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Experiences boxing without headgear differ

When Jacob Landry found out he wouldn't be wearing headgear at the Canadian elite men's boxing championship, he was ecstatic. Two cuts in two fights later, he wasn't happy at all.


"I've always boxed with headgear," the 21-year-old resident of Montreal said Thursday at the Orr Centre. "This was my first competition without it.


"When I saw the news (that the men were not wearing headgear), I was excited. Now I'm disappointed."


Landry started boxing at the age of 15 and has fought more than 60 times since, all while wearing the familiar headgear sported by amateur boxers.


When he heard that headgear wasn't to be part of the 2014 championships, he was willing to give it a whirl. "It was a new experience," Landry said.


"It was more like professional, so I was excited. Now I want to get back my headgear."


Landry's championships ended Wednesday, when he suffered a cut over his right eye after an accidental clash of heads with Alberta's Brian Samuel. The gash - which may not have happened had Landry been wearing headgear - required 12 stitches to close. The championships mark the first time since 1984 that boxers competing in Canada's elite men's competition don't have to wear headgear.


The decision by the International Amateur Boxing Association appears to fly in the face of limiting concussions, but studies of 15,000 rounds of boxing determined that athletes who didn't wear headgear suffered fewer concussions than those who wore the padding.


Mitch Hunt, a 26-year-old product of Conception Bay South, N.L., who has boxed in international competitions, admitted he initially wasn't sure about entering the ring without headgear.


Asked why, he chuckled and said: "I'm taking the headgear off; that's the reason. I'm not paid to play this sport. If I wanted to go pro, then I would."


His skepticism vanished after he got in the ring.


"When I sparred for a little while, it was nice," said Hunt, who has boxed for 14 years. "I thought I'd be getting hit more, but now I'm more cautious. I don't get hit as much because I can slip punches a little easier.


"It's pretty good. I'm liking it so far." Hunt's experiences without headgear are what boxing officials were after. Instead of seeing boxers wading in with a false sense of security created by their headgear, the sport's governing bodies want more bobbing, weaving and technical excellence.


Hunt likes the change because it'll make his transition to pro relatively easy. As well ...


"It's more entertaining for the fans - that's a big (attraction)," he said. "It also has helped my game a little bit. I'm a bit more elusive."


Bradley Wilcox, 18, sported headgear for 10 years after he started boxing. He admitted he was "a little nervous" when he heard he'd be bareheaded in Regina, mainly because he has seen pros (who don't wear headgear) get knocked out.


After sparring without the padding in preparation for the championships, he quickly determined that his fears of easy knockouts were unfounded.


"At first I was a little scared, but after you get hit once, it goes away," said Wilcox, who lives in Hamilton. "It just feels like you're wearing headgear.


"Headgear doesn't really do a lot. The only difference that I did feel was when you get hit in the back of the head. You feel it a lot more without headgear because there's no padding."


Wilcox discovered he had better head movement without the thick padding on the sides of his face.


As well, the absence of those pads meant punches that would have grazed the headgear - and conceivably resulted in points for the opponent - now miss altogether.


"It makes your head smaller," Wilcox said with a laugh. "Smaller target."


Taking off the headgear has improved Wilcox's strategic game as well. He noted that boxers have to be more aware in clinches so that they don't get hit in the back of the now-unprotected head by their opponent.


Hunt also pointed out that referees, instead of stepping between boxers, now tell the athletes to box their way out of tight quarters.


The greatest fear for Wilcox when it comes to removing the headgear is cuts - the area that will be re-examined by boxing authorities to determine if the decision to remove headgear was a good one.


"You know if you get cut, you're screwed for the tournament," Wilcox said. "It's hard for a doctor to let you move on, which is reasonable. If you're cut, why go get punched again and split it open even more?" Landry can attest to that fear.


"Two cuts in two days is not good ...," he said. "I made so many sacrifices to get to this competition. To end with an accident, it's very disappointing."


The championships are to continue today at the Orr Centre, with one slate of bouts to start at 1 p.m. (including semifinals) and another at 7 p.m. (including men's semifinals and women's finals).


Source: Leader Post, Ian Hamilton