Head Guards Ditched to IMPROVE Safety?

by Fran on February 7, 2015

I never thought that I would be penning an article with that headline.  But, here I find myself, searching for reasons, understanding and clarity on why this recognised piece of boxing personal protective equipment has been tossed into Boxing 101. Just like a poorly fitted head guard, something just isn’t sitting right.

Boxing and Head Guards – A Brief History

For those who don’t know, a head guard is a moulded helmet that a boxer can wear. There are various sizes and shapes available, all providing varying levels of protection and varying levels of practicality during use.  Head guards are used in both amateur boxing and professional boxing. They are viewed as an absolute necessity in both codes when boxers are engaged in sparring but in competition the professional fighters have never worn nor will ever wear head guards. The amateurs on the other hand have used them for quite some time.

In the amateur code, head guards were trialed during the 1984 Olympics and were made compulsory not long after. Even on a personal basis, I remember head guards being made compulsory when I was a competing boxer, it was a very difficult transition. The practicality of head guard design back then was less than considered, so constant readjustment, limited field of view and general discomfort were an accepted bedfellow of donning the head guard.

Since their introduction though, head guards have been subject to improved design and are now accepted by most as a visible and necessary part of our sport. Which is why when amateur boxing’s governing body (AIBA) announced that along with a host of other rule changes (including the termination of computer scoring in favour of manual judging), the use of head guards in AIBA Open Boxing (AOB) would be discontinued.

I was very surprised at this decision, as were many of my peers. What surprised me most was not necessarily that the decision to discontinue the use of head guards had been taken, it was the reasons and rationale for making the decision. Likewise was the way the decision have been taken alongside a host of other rule changes, all of which had the potential to significantly change the way in which amateur boxing was perceived and the way it was executed, that would make it difficult to assess the impacts of the decision.

The Rule Change and Where It Fits In

At this point it might be helpful for me to provide some context in relation to this rule change. The discontinuation of the use of head guards is in place only for Elite boxers, that is boxers between the ages of 19 and 40 and who complete in competition at national and international level. For women’s boxing the head guards stay. For all other levels of boxing (from the ages of 11 to 18) the head guard rule remains in place...for now.

The rule change then, alongside all of the other rule changes, applies to all competitive programs that are run by AIBA. There are three programs that fall into this category:

  • AIBA Open Boxing (AOB) – All recognised competitions that we traditionally associate with amateur boxing e.g. The Olympics, The World Championships, the Pan Am games, the European Championships, the Commonwealth Games and all other multi-nations tournaments.
  • World Series of Boxing (WSB) – This is an ‘almost’ professional standard (in a league-type format where a boxer participates for a team) that allows elite amateurs to perform in professional-style competition and still be eligible to compete at the Olympic Games.
  • AIBA Professional Boxing (APB) – similar to WSB with a series of bouts over a defined period to establish a world champion.

The key distinguishing factors between AOB and ‘the other two’ now is that in AOB a vest/singlet needs to be worn and the number and duration of rounds are fixed at 3 x 3 minute rounds. AIBA state that these are known as 'competition rules' and can be different for each competition, whilst head guards, scoring, refereeing ‘style’ etc. are known as 'technical rules' and should be consistent across all competitions. Sounds reasonable enough, doesn’t it?

For the Good of the Fighters

So why after 30 years have AIBA decided that head guards should be dropped for elite competition? The core reason stated by AIBA is that since their introduction, there is evidence to suggest that head guards have increased the number of concussions suffered by amateur boxers during competitive matches.  This surprised me because I felt that the majority of people ‘in the game’ accepted that head guards were designed to reduce the risk of cuts, not reduce the power of punches coming your way.

In reaching their decision, AIBA cited 3 research studies that informed their deliberations. One of these studies was undertaken by a group of independent researchers and was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and was titled Amateur Boxing in the Last 59 Years.  This research examined the outcome of almost 30000 amateur boxing bouts and looked at any correlation between key rule changes and the result of premature endings to contests, be it by KO and or by referee stopped contest (RCS) decisions by injury, head shots or being outclassed.

The research paper is a very interesting read and pulls out a host of conclusions. In relation to the use of head guards though the finding is very clear:

“…the head guard will not be mandatory in international amateur boxing from 2013.  It will be important to monitor this change, not only to see if the number of KO and RSCH (headshots) increases, but also to see if the number of RSCI (injury) increases due to cuts. Our figures would predict that KO and RSCH will remain the same but RSCI will increase.”

This is basically saying that there is an expectation that without the use of head guards the number of cuts/facial lacerations suffered by boxers will increase, whereas the number of knockouts and stoppages should remain the same.  That makes absolute sense to me given that my 100% conviction is that head guards help prevent cuts, but the power of incoming shots is not reduced in any way whatsoever. It is glove design that affects punch power.

Interestingly, nowhere in the study does the word ‘concussion’ occur, only the far more sinister sounding phrase Chronic Traumatic Brain Injury; my guess is the latter is noticeably worse than the former. I assume that the statisticians who undertook this study could not identify from the records whether a boxer suffered concussion or not. This would have required a check by a doctor on every occasion of a stoppage and a consistent record being written. The likelihood of establishing a statistically valid outcome would have been limited. That's the kind of rigour that is applied during proper scientific studies, sticklers that they are!

But what about the other two research studies, both undertaken by AIBA Medical Commission? I’ve not been able to find any published output from these studies, only some supporting statistics provided alongside a statement made by Dr Charles Butler, Chairman of the AIBA Medical Commission:

“After collecting data on some 15,000 boxer rounds, Dr. Butler found that in the 7,352 rounds that took place with boxers wearing headgear, the rate of concussion was 0.38%, compared with 0.17% per boxer per round in the 7,545 rounds without headgear.”

I cannot particularly challenge what is being stated by AIBA here because I cannot find any published background to the studies that they completed. It seems to me that the premise that AIBA are using is that their research has stated that head guards increase the risk of concussion. This confuses me, especially in light of the findings of the published independent research.

Maybe AIBA have looked at other sources of data to come to their conclusion, sources of data that allow them to identify historically in which bouts boxers suffered concussion and in which bouts concussion was not a factor. Unfortunately without access to the study we cannot glean the information we need to develop an informed view.

What it all means

My views here can be summed up in a simple list:

  • I find it pretty much impossible to agree with the stated rationale for the removal of head guards in AOB competition. Without access to the details of the AIBA-led study my concerns will not go away. I would hate to think that getting rid of head guards was purely for image purposes, especially given my next point.
  • Discontinuing head guards in AOB will result in a significant increase in cuts suffered by boxers. ‘So what?’ you might justifiably ask.  Well, an amateur boxer at elite level can expect to box 5 times in as many days. A cut suffered in the first bout may be manageable for the remainder of that fight. Managing that same cut over subsequent days and contests will be extremely difficult, that’s assuming that the boxer will pass the pre-fight medical examination.
  • Cuts suffered in amateur boxing competition have the potential for a much greater impact than cuts in the professional code. If a pro fighter suffers a cut in the days leading up to a fight then the fight will be cancelled. During the fight it’s likely that all but the most severe cuts can be dealt with. The next fight won’t be made until the cut heals unlike in top level amateur boxing. This means that the ultimate premise of a boxing championship being "may the best man win" is at real risk.
  • In my opinion, the risk of boxers in an amateur contest suffering cuts is greater than that of boxers in the pro game. I believe this because the speed at which amateur boxers ‘come together’ is much greater than the professionals, and therefore the likelihood of heads coming together is likewise increased. Our game is based upon explosive movement in and out, with great intensity for the full duration of the bout. The professionals have time to be more considered and control the pace of the fight. We fight with real intensity because we only have 3 rounds in which to 'display our wares.'
  • If the primary reason for removing head guards from competition is the increased risk of concussion, why do they remain in place for women’s boxing and junior competition? Seems a bit of a contradiction to me. Some might say that younger people don't hit as hard. Well, Mike Tyson won the World Heavyweight Championship at the age of 19. This might suggest that that assumption is anything but black and white!
  • I understand that modern sports have to compete for our attention, and that the marketing of the sport is a real challenge. However, I become concerned when commercial influences come to bear to the detriment of the boxers. This is an occasion where I fear that this might be the case.

There are a host of other rule changes that have been implemented by AIBA. Head guards are the most visible, but by far the most influencing and profound to how our sport works is the change from computer scoring to the manual 10-point musts system in play in the professional code.

That’s for another article though…

I look forward to your comments below.

Cheers

Fran

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

john April 9, 2016 at 10:48 am

Hi ,

My son Daniel was boxing at a novice amateur event last year suffered bleed on brain which has resulted in him losing part of his skull ,seemingly i am being told amateurs would be better wearing heavier gloves as this reduces risk of damage ,also not convinced head guards removal is good idea ,any thoughts or imput would be appreciated .

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Fran April 10, 2016 at 8:36 pm

Hi John

I’ve sent you an email.

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Liam March 21, 2016 at 12:16 am

You guys are all wrong. The sparring helmet i got was the soul cause of my head injury. it totally messed with the way my head took the blow,. You speak of things you know nothing about its disgusting.

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Fran March 29, 2016 at 8:21 pm

Hi Liam

It’s a shame that you received a head injury, I’m sorry about that. To be fair though, I’ve been around boxing long enough to earn the right to an opinion and that opinion is based upon experience. I worked hard and took time to write what I believe to be a balanced article, but if you disagree that’s fine. In terms of your injury, did the neurologist definitively state that your head injury was caused by your headguard or was it made worse by your headguard?

Cheers

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FrancisG August 16, 2015 at 7:55 pm

My take on this is very simple. We’re putting headgear with masks on Little League baseball players (not a contact sport), yet we’re heading down a slippery slope in the opposite direction with regards to headgear in amateur boxing. Another issue: if this insane change filters down to junior level, good luck getting parental approvals, and forget about family doctors signing off on the annual medical releases. In short, participation will plummet!

Francis

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Fran August 16, 2015 at 10:35 pm

Couldn’t agree more Francis, we’ll see what direction AIBA take on this.

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Liam March 21, 2016 at 12:17 am

Youre wrong. The head gear GAVE me a head injury. i was fine getting hit without it, as soon as i got this bad helmet i got a head injury, you don’t know that of what you speak.

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Ivan March 17, 2015 at 4:38 pm

This could be a relevant example of the head gear not doing much good to light heavyweight monster Sergey Kovalev:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ULtn1mnbPI

The year is 2008, Abbos Atoev from Uzbekistan had no idea how scary Kovalev was and his southpaw left hook put Kovalev down and out through the head guard. In fact the head guard may have helped Atoev surprise Kovalev who apparently did not see the shot although it was a long hook.

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Fran March 24, 2015 at 9:15 pm

Excellent.

To be fair Ivan that is a fantastic back hand hook. The slip added to the power. Not convinced that the head guard mattered, that shot would probably have dumped Kovalev regardless of head gear. Class 🙂

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alexander March 17, 2015 at 9:50 am

Hi Fran, sorry to return to this subject. But this subject came up at a recent competition. Thought it might have some merit.

> Just had a few weekends of amateur boxing – observing at least 400 bouts – I would say. And it seems this new scoring system (10/9) is encouraging boxers to go ‘hell for leather’ from the word go. Not ‘toe to toe’ stuff, but a lot of impressive ‘mid-range’ stuff, swing, swing, ‘pomp pom’, not lacking in skill I add. Clearly, boxers, coaches, are realising aggression will most likely be the deciding factor. Precision striking, and back foot countering won’t win anything, unless ‘master class’.

> Arising from this – I would say – there was quite a number of tko’s, not that these losers were knocked down or badly stunned – just taking too may strikes to their ‘headguards’ – kind of parrying and blocking with a ‘gloved head’ you might call it – and off course in amateurs that amounts to, not able to defend yourself. A couple of these counts and you are out of the ring. Maybe these should be called ‘brain savers’ – and a ‘red card issued – with their club – coaches ordered to ‘resit’ their Coaches Badges. Ie, on teaching boxers how ‘to guard their heads’ and how to ‘block, slip, and parry incoming shots, with their hands and footwork. Not to mention being shown a a video of what happens to the brain when the head is jarred.

> There was also a number of cut/split ‘eye brows’ – and not all of these were limited to those without’ head guards’. And there were a lot more ‘black eyes’ than I can ever remember, before, and in particular to those wearing head guards. Might this have to do with air pressure, to the eye socket, I wonder. In like fashion as they say about air pressure damage, rammed up the ears aided by the guards. With a lot of the boxers fighting twice in ‘one day’, or over ‘two days’ maybe I just noticed ‘black eyes’ more-so.

Or is this back to this debate that the total use of ‘headguards’, legislated for, in training, sparring, is producing a new generation of lax ‘head bangers’. Which might tie in with what I say above, about a surprising lot of ‘mid range’ swingers. Ie, and ‘head guards’ being used like a gloved third hand. Offered up to the opponent, to feel out, lead, block, and parry with the heid. Yes we had them in the old days but, without HG’s they didn’t last long. Cracked eggs like cracked heads.

Nope, this current points sytem, and lack of understanding of getting your head out of the way, or palming off – incoming ‘fist missiles’ is going to ruin amateur boxing as a recreational sport, if not careful. Not that I have the answer, but ‘reassessing the target areas, points of the skull, and thereafter penalising punches ‘off target’, or not defending them, along with a revised scoring system may have some possibilities.

But then what about ‘head guards’ are they the main problem. Are they encouraging boxers not to react naturally to head shots, by masking pain, and accordingly not respecting and learning the skills, and reflexes to ‘avoid them. Should HG’s be banned from gyms. And if you are taking head hits in competition, not able to defend yourself, why call it a tko, why not call it ‘incompetence’. And if there were a proper grading system, grade the boxer down and if they continue like that, bar them from competition. With right of appeal by demonstration – to a coached board.

Cheers Fran

Alexander.

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Fran March 24, 2015 at 9:12 pm

Hello Alexander

Nice to hear from you and my apologies for the delay in replying, insanely busy couple of weeks.

Fact is aggressive boxing is going to be given the nod, based upon the principle of dominance. In terms of the stoppages it depends on how the referee views the bout. If the stoppage is marked as ‘outclassed’ then no further action is taken. If however the bout is stopped due to ‘head blows’ then it is likely that the boxer will receive a 28 day enforced rest period. Usually the latter sees the ref count to 10, but not always.

I’ve never really subscribed to the view that boxers are more content to take head blows if they have a head guard than without. If the boxer is the type to not be particularly bothered by head blows (take one to land one) then my assumption is that the head guard is largely irrelevant in their consideration. Most boxers do not want to get punched in the head, head guard or not.

The change in scoring has led to more aggressive boxing, more intensity and therefore more potential for injury. Us coaches are simply being pragmatic and changing the tactics applied (unless we have guys who can outpunch opponents whilst moving laterally and on the back foot.

More of a concern for me is the relaxation of the rules with respect holding and rough house up close. I consider myself a proponent of coaching classical amateur boxing. Because the fact that referees are allowing holding to take place I must now consider whether I need to show the boxers some of the more ‘sharp’ practices and snide pro tricks (head, forearms, elbows etc.) I fee pretty sad about that actually, but I genuinely feel that I am being painted into a corner. The ‘professionalisation’ of the game to what end I don’t know.

Thanks for the thought-provoking comment Alexander, always welcome.

Take care

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John March 8, 2015 at 10:39 am

Hello Fran
I remember asking you this very question regarding headguards not long after the rule came in as it seems to me that there’s no sense in it. I believe the decision has been based on commercial reasons rather than anything to do with health. If headguards decrease concussion then surely the boxing authorities are being reckless with the health of women and boxers under the age of 18 by not allowing them the protection of NOT wearing a headguard. It doesn’t add up scientifically or ethically. Why is the health of a boxer aged between 18 and 40 more important than the health of women and boxers below the age of 18 which is what this decision seems to imply. Concussion is concussion regardless of age or sex. The evidence has more than likely been cherrypicked to justify a decision that seems based more on marketing and commercial interests of boxing rather than the long term interests of the boxers. Could it be to help make the transition easier for those boxers who go professional? Still love your site Fran and it remains the best boxing, health and fitness site on the internet bar none.
John

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Fran March 12, 2015 at 9:27 pm

Hello John

Yes I recall your question. There does appear to be a real contradiction here and my personal opinion is that there may be some commercial considerations at play. Let’s remember too that AIBA have their own ‘professional’ code that they are eager to promote. It’s genuinely confusing and indeed along with the discarding of computer-scoring it was a ton of change to pile in all at once. Interesting times.

Thanks for the comments and the kind words John, I really appreciate it.

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Dan Lucas February 9, 2015 at 6:07 pm

Every coach and official I’ve talked to at my local level thinks headgear is a good thing for young boxers. My question is, if we disagree with AIBA, on this or anything else, what can any of us do about it? The consensus seems to be that if we want to compete in the Olympics we have to go along with whatever AIBA decides, no matter how we feel about it on a local level. There’s no democracy in boxing.

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Fran February 9, 2015 at 9:37 pm

Understood Dan. Maybe at the lower levels AIBA will allow the choice rather than impose an approach, although I’m not convinced. They have basically stated that female and junior boxers do not hit hard enough to warrant the removal of head guards. That said, I’ve seen some pretty destructive 15 and 16 year olds!!!

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Alexander February 8, 2015 at 2:14 pm

Hi Fran, good subject, nay crucial. All I will say is, when I was a boy, before ‘focus mitts, and compulsory head guards’, we done a lot of extreme ‘open sparring’, bare head, no guards, often using ‘big gloves’ , 16oz or more – and I must say, usually horse hair lined, little foam, if any. And I must say that it taught you to keep your guard up, as you were more sensitive to any hits landed, and felt it.

The exception to this, were the ‘professionals’ who always wore HG’s, when a fight was pending, in fear off having to ‘call off’ because of cuts – usually to the eye brow or cheek fractures – and to keep and maintain the ‘promoters’ favour. Very much to the point you make Fran. And what of Henry Cooper who lost all too many fights due to his ‘cut eyes’ – even having one young Cassius Clay ‘rub salt in’ – when Clay (Ali) was saved from Enery’s hook, off his backside, by his corner men, who elongated the one minute break, by calling out that Clay’s Glove was split. I know, I was there, Arsenals ground, and but for ‘soft brow’s, HC might have been revered even more than he is/was in England.

To another point, hope I don’t scare you. When I retired, I had a ‘part time chauffeurs’ job with the local Undertaker for a while. And I say with all due reverence, to make ‘a serious and meaningful point’, that I had to visit a lot of mortuaries across the country. And I saw l lot of deceased people with the ‘tops of their heads off, and brains removed’ , as part of the important process of an autopsy. And even an untrained person like myself, could see that the thickness of peoples skulls can vary quite considerably. By sex, age, and even ethnicity from – in my estimation – roughly around a ‘quarter of an inch to an inch or more’. Any Medic want to correct me.

This used to make me think. Having been dropped once, by a blow to the temple, I had always been very protective and evasive of punches to my upper head, as I felt I had a thin skull. Whereas other ‘ring mates’ seemed to be able to withstand any blows to their head, with no outwardly signs. In fact ‘lead with their heads’.

But being blunt, it is obvious that with ‘head together’, and viscous fluid in place, the shock absorbing of each and every individuals head, is highly variable. We have all this stuff about ‘shock absorbing’ of gloves, and avoiding hand damage – but – less said about skull/brain cushioning. So maybe all Boxers should get ‘skull thickness tests’, not kidding. Easily done these days with ‘ultra sound’ – and then be aware of their degree of risk to ‘head blows’.

So, in my opinion, I say, that from a Sport Perspective, Head Guards’ are essential. But that should be conditional on certain rules. And perhaps optional. For one I think current HG’s are not ideal, affecting visibility, restricting throat often, overheating the head, and hygienically questionable – especially when shared. So they should be personal, and tailored to each individual within certain standards, and points should be deducted for leading, or parrying, with the head. But how do we discourage the ‘HG wearers not to become careless over head blows’. And maybe the new rules go quite a way to achieving that.

Finally, if children and women, have thinner skulls in general, as I say, than the ‘thick head’ males, HG’s for them should be mandatory. Having said all that guys, I am a hypocrite, as I prefer to go ‘commando’. Touch of risk and skill, bit like when I was ‘rock climber. But, definitely not for any of ‘my off spring’!

Cheers again Fran. And thanks for raising a very important issue, which is perhaps most relevant to the amateurs and unknowledgable, mums and dads who are sending their kids in good faith to the affiliated Boxing Gyms.

Alexander.

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Fran February 9, 2015 at 9:35 pm

Excellent. Thanks Alexander, a really different angle on this.

The ABA of England (as was then) was the last governing body to bring in head guards. In 1991 it was optional (unlike north of the border). I opted not to wear one. In fact, I fought in Carlisle against a good kid who entered the ring wearing a head guard.

Long story short, having spent the first round pinging head shots off him like a pinball I returned to my stool. A few seconds after sitting down I heard the crows exalt an “Ooooh” and witness my opponent’s head guard fly across the ring. It was a moment of “That head guard caused me to lose that 1st round, now watch this.” The 2nd round was a carbon copy of the 1st!

I suppose the point was that I preferred boxing without the head guard at that time. My biggest fear now really is the potential for dropping head guards across the board. This is not something that we’ll be able to manage very well. I just hop that it’s optional and I’m pretty sure that regional governing bodies will retain them.

Alignment with the pros feels like a real driving force here, especially given that AIBA have their own ‘pro’ code. We shall just have to wait and see.

By the way, the skull thickness debate is a very interesting one even if the origin is a little macabre 🙂 A varied background you have Alexander!!!

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Alexander February 10, 2015 at 12:09 pm

Thanks Fran, aye skull thickness, I maybe should have said, the walls of the ‘Cranial Cavity’, that’s scalp, skull bone, and inner lining which carries all kinds of vessels, meninges etc. In which the brain rests, cushioned, in the cerebrospinal fluid (soup), which feeds and sustains it. Just a cavity, not unlike the thoracic cavity, rib cage, in which our heart lungs etc bounce around.

Throwing Punching is an ideal exercise for the ‘thoracic cavity, great for heart and lungs, blood. Especially for auld folks like me. But receiving punches to the brain cavity is something else. Knocks to the head, or sudden jerks, can cause a trauma, shock to the system, and amnesia, memory loss, momentarily or, longer. A knock down, or out, concussion. Too much of that and there will be along term affect. (I think of it more as a vascular, or sudden blood surge that knocks your organs haywire – like standing on the garden hose, and you get a big surge that may burst the hose).

So sensible boxers, try to make sure thy do not get hit on the head, that’s what I like about boxing, the skill and honed eye to hand, to foot coordination. And then to contradict that, bash your opponents head, try to cause a trauma there, when its only sport. That is the problem, of course – the human phenomenon – how cruel we are when necessary, rationally or irrationally – we do seem to love a fight. How can that be fun?

Which brings me to this new 10 point scoring system. As I have said before, its all too easy for a lazy judge, to think ‘there wasn’t much between 2 boxers at the end of a round’. And if no penalty points have been deducted, on the basis that you cannot call a draw, and cannot give a 10/10 – they must plonk for 10/9 in favour of whom they thought ‘commanded the ring’. But unfortunately, from what I have observed, they translate thin into giving favour to most aggressive boxer or chaser.

This unfortunately, poses a dangerous threat to ‘safe boxing’, and encourages ‘unsafe bruisers’. For instance, I have watched, and admired, very classy skilled boxers, run rings round chasing sluggers, off the back foot, with hardly any punches landing, or being thrown. And as far as I was concerned, although there wasn’t much in it, the classy boxer was the master of that ring, but it always goes the way of the aggressive, maybe artless bruiser.

Ok the classy boxer maybe should be stepping up more, going toe to toe for a while, in every round. But there are (only) 3 rounds, and they are entitled to pace that accordingly, use a battle plan, tire the ‘strong man’ out, match his effort, or do enough not to lose the round. But when judges are forced to give decisions, not call evens, on the basis above, there is going to be no place for classy boxers, or intelligent 3 round tactics. Or for boxers, using their heads to think with, and guarding their brains – safe boxing – and losing crucial rounds – regardless of their superior defensive skills, ring craft, and not being aggressive.

At least, under the old system, only technically correct punches arriving on legitimate target areas, counted. Not counting wide barrages, of widely flailing shots, cutting free air, or being parried. Lets hope for amateur boxing this 10 point system is scrapped,or elaborated upon. These AIBA Rules, seem to be arriving, as if from inside a Trojan Horse, and with no discussion. Who and where is/are the AIBA based? Much of a commercial approach’ I think, and not looking necessary helpful, to grass root amateur boxing clubs. Pro’s better watch out! Any way, keep ducking and slipping, and good luck to AIBA.

Fran, I promise not to submit anything else for a while. Maybe I took too may hits on the thin Cranial Temporal (temple) bone, in my time. That’s the part lying over the gnostic or auditory section of the brain, affecting spoken, or written words. My friends call it ‘punchy’ due to my boxing associations, but the doctor just calls it ‘old age’. Yehhha

Cheers Fran, Alexander, switching off, for a while.

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Alexander February 11, 2015 at 2:17 pm

Said I wouldn’t say any more. But reading comments again. I would think there are more KO’s or minor vascular traumas, due to unguarded chins – (a torsional force to neck blood vessels, brain jar, and top spinal vertebrae) – with or without head guard. And surely, headguards, do cushion, the temple, to a degree. As with body shots, which can bring about a delayed, drop. Amazing to watch (ouch, sorry).

And don’t forget the human body/physiology, is a wonderful thing. So it is geared to cope with most of those traumas, and despite what they say – can heal within reason. The ‘black out, trauma, shut-down’, is, the body protecting itself. And usually, psycholocally, mentally, the person will have a think about his place, and relationship, with boxing.

But that’s the problem, the person, and sadly I have known a couple of young champions, on TV at times, who started losing badly, taking straight KO’s, but kept saying ‘you get used to it’. I couldn’t believe it. Thankfully for them, the promoters dropped them, as did the medical officials – and the referees who didn’t let them box on. Good on the system there.

But one very much neglected medical aspect of the amateur boxing gyms, going on under the radar, is to do with the subject of ossification, and youngsters. And especially ‘boot camp’ coaches, whose approach is macho brutal, and who often who have never actually boxed. Ossification, being to do with ‘bone development’ and growth. Using a very general figure, most children and young adults bones, are not fully developed until they are around 14 to 16 years of age. This includes, the bone plates forming the skull which need much time to fully knit together. Enough to say they are working these children too hard, and not giving them enough breaks and respect. Hydration is another major issue with children, they need more drinks when working out. Worth, for Coaches to bear in mind.

The thing I have liked about this rhetoric Fran, is that no one is actually crying out to ban boxing, or to condemn the officials – just – I think trying to understand it better, the dynamics, psyche, physical, and the risks, limits, along with the safeguards.

So keep feeding us the boxing skills, ring strategies, and boxer analysis, as you do, from jab, jab, to boom, boom.

Alexander.

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Fran February 12, 2015 at 9:58 pm

Look forward to the next comment Alexander. I will be putting an article together on the scoring system in the next week or so, we do have a very different landscape again and there are obvious pros and cons. Really appreciate your contributions, you take care.

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Ivan February 8, 2015 at 12:09 pm

Hi Fran,
Most of us can not imagine boxing without head guards and it sounds like heresy to the amateur coaches that I know. For one thing, I have not seen or heard of one professional boxer who spars without a head guard. No one makes pros and their coaches use head guards, yet all of them spend their money on a number of sophisticated helmets of different design and material. Would they trade cuts for concussions? So much for the medical or sheer common sense behind the headpieces.

My own view is against using head guards in competition. Amateur gloves are big enough and the guard is a target in itself. It makes you exaggerate some defensive moves like slips and ducks. You have to protect the head guard itself because a glancing shot that would have missed your head narrowly catches the head guard and becomes a point against you instead of a countering opportunity for you. When the head guard almost comes off as a result of such a shot, you have to back off and adjust it, it looks like a distress signal and creates the impression of damage. It is distress, you have to worry about the head guard and it is damage, it’s damage to the helmet and a distraction from your game.
The specifics of wearing a head guard have influenced boxing tactics and have altered amateur boxing style more than anything else except the computerized scoring. These two factors, head guards and misleading electronic punch counting, have systematically stifled classic amateur style. Computer scoring favored single long range shots and head guards blocked peripheral vision in close quarters especially when you sidestep, slip, weave, etc., anything that removes you from center axis. Flurries were overlooked or even scored against the aggressor due to a single last shot from the opponent. As a result boxing almost turned into fencing with gloves – from deep defense to a single strike or two from long range and back into the woods. I have to cut my rant from getting too protracted, so

Cheers and take care.

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Fran February 9, 2015 at 9:22 pm

Hey Ivan

I hope that you are well and thanks for the comment.

Amateur boxing is very different now from years gone by. Interesting that since headguards and computer scoring, US boxing (at both amateur and pro level) has struggled to produce the kind of excellent fighters that we had become accustomed to seeing. I wonder whether over the next 10 years we will see a resurgence? An interesting angle. One thing for sure, the Cubans will be top dogs regardless of headguards, scoring or any other change that AIBA implement!

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Matt February 8, 2015 at 9:49 am

Hi Fran.

This is a very interesting article and a subject which particularly intersts me as I have been following recent research into the dangers of sub concussive head traumas. To which end and in partial defence of the literature, I would have to agree that the removal of headguards could have a brneficial impact upon the number and severity of concussions suffered in the sport.

Before I explain why, I think it is important to clearly define what a concussion is, as the definition of concussion has come under much revision in light of this recent research, and I believe that it’s applications are somewhat misleading in determining the subsequent pros and cons of removing headgear.

One of the potential difficulties in measuring the impact of headgear on incidence of concussion is the difficulty with physiologically determining whether or not a ‘concussion’ has occured.

But what is a concussion? Traditionally indicated as a head trauma in which the subject exhibits consistent symptoms, i.e. headache, nausea, blurred vision, dizziness and/or unconsciousness, the incidence of concussions have usually only been noted in incidence and severity of these symptoms.

However, neurologists are now arguing that the neurological effects of head trauma (i.e. brain injury), which is the significant factor, can and do occur without any noticeable symptoms in the subject. Therefore many more concussions and hence brain injuries go unreported and unnoticed because of the absence of symptoms, but the neurological damage exists nontheless.

Why is this significant? Well, given that studies have shown that it can take up to three weeks for the brain to heal after any head trauma (these including any one subconcussive blow to the head), in a fight or sparring match even, a fighter could sustain multiple minor brain injuries, feel no ill effects, and participate again the same week incurring more multiple brain injuries before the previous ones have healed.

Not only do existing brain injuries – even minor ones – increase the risk of sustaining further brain injuries, but there is significant scientific evidence to show that it is the accumulation, not the severity of blows to the head over many years, which can and does lead to long term brain damage, impaired cognitive function and, neurolgical diseases such as dementia pugilistica.

What does this have to do with headgear? Well, firstly, I believe that headgear limits peripheral vision, crucial to a fighter’s ability to perceive punches coming and move their head to lessen the impact of the blow, if not avoid it altogether. Thereby reducing short term brain injuries.

Furthermore, because the mechanics of brain injury are the whiplash effect of the force of a punch causing the inertia of the mass of the brain (which moves at a different rate to the skull), to crash into the skull, thereby scarring brain tissue causing brain injury, it has been suggested that headgear itself makes the head ‘heavier’, and therefore the whiplash effect of a blow to the head is more severe, again increasing the risk of brain injury.

The more research postulated, the more apparent becomes the simple truth, in the words of an American neurological consultant – ‘There is no way to make a sport safe for which the objective is to cause brain injury.’

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Fran February 9, 2015 at 9:17 pm

Excellent. A very welcome different angle on this.

One of the issues Dr Butler put forward was (paraphrasing) “I’d much rather boxers suffer cuts than suffer head injury and in years to come be walking around like a vegetable.” I could not agree more and I am not for a moment suggesting that a medical professional who has dedicated his career to the sport would act out of anything but the welfare of the boxers.

From what I can tell you appear to be stating that a) with head guards a boxer’s peripheral vision is restricted and therefore they will take more shots and b) the additional weight of the head guard might increase the potential for trauma when shots do land.

I can understand this position. The problem I have is that there is an awful lot of ‘might’ and ‘maybe’, and that’s fine. However, because of the change from computer scoring to manual scoring (the latter will absolutely result in higher volume punching and full on aggressive contact) we have lost any ability to truly quantify the risk.

There will be more cuts. The counter is that there will be less brain injuries of a type that we do not really notice but the affect of which might manifest in years to come. Conundrum. Making that ‘sell’ to jobbing coaches responsible for the well being of youngsters, and indeed to the parents of potential new entrants to the sport, is going to be tough!

I must admit, your comment has offered real food for thought, and I thank you for that – it’s very much appreciated Matt.

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Justin February 8, 2015 at 9:06 am

I still box and coach I think the removal of head gear spoils the skill factor and precision of boxing. If a boxer is losing a contest I fear foul play on the boxer and the cornerman coming into affect.
I feel the whole amateur code has changed to be in line with pro boxing, the big difference here is a pro boxer will get paid to recieve his lumps, we as amateurs do not. It’s a real shame to get rid of the headgear as headgear represents us as amateur. I have not gone boxing or coached boxing since these changes..

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Fran February 9, 2015 at 8:56 pm

Agree, Justin, although it’s a shame you’ve not gone back to the gym. There is a groundswell of opposition to this so I wonder whether there could be a ‘bottom up’ change forced back on AIBA. They are however not known for being driven by grass roots, a bit like FIFA!

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Will Abercrombie February 8, 2015 at 8:46 am

I don’t care what their research studies say (I very much doubt the validity of them anyway), head guards reduce the risk of head injury, anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that, the complete removal of head guards is on the agenda over the next few years. At that point amateur boxing will cease to exist in this country, parents will be very reluctant to allow children to box without them. I wont allow my children to compete when that happens and they will pursue full contact kickboxing instead with head guards.

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Fran February 9, 2015 at 8:54 pm

That’s a key concern for me Will, the perception of the degradation of safety. It feels contra to the way the World is and I must admit it feels like a big risk to take in terms of entry level boxing.

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pug February 8, 2015 at 3:34 am

Totally agree Fran. I forwarded a submission through my PSO to our national body in 2013 using virtually the same reasoning to no avail. Since then it has come to my attention that the study cited/conducted by Dr. Butler was not a ‘peer reviewed study’. I’m from Missouri, show me the details. Further, I believe it is a specious argument to begin with. That is to say, no one is arguing that headgear prevents knockouts by blows to the face/chin. However, if you watch any number of knockouts occurring in pro boxing you will see an increasing number occur from blows to the temple area, not the face, which is a well padded area of regulation amateur headgear. I can attest that a good headgear saved me from being knocked out from a blow to the temple during a bout. I believe it also has a mitigating effect against double concussions from a boxer who is knocked out or down and hits the back of their head on the ring floor. It appears that the underlying rationale for the removal of headgear was to make Olympic style boxing more exciting. That is, to create more blood lust and give it a more ‘pro style’ appearance. From the accounts I have read it is said to working. Never mind about the welfare of the boxers. Just make it more crowd pleasing. To confirm other comments I have also heard that the talk is now of removing headgear for all competitive boxers. No indication whether it will be restricted to elite/open boxers or include novices as well. Given the controversy over the past few years in other sports, ie. soccer, hockey, (North American) football, etc. and the move to better constructed helmets, tougher rules and better medical care of athletes, it that seems (Olympic) boxing, which is already opposed by various Pediatric and Medical Associations, is going in the opposite direction. Not a great way to win over parents to our sport. Notwithstanding that, from an elite competition standpoint, as you point out, it is completely wrongheaded. I am given to understand that under strict monitoring of cuts during bouts, where one boxer is unable to advance because of a cut the opponent will also be removed from the competition, effectively removing two boxers who could potentially have taken home a medal or won the competition. In my opinion, this is completely asinine reasoning and is bound to create a backlash from countries whose boxers are removed from competition for an unintentional headbutt that results is a competition ending cut for the other boxer. Headgear, construction of gloves, competition uniforms helped set amateur boxing apart from pro boxing as a relatively safe contact sport. If in ain’t broke….

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Dave Waterman February 8, 2015 at 8:46 am

Pug, your comment regarding the removal of the boxer from competition where his/her opponent cannot advance due to a cut isn’t entirely correct. Under the new AIBA rules (since the removal of head guards) where a boxer cuts an opponent due to intentional or illegal use of the head and that opponent cannot continue, the offending boxer must be disqualified. That seems an entirely appropriate approach.

When wearing head guards I believe that boxers are able to largely disregard the coming together of heads due to the protection provided. Their removal requires the boxer to be more careful when up close and a result of this is cleaner, more precise work.

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pug February 9, 2015 at 5:28 am

Dave,

Pardon my cynicism but it is semantics, in my opinion. It is relatively easy to see how the rule could be misused intentionally or in haste due to the pressure on officials to deter head butts and enforce the rule. There is a fine line when it comes to a referee’s interpretation of what was or was not intentional. Particularly at the Olympic level where referee incompetence and corruption is not unheard of. Yes? The result is the same.

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Fran February 9, 2015 at 8:51 pm

Agree with pretty much everything there Ric, no more to add. Believe it or not, I’ve actually read one or two comments where people are stating that it’s down to us coaches to adapt styles to reduce the number of cuts. Still mulling over how we might achieve that one!

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Dave Waterman February 9, 2015 at 10:00 pm

Fran, I’m going to be controversial now and say that in part I agree that it’s the role of the coaches to adapt styles to prevent cuts. The fencing, single head shot strategy that proliferated amateur boxing during the computer scoring era came about as a result of strategic changes implemented by the coaches, so why not in this instance?

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Fran February 9, 2015 at 10:06 pm

🙂

So my ‘path of least resistance’ tactic mate, tilt your head very slightly forward so that your head goes into their face rather than vice versa. Feels like a race to the bottom doesn’t it mate, bit like the private sector view of the public sector union movement – you know the argument, we sold our rights down the river so corporations could squeeze every last penny out of us, so why shouldn’t you lot!

Freaking hell, I better put that soap box back under the stairs.

To be honest mate, maybe the styles will naturally adapt so that the initial proliferation of cuts will settle down. I do hope so.

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Sean Tynan February 8, 2015 at 1:26 am

The NFL in the US recently changed the design of the helmets to be looser. So, as a result you saw the helmet fly off a lot more this season during a tackle/contact which was expected but deemed worth the risk . There may be something to the stats driving such decisions . Then again, stats will tell whatever story you want them to tell.

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Fran February 9, 2015 at 8:48 pm

Indeed Sean. As they say there are lies, damn lies and statistics!

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Dave Waterman February 7, 2015 at 11:51 pm

I agree that AIBA’s recent raft of rule change is too much, and confused by their own standards (the recent professionally licenced coaches can be/can’t be in the corner a prime example), Fran.

I will have to read the independent research on the effectiveness of head guards to engage with you further but my gut feel remains that this is a good thing (gut feel based on observation and a perception of the rapid assimilation of amateur boxers with regard to this change).

But this is an excellent discussion point, mate. One which is worthy of any of the best boxing fora and entirely at home here on your site. Let the discussion continue.

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Fran February 9, 2015 at 8:47 pm

Thanks mate. I knew that the hardcore, practising boxing people would get their teeth into this one. I’ve the basics of an article on computer scoring prepared too that I’ll post of the next week or so. At least I understand the reasoning for AIBA taking that course of action!

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Dave Waterman February 7, 2015 at 10:53 pm

Hi Fran,

The rule changes being implemented by AIBA are fast changing and confusing. I volunteered at the recent Scottish Novice Championsips and the Intermediates and a level of confusion existed among some of the officials and many of the club members.

However, with regard to the removal of head guards for elite boxers, I have to agree with AIBA’s decision. Like your good self, I boxed without head guards as a young participant and struggled with their implementation. They slipped, restricted vision and caused the boxer to disregard his guard in order to right his head gear. Of course, since then the design of head guards has improved enormously and AIBA are very particular about what is certified as suitable (as with gloves).

But I fail to see what head guards achieve other than the prevention of cuts around the eyes (as you agree) and believe a thin layer of foam over the cranium is unlikely to prevent concussion (as you agree too). Observation of the recent Olympics and Commonwealth Games demonstrates that knock outs in amateur competition are a rarity now and, unless we argue that there has been a fundamental shift in training, this must be due to the glove design for amateurs.

I think AIBA have made a mistake in their presentation of argument based on studies of concussio, but I still believe the removal of head guards to be the right way forward.

In the Commonwealth Games, the first major tournament where we witnessed the removal of head guards, we witnessed a problem with cuts affecting competition (I discussed this with Richie Woodhall at the Games *name dropper* and he agreed that the boxers were used to coming together and there being no unfortunate outcome as a result of a head clash and it resulted in cuts). But since then AIBA have changed the rules regarding head clashes to balance this.

In the most recent national competitions I’ve seen the elite boxers have adapted well to the removal of head guards. Cuts are few, knock outs almost non existent (supporting the glove design argument) but defensive skills have improved.

That’s my take Fran.

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Fran February 7, 2015 at 11:17 pm

🙂

Thought you might say that Big Dave.

In terms of glove design, I don’t believe there is anything else to add to what you say. Amateur boxing gloves have long been designed to limit KOs and that’s fine, they do it well. Likewise head guard design has improved significantly and I simply don’t see the kind of design problems that we had to deal with e.g. field of vision, slipping, bulkiness etc.

The independent research have read (the link is in the article) tells us that we will encounter more cuts in the game – that is genuine scientific research, something that AIBA have simply failed to present. For me it’s an image change. A rule change will not help manage a cut. When a boxer is cut he is cut, end of story and end of run in the championships. That is my problem, I think that limiting the risk of cuts in competition is a good thing.

I also have it on good authority that head guards will be discarded for all levels of competition within the next year or so. So, that feels to me like another reason why parents of this day and age (not our day and age mate, attitudes were different) will be reluctant to let little Johnny get involved in the sport. Remember, most lay-people see head guards as reducing the risk of head injury.

For me AIBA have been so eager to implement a raft of rule changes that they have lost sight of the importance of a managed transition. Dropping computer scoring was enough for one year I think – that is a much more profound change to the sport than dropping head guards.

Cheers for being ‘first to the punch’ on the comment pal, very welcome 😉

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