Do Helmets Actually Protect Fighters?

Helmets are universally known to protect the wearer from damage to the head, from the Football to hockey helmets are used widely and are accepted by the public as making sports safer for the athletes. Naturally one would say that having headgear would make the sport of MMA safe you know, less cuts, fractures and broken bones on the face, Right?

Well in my opinion as a fighter who has to compete in head for certain events, NO. THIS NOTION IS B***S***, I HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE WEARING THE HEADGEAR AND I HAVE SCIENCE TO BACK ME UP ON THIS. But first let me get to why I PERSONALLY despise the existence of MMA/Boxing headgear and almost never wear one, unless I have a fight coming up where I have to wear one in the ring and oh god the reasons. 

Most practically it blocks fighters vision with even the most minimalistic head gears out there and since its the shot you cant see coming that usually knocks you out, having your vision unobstructed is pretty F***ing important! Secondly, they’re uncomfortable as hell, it squishes your ears and face (not to mention it messes up your hair) and even if its not covered in sweat when you put it on, it most certainly will be when you take it off after the round is over and then, if your training, you’ll end up putting it back on with ti being drenched in sweat and lets hope your not using one that someone else just used. Not to mention that it is pretty likely to come loose and move around, hell sometimes completely come off, no matter how many times you adjust it or make it tighter, especially if your training in MMA or Muay Thai where a large amount of clinching and wrestling occur. Seriously headgear for combat sports is one of the most impractical pieces of safety equipment possible, especially for anything including grappling, I do not know a single fighter in any sport that would opt in to wearing headgear.

Seriously some fighters be looking like this (Source: Spaceballs)

Seriously some fighters be looking like this (Source: Spaceballs)

Now the most important reason why headgear is impractical and even dangerous is because it doesn't actually prevent head trauma like one would think it might actually make the head trauma worse. 

Headgear only prevents some superficial damage, cuts, fractures and broken bones, and even then if you have a pointy nose like me it can still get hit and potentially break. While this might make the sport a bit more digestible for some watchers, studies show that it can actually make the sport more dangerous and damaging for the athletes. A study released by the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine in 2017 on the use of head guards in amateur boxing tournaments

showed that the number of stoppages due to blows to the head was significantly decreased with head guards. I’ve linked the study at the bottom of this article if you want to read more in-depth into it, it's actually a pretty short document. 

The worst part is that headgear is mainly worn in amateur contests, so we're putting the new competitors in more danger than than the pros are from the start, pretty much just because we think helmets automatically make the sport safer due to our own intuition (which I find more and more is usually wrong anyway).  I can't tell you the amount of times I've been told by my parents that I would need to wear a helmet so I don't get hurt, I tell them that research points to them not being beneficial and I get this as a response.

Ok not exactly this but it's what I hear (Source: Spongebob Squarepants)

Ok not exactly this but it's what I hear (Source: Spongebob Squarepants)

But the good thing is that opinions are slowly changing, at least the opinions that matter (For once), Olympic boxing in the Summer 2016 games stopped using headgear, Though strangely only in the male competitions. Boxing Canada, the governing body for amateur boxing across the country, stopped using headgear in 2017, this isn't too surprising though as Boxing Canada is part of the Canadian Olympic Committee. But this change does not seem to be coming to other combat sports, when I was competing in Taekwondo we always trained and fought wearing the helmets and in amateur Muay Thai here in Canada everyone must wear a helmet for their fights unless they are considered “A class” meaning that they have 10 or more fights on their record, which is a lot for Muay Thai in North America. 

Overall, I’m happy to see that the committees are phasing out headgear from combat sports, but I feel like there needs to be a bigger push to get the word out there and spread the information and the dangers of wearing a helmet to people who think they are safe, like my parents, so that we can protect these athletes and their dreams.  


Use of Head Guards in AIBA Boxing Tournaments—A Cross-Sectional Observational Study (2017)