesome chin strap.
- Fair price.
- You can choose between three colors and three sizes.
- Good cheek and temple protection due to top quality impact dispersing padding.
- Good fit.
- No vision issues.
- Very resistant.
- You might have to stitch up the buckle strap after a month or two.
- Not good if you have bigger ears.
The best boxing headgear for competitions, everybody can afford it plus it offers an elite level of protection.
3. Twins Special Headgear
Twins is an outstanding and adjustable pick for a world-class sparring session.
- Made of 100% cowskin leather.
- You can choose between 4 sizes and 6 wonderful designs.
- A good field of the vision.
- It doesn’t feel heavy.
- Good quality.
- Mid-to-high price range.
- The sizing chart is weird, so pay attention.
One of the best sparring headgears, it decreases swelling because of enhanced cheek and zygomatic bone protection.
4. RDX HGR T1 Headgear
RDX offers a cage-style headgear with additional layers of protection for your chin, mouth, and nose. Your fears will be put to rest for sure, just purchase a mouthpiece and your teeth are 100% protected!
- Very resistant model, suitable for harsh training sessions.
- Robust shock absorption and maximized head protection because of compressed EVA-Lution Sheet. Fewer cuts and bruises, your face won’t be swollen.
- Adjustable thanks to the quick-EZ hook-and-loop strap.
- One of the rare models that allow optimum head flexion.
- Removable face grill.
- Four sizes and four designs.
- Lack of visibility.
This is the best Muay Thai headgear on the market. You can eat clinch knees over and over, but it won’t harm your teeth!
5. Cleto Reyes Traditional Headgear
Undoubtedly the best headgear for boxing, it offers good vision angle and an ability to eat very hard punches.
- Superb anatomical fit.
- Made of natural leather.
- Fabulous vision angle.
- Excellent hook and loop closure.
- Good level of protection.
- Eleven designs.
- Awesome mouth and nose protection.
- Strong leather smell.
This model costs a bit more, but you’ll pay fewer bucks to a doctor, it’s worth every cent!
6. Cleto Reyes Redesigned Headgear
The viewing window and face bar make it different from the model above. Still, it’s one of the best headgears for boxing and the pick of a complicated buyer.
- Eleven lovely colors .
- Awesome three point anatomical fit.
- Good mouth and nose tip protection.
- Made of natural leather.
- Potential vision problems due to a protruding bar, especially when you cover up and keep your hands near your face.
Wonderful model for stunning competition performance and superb face protection, great long-term investment, especially for ducking experts.
7. Winning Headgear FG5000
Winning Headgear FG5000 is designed for boxers because of softer padding, it is not recommended for kickboxing, Muay Thai or MMA.
- Adjustable chin strap and drawstring style for an excellent fit.
- Very light model.
- Made with faux leather.
- You can choose between four colors.
- Great vision.
- Very easy to clean, no odor.
- Very expensive.
- Only two sizes and please pay attention to the size chart.
- It might slip often because of vinyl inside.
If you believe that “protection has no prize”, then you’ve just found your perfect pick because the expense is way less than the long-term medical issues you might face. Oh, you’ll barely feel punches too.
8. Winning Headgear FG2900
The lightest model, but also the best boxing headgear for nose protection. It offers good protection, and chances of breaking your nose during sparring sessions or competition are reduced to a minimum.
- Adjustable strap for a better fit.
- Seven colors.
- This model is analogous to wearing a silk pillow on your head, world-class padding and impact absorption.
- Good for fighters with a larger nose.
- Great delivery time for a company located in Japan.
- Very expensive.
- Two sizes, but please pay attention to the size chart.
- Weak chin protection.
If you want to prepare for an upcoming boxing match throughout sparring sessions, this is your perfect pick. This model is made in Japan, and it is not competition approved, but it will keep your face!
9. Fairtex HG Headgear Diagonal Vision
Made in Thailand, it is undoubtedly the best headgear for Muay Thai.
- Great ear, cheek, and chin protection.
- It protects you against Muay Thai long-range strikes and elbows.
- Four sizes and six designs.
- Great peripheral vision.
- Adjustable model, secure fit.
- Reinforced with a special multi-layered, high-density foam core.
- It doesn’t slow you down when you trade shots inside the pocket.
- Mid-to-high price range.
This model is very suitable for all kinds of stand-up training sessions, and you won’t get hurt that easily.
10. Sanabul Essential Professional
Sanabul offers a real price/quality emperor. It’s a very cheap boxing headgear, but you won’t feel sorry after the purchase for sure!
- Five designs.
- Good fit, the former UFC 185-pound division champ, now famous analyst and podcaster Michael Bisping loves this model.
- This model doesn’t screw your peripheral vision.
- Solid padding.
- It offers full coverage of cheeks, chin, and head.
- You can use it for kickboxing, MMA, and other martial arts too.
- Adjustable due to secure Hook and Loop Closure System.
- Terrible mouth protection.
- It still hurts when you take a jab to the dome.
Protect your brain for very little money, don’t miss this opportunity!
11. Maxx MMA Headgear
Despite it is a very cheap pick, this is also one of the best MMA headgears for training sessions in the market.
- Super low price.
- Excellent visibility.
- Good head protection.
- One of the rare models that completely cover the back of the head, so you can enjoy ground and pound training sessions too.
- If your head is larger, go for it.
- It offers quality.
- You might face head straps issues quickly after the purchase.
This model can boost your ground and pound sessions to the next level, plus it is a great price/quality pick.
12. Venum Elite Headgear
Good ultra-light model for ducking experts, you’ll like it if you’re a counter-puncher for sure.
- Good visibility.
- Reinforced ear cover.
- You can choose between many various colors.
- Fair price.
- Triple density foam for maximum protection.
- Sizing issues.
- Ear alignment might be too low if your head is larger.
Fighters who like to counter opponents will love this model for sure.
13. Meister MMA Gel Headgear
Meister Gel offers a unique combination of comfort and protection, and it is among the best MMA headgears in the market.
- Very good shock absorption due to multi-layered Gel-enforced padding.
- One of the rare models that cover the forehead, cheeks, chin, and ears.
- Comfort emperor.
- Easy to take on or off because of super convenient rear entry.
- Excellent visibility.
- If you have a smaller head, it might not be the best choice for you.
- You might get sweat in your eyes during intense training sessions.
Meister Gel offers great protection for a fair price, an offer you can’t refuse!
14. Starpro Boxing Headguard
Starpro offers only two designs, but it is undoubtedly the best BJJ headgear, as it doesn’t slip while you roll.
- Very cheap.
- Made of PU-high tech artificial leather.
- Secure fitting thanks to PU hook and loop strap closure.
- An adjustable model that offers a decent level of protection.
- Made with breathable Korean inner lining, so no odor.
- Good choice of sizes.
- Good for conditional sparring but not suitable for hard punches, ears; mouth, and nose are wide open.
- It might obstruct your peripheral vision.
It’s also one of the best picks for beginners, as it protects the lateral side of your face from injuries (they usually prefer hooks over uppercuts and straight punches, and the protection is good on the sides).
15. Sting AIBA Competition Headgear
Sting offers a good model that keeps your head and lets it breathe during sparring or competition.
- Four sizes.
- Approved for competitions.
- Excellent shock absorption.
- Breathable model, equipped with Japanese Amara inner lining.
- Size chart is weird, please pay attention.
One of the best boxing headgears for competition.
16. ARD Champs AD-HG-39
This is a cheap model, made of high-quality leather art, reinforced with three layers of IMT Gel Integrated thick foam for maximum protection.
- High-quality removable grill means better head protection.
- Five different colors and four sizes.
- Great nose and mouth protection.
- Very comfortable.
- Breathable model.
- Good pick for MMA training sessions.
- Not recommended for ducking experts as it might slow your head movement down.
- Limited visibility.
Another price/quality king, you’ll get a great model for very little money.
Every headgear offers something great, and it’s time to summarize the most positive features.
Sanabul Headgear, Max MMA, and Starpro are fantastic picks if you don’t have too much money in your wallet, because the price/quality ratio is excellent.
Winning Headgear FG2900 and Ringside are awesome choices for fighters who target maximum protection during intense sparring sessions.
Contender Fight Series offers an affordable model for competitions.
RDX HGR T1 and Fairtex offer amazing picks for Muay Thai practitioners, headgears that protect you from dangerous knees and elbows inside the pocket!
But if you like to duck and counter-punch, Venum Elite Headgear and Redesigned Cleto Reyes will get the job done.
You’ll look like a real professional at the competition with Cleto Reyes Traditional Headgear, plus you don’t have to pay extra bucks to a doctor!