There have been questions and mixed feelings in our community regarding some Shuangjing Showdown 4 fighters competing without headgear and I'd like to address this publicly to clarify our position.
Firstly, the decision to make headgear optional for fighters was not done for aesthetic reasons. Removing headgear to make our fighters more "visible" does not help our fight event - not in terms of sales revenue, not in terms of interest. Our audience are standing only meters from the ring and aren't worried about better optics. Safety of fighters has to be the top priority. Without ensuring fighter safety, we simply cannot continue to attract competitors and put on more events. Business and organization stuff aside, I just have no interest in seeing my friends get hurt.
SAFETY AS A PRIORITY
After 34 Shuangjing Showdown fights we have documented one damaged ear drum, one fractured hand and one concussion, a record I consider satisfactory considering the nature of our sport. Thank you to Puhua Hospital's medical team for always being there to tend to fighters at our events. A big reason for the lack of injuries is no doubt due to our large gloves. Rather than competing in hard 12oz amateur competition gloves, our fighters wear 16oz training gloves which I maintain must be foam injected and sufficiently soft to prevent lacerations. So with a strict "exhibition level" glove policy in place to ensure safety, why then offer flexibility as it relates to headgear? Because headgear may not be safe.
THE ANTI HEADGEAR ARGUMENT
Headgear for amateur boxing was introduced during the Olympic games in 1984 as a response to growing public criticism of boxing safety. In 2014, the AIBA (International Boxing Association) announced that it would be banning headgear from adult male competitions worldwide, starting with its elite male fighters. Today, headgear is being banned at all male competition levels around the world, with an AIBA mandate to remove headgear from all male and female adult boxing competitions and children's competitions by 2018.
Their reason comes from two studies published in 2013 by the AIBA and the British Journal of Sports Medicine, both of which found that headgear not only doesn’t decrease the chance of concussions and lasting brain trauma in fighters - it increases it.
FROM FIGHTLAND: In the AIBA study, Charles Butler, the chairman of the association’s medical commission, studied 15,000 boxers, half of whom had competed with headgear and half of whom had competed without. He found that in the 7,352 rounds that took place with boxers wearing headgear, the rate of concussion was 0.38 per cent, compared with 0.17 per cent in the 7,545 rounds without headgear. The study found that headgear’s protective padding can cause extra jarring to fighters’ heads, give them a false sense of security, and make it more difficult to see punches coming, all of which can lead to brain damage.
"There's no evidence protective gear shows a reduction in incidence of concussion," Butler said. "In 1982, when the American Medical Association moved to ban boxing, everybody panicked and put headgear on the boxers, but nobody ever looked to see what the headgear did."
SOURCE: Male Olympic Boxers Will No Longer Wear Headgear, FIGHTLAND
ADDITIONAL READING: Fighters safer without headgear - AIBA chief Wu, REUTERS
ADDITIONAL READING: Discussion of the use of headgear in Amateur Boxing, AIBA
ADDITIONAL READING: Olympic boxers move to no headgear amid safety fears, THESTAR.COM
THE PRO HEADGEAR ARGUMENT
On the other side of this debate, there are people in boxing who simply don’t believe this research is accurate and want further studies to be done. Coaches call the move counterintuitive. Amateur fighters who prepare for fights by sparring in headgear feel unsafe and vulnerable without it. There are also amateur boxers and coaches who prefer to keep headgear in competition because it helps prevent cuts.
FROM THE RECORD: The Associated Press reported that seven fighters developed significant cuts during the first three days of the U.S. Olympic trials (without headgear) in Reno, NV. Three boxers were cut so severe that they were forced out of the tournament.
SOURCE: Headgear debate leads to split decision for boxing, THE RECORD
SOURCE: Headgear remains contentious issue in amateur boxing, THESTAR.COM
ADDITIONAL READING: Pros, cons of boxing headgear remain matter of debate, THESTAR.COM
HEADGEAR AND SHUANGJING SHOWDOWN
Amongst the fighters, coaches and gyms participating in Shuangjing Showdown, there is a divide. While the majority of those involved with Showdown fights insist on using headgear, there are those who agree with the AIBA, cite their research and have stated they do not feel safe wearing it. Because I can see arguments from both sides and want to create a fair and comfortable playing ground for competitors, we announced that headgear at Shuangjing Showdown 4 would be made optional, a choice to be considered carefully between fighters and their trainers. As a result, 7 fighters chose to compete on May 28th without headgear and 13 chose to fight with headgear (one fight featured a mix of headgear vs non headgear). Thankfully, there were no clashes of heads and no cuts reported.
This brings us to our one serious injury, a knocked out fighter who chose to compete without headgear. Would headgear have prevented his knock out? I don't know. He was hit with two consecutive right hooks to his jaw line. If one is to believe this study, because of how he was hit, headgear would not have made a difference. The aforementioned study shows that while headgear offers benefit against straight punches, it offers no benefit against rotational punches such as hook punches.
SOURCE: Study Shows Headgear Does Not Lessen Impact From Hooks
ADDITIONAL READING: Getting Knocked Out: A Brief Explanation
ADDITIONAL READING: Boxing and mixed martial arts: preliminary traumatic neuromechanical injury risk analyses from laboratory impact dosage data
Of course that knock out was bad news and if we never see another one at our events that would be fantastic, but the medical team handled it correctly and the injured fighter has returned to his regular life. He's been asked to avoid any head contact for at least 6 weeks as a safety precaution and avoid any sparring for 2 months pending clearance by his doctor.
So where do we go from here? After an extensive discussion with the Showdown Fighters and coaches, the group remains one of mixed opinions. It seems this will take the boxing world a little more time to figure out and we’re awaiting new AIBA and IOC research to be released leading up to the next Olympic games.
In the meantime, our pro headgear members have argued that it’s an unfair advantage to have one person not wearing headgear, as removing headgear makes the head a smaller target. As such, the agreement we have reached for the next Shuangjing Showdown is as follows:
At MATCH UP SPARRING (an open sparring to determine potential opponents, typically held 7 weeks before the fight date) when potential fighters sign up, they will be given four options to choose from:
A) I will fight in headgear and my opponent must wear headgear.
B) I will fight in headgear and my opponent can wear headgear or not.
C) I will not fight in headgear and my opponent must not wear headgear.
D) I will not fight in headgear and my opponent can wear headgear or not.
By providing these options, we aim to satisfy both sides of the headgear divide and ensure an even playing field for all future Showdown competitors.
Thank you for reading. I hope this letter addresses some of your questions and concerns about this topic and I’m free to answer any questions about it you may have. I've included further links below for those interested in researching more into this topic. This is by no means a closed discussion. I don't profess to be any sort of expert on head injury and am open to suggestions and alternatives, which I'd be happy to then take back to our community for further discussion. Should anyone have anything else they'd like to share on this topic I'm available by WeChat @JamesOliver or can be reached by email here.
Thanks for your time, happy training.
James Oliver, Shuangjing Showdown Organizer