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The question of whether or not MMA fighters spar bare-knuckle has long been a debated topic. It has been suggested that the loss of sensitivity in the face and head could be to blame for many injuries during training, as some claim that it can make it easier to absorb head strikes. Head protection is also argued to lead to more dangerous chokes and joint submissions, as well as worsening eye health due to lack of ventilation.
The quick answer is that, no, MMA fighters don’t spar with headgear. It’s important to note that to train safely you should not protect the head any more than necessary. Protection for training is also supposed to be removed before the competition, so the only time that head protection is worn in competition is actually after prolonged sparring (it would be impractical and dangerous to wear head protection during all or most of your training).
However, there are still some things worth knowing about head protection, even for MMA fighters.
Read more: What is the most protective headgear?
Headgear protects the head from injury, mostly against severe trauma (concussion and contusion). However, it offers no protection against smaller injuries to the scalp or face, including cuts and abrasions. This is worth knowing because there’s some evidence that headgear can make it easier to be cut by a punch (and most MMA fighters will have been cut at some point in their career).