Headgear Buying Guide

Headgears are hands down my favorite pieces of gear because there are so many different choices to choose from. Each one serves a different purpose but in a way, they’re sole purpose is to offer protection. Now that’s a strange statement but just like different cars serve different purposes, they’re sole purpose is to get from point A to point B. Just how there are sedans, trucks, suvs, etc, there are Mexican, Competition, Full Face, Facesavers, and various other types of headgears. Each one styled a certain way which in turn gives it some extra form of protection that is a step above other styles.

Headgear is also believed to reduce concussions and overall head trauma. The problem with this is that it isn’t proven. There are even various professional fighters who believe their brains are much healthier after ceasing the use of headgear. Now again there is no hard study that proves or denies this but it seems that the main reason this belief exists is because they can move and see more freely without a headgear getting in the way. This leads the fighters to get hit less as they are able to move away or block punches. Now simply put, you get hit less, you have less brain trauma but is that really the headgears fault? As I mentioned before there are various headgear and if you’re using something as huge as a GG Silverback Headgear then obviously you’re going to get hit more, but if you use something as sleek as an FG2900 or as a Ringside competition headgear then it’s almost like you’re wearing nothing at all.

From personal experience I have noticed that I get rocked less when hit with harder punches while wearing something like an FG2900. A full force punch that landed right on the temple that would rock me instantly, I barely feel that very same punch when wearing a good headgear. The key word there is a, “good,” headgear. Above all though a headgear should be viewed mainly as a tool to protect you from cuts and bruises sense there is no real proof that is universally accepted that says a headgear can reduce brain trauma.

headgear buying guide headgear buying guide

Different types of headgear

As I mentioned there are a vast amount of headgear styles. Some of the most popular are open face, full face, cheeks/Mexican, Cage style and facesavers. Styles such as open face or full face are pretty self explanatory but even so there’s a lot that goes into fully explaining them.

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1. Open Face Headgear

For starters an Open Face headgear is the kind that you usually see in Amateur competition. The protection is focused on the forehead, temples, ears, sides, and back of the head. The face itself is left wide open which some might think is completely pointless considering how I mentioned a headgear is to prevent cuts and bruises. In a competition though that idea is sort of thrown out the window because it’s just that, a competition, the protection is focused on more important areas like the back of the head to protect a fighter from fouls. An example of this style would be the Ringside Competition Headgear without cheeks.

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2. Full Face Headgear

A Full Face Headgear is what you see primarily in sports such as MMA and Muay Thai. These are still used in Boxing but in my opinion they’re best for MMA. These offer the same protection as an open face but they also add protection to the chin and also cheeks. The chin helps protects against strikes such as knees and these types of headgears are usually better for grappling sd they stay on your head better than most without shifting around or coming off. Some of these are put in in a different way than the, “normal,” headgear due to that chin section. Instead of clipping or buckling a closure at the chin you instead open up the back of the headgear, stick your face/head into the headgear and then close it all up again with the back closure.

As I mentioned these headgears are used primarily for MMA and Muay Thai and because of that the foam used in them is more firm than a headgear that’s meant for Boxing. This is because the headgear had to protect against bone and not just gloves due to striking with elbows and knees. The more firm padding means it doesn’t bottom out quick from an elbow. Examples of this style would be the Hayabusa Tokushu Regenesis MMA headgear or the Title Gel World Full Face Training Headgear.

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3. Cheek/Mexican Style Headgear

Headgears with, “Cheeks,” are my favorite, specifically the, “Mexican,” style. Now there are cheek styles such as the Ringside Competition with cheeks where the cheeks are so minuscule that they barely protect anything. Those are pointless in my opinion. Yes they do offer some protection for the cheeks but there are better options out there like a Mexican style headgear. In my opinion these are the true, “Cheek,” style headgear, these are the golden standard in headgear specifically the Winning FG2900. Mexican Style refers to a headgear with enlarged cheeks, cheeks that can even protect the nose.

The cheeks on the FG2900 first of all hug your face so they wrap around both sides of the face, covering the cheeks perfectly, then they come together close to the nose and the thickness makes it so the nose is tucked behind the cheeks. Hooks literally bounce off these enlarged cheeks and they also take some sting off of straight punches. Mexican Style headgears offer the best nose/face protection of any headgear that’s not a facesaver. Due to the larger than usual cheeks various people are concerned they obscure vision, specifically for Muay Thai or MMA where it can blind you from low kicks. Now while this is an understandable concern I can assure you I’ve never had an issue seeing low kicks and uppercuts while wearing a Mexican Style. As I mentioned before it’s all a matter of using a, “good,” headgear. Examples of the Mexican Style are the Winning FG2900, UMA R-9, and Ring to Cage IR-81, the last two being replicas of the FG2900 and in my opinion these are the top three headgears currently available.

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4. Facesaver

Facesavers headgear Facesavers headgear
The Facesaver or Facebar headgears are the ones that literally have a bar across the face/mouth. These offer almost total protection for the face and because of this they’re usually used by fighters a couple weeks before the actual fight that way they can still spar and not worry about ANY cuts or bruises. These are usually the heaviest and bulkiest headgears on the market. Many have a metal frame which can be bent to contour to your face but some such as the newer Reyes Facesaver use a nylon frame to reduce some weight.

These headgears are some of the most obstructive out there due to their size and the bar. Firstly these can blind you from low strikes due to the bar, some bars are also right on the nose which causes the hot air you breathe out to just bounce off back at you, the padding can be very firm due to the metal frame, and even adjusting them can be a pain. Before I used facesavers, I had the idea that the bars would sit far from your nose and that’s how they protected it but that’s not always the case. Some facesavers only offer a small amount of space between the nose and bar but even so they still offer more protection than other headgears. You also tend to get hit more because for one you feel more protected so taking an extra shot or two won’t bother you and as I mentioned some are obstructive which gives you more blind spots.

Examples of Facesavers would be the Sabas FS, TopBoxer Dragon Series Facesaver, Ring to Cage Synthetic Facesaver, and the king of all facesavers, the Winning FG5000. Now I say the king because Winning rules over all in gear but also because the FG5000 is the Facesaver literally every pro uses. Sadly I haven’t gotten my hands on one YET. The other three examples though, I have and love each one. The R2C is a great budget facesaver, the Dragon series is my most comfortable, but my favorite is the Sabas FS. It offers the best vision out of all my facesavers, great protection, includes a no foul protector, is very compact for a Facesaver, and was also modeled after the older version of the FG5000. A Facesaver should never replace something like an FG2900 though, the reduced vision and bulkiness does not justify them as a replacement but they are still very vital training tools.

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5. Cage Style

The Cage Style is probably the most awkward and strange style available. It’s a headgear, much like any other, but instead of having big cheeks or a bar across the face it had a literal cage. I’ve personally never used one because I consider this style pointless in Thai, Boxing, or MMA. For someone who truly wants to avoid any and all kinds of bruising or cuts I’d recommend a Facesaver but I suppose this is an option as well. One of my main concerns is how the cage would affect gloves. Also if the cage were to somehow break during sparring, that’ll pose some serious problems especially considering there’s nothing in-between the cage and your face. I would recommend this more for Martial Arts where you practice palm strikes or use weapons, such as Filipino stick fighting. For Martial Arts where you strike with a gloved hand or shin guards though, I don’t exactly see the point or at least I don’t see how this could replace a Facesaver. An example of the Cage Style would be the Ring to Cage Safety Cage Training Headgear. I think the best part about that model is how you can remove the cage and still use the headgear similar to a Full Face with smaller cheeks.

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Headgear for Boxing vs MMA vs Muay Thai brands

As I mentioned before one of the main differences between Boxing, MMA, and Thai headgears are the foams used. Boxing is more soft, something like an FG2900 is significantly more soft and comfortable when compared to a headgear made by Fairtex or Hayabusa. This is due to how Thai and MMA headgear need the firmer padding to defend against elbows and knees. Both MMA and Thai brands also use a lot of the Full Face style headgears where they use the chin section, (which I call the chin bar), to protect from knees and also so it stays on better during grappling. Thai and MMA style headgears are very similar as MMA brands took the Thai style idea and rolled with it.

That being said though, Boxing headgears are often seen in MMA or Thai because headgears like the FG2900 are still considered the gold standard. Yes while something like an FG2900 will shift more during grappling, it still offers great protection. I prefer using an FG2900 than any other headgear, my only gripe with it is the lack of back padding which could help a lot during grappling and ground and pound. Thats yet another area where something like the Hayabusa MMA headgear has it beat as MMA and or Thai brand headgears usually offer the back padding.

Facesavers headgear buying guide Cheek/Mexican Style Headgear

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Training vs Competition Headgear

Training headgear and Competition headgear are a special case. I used to think competition mostly used Open Face headgear and they usually do but if you look at something like Masters competition you’ll see various Mexican style headgear. For the most part though it’s usually Open Face headgear such as the ones used in the Olympics. These headgears usually protect the forehead, temples, ears, sides, and back of the head. The most vital parts of the head, so in turn these are some of the most protective headgears out there. Also these headgears have to go through heavy testing just to be approved as an actual competition headgear.

Training headgear on the other hand protect certain parts or are overly heavy, have blatant flaws, half the time some are rushed prototypes. Compared to organization and almost perfection of competition headgear, training headgears are like a freak show. You won’t find something as gigantic as a Silverback headgear in the Olympics and you won’t find a headgear with a gimmicky closure system like the Hayabusa Mirai headgear.

Even the best headgear, the FG2900, doesn’t offer the best back or side protection and there are on regulations that says it needs to protrect those areas. At the same time though, I would much rather use my FG2900 than my Ringside Competition Headgear. They’re both very comfortable, very light, very protective. The thing is though, the FG2900 protects my face significantly better and that’s what I care about.

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Sizes & Weight

Sizes and weights of headgear are insane because there is no, “right,” size or weight because for one, the size depends on the user and the weight depends on the type of headgear. For me the Winning size scale is what I use as the universal scale which means 21in-23in would be considered medium, 22.5in-24.5in is large, 23.5in-25.5in is a 2 large and so on. The ranges of headgear are slightly confusing but I wear a large for every headgear and my head measures in at 23.5in.

Now as I said the weights vary by headgear. A facesaver will usually weigh more than an open face due to the metal frame. For me though, the less weight, the better. Less weight usually means more compact which means it won’t get in the way of slipping and will also allow you to move easier. This in turn reduces the amount of punches you could get hit by.

  • Medium: 21.0 – 23.0 inch / 54 – 59 cm.
  • Large :    22.5 – 24.5 inch / 57 – 62 cm.
  • 2 Large:  23.5 – 25.5 inch / 60 – 65 cm.
  • 3 Large:  25.0 – 28.0 inch / 63 – 68 cm
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My personal recommendations

Ring to Cage R-81 Headgear Guide Winning FG2900 Headgear Guide
For me I have around ten, maybe fifteen headgears but the three I use the most are replicas of the FG2900. No headgear is as perfect as that one is to me. The protection, vision, and weight that it offers is just ideal. If I ranked my most favorite headgears it would go Winning FG2900, UMA R-9, and the R2C IR-81, with the latter two being replicas of the FG2900. I have no headgear as comfortable as these either due to the layered style. The inner layer of all three of these is softer than the outer layer which means the headgear literally molds to your face and the cheeks hug your face the way they should. Because of those big cheeks, punches like hooks literally bounce off with just a slight roll of the head. The size of both the forehead and cheeks protect your eyes better than even some facesavers because punches literally can’t go through them.

Other headgears I use include the Sabas Pro Series, Sabas Facesaver, Ringside Competition with cheeks, TopBoxer Dragon Facesaver, Golden Gear Japanese Style, and a couple others. The Sabas Pro Series is a replica of the FG2900 but much more compact, weighs less, and has superior no foul protection. When it comes to facesavers I highly recommend the Sabas because it is a replica of the FG5000 but Sabas added their own style to it. The only real con I have is that the foam is too stiff but it has significantly better back protection. The Dragon FS is more comfortable but it is more bulky as well. Facesavers should only be used for practicing working on the inside or used a couple weeks before the fight to avoid cuts and bruises. Due to the size and weight of most facesavers it is best that they do not replace your, “normal,” headgear.

Competition headgear, I truly like my Ringside and while I use the cheek variant, I expect the other version to be identical. Excellent protection, (besides the face but it’s for competition,) perfect visibility, lightweight, comfortable, and the foam is excellent. For full face headgears I would recommend the Hayabusa Tokushu or Kanpeki, Hayabusa expects top dollar for their gear but you usually get some pretty durable, quality gear from them. I just suggest searching for the best possible price. As a side note though, never let money be the deciding factor when purchasing headgear. Remember a headgears job is one of the most important. I’ve been cheap when it comes to gear and sometimes it’s paid off (Ringside Competition Headgear) but other times it hasn’t such as my R2C Mexican Style 3.0 headgear. While the price was fantastic, while it was comfortable, and while the protection was pretty incredible, it have me some serious tunnel vision. My peripheral vision was cut by an overly noticeable amount and shots that would almost never land on me before, were now hitting me constantly. As I said before, excellent protection but the best protection is not getting hit at all and if the headgear was causing me to get hit more, there’s a problem.

Above all though, experiment with different styles, try different headgears within those styles. Form your own opinions over headgear and find yourself the right gear.


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Lobo is an enthusiastic gear tester and reviewer. He has been a student of combat sports since 2011.

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