Mixed Martial Arts training can be one of the most injury-prone sports simply because of how versatile the attacks and movements can be.
Other combat sports like Boxing focus on only a few patterns of attack, mostly strikes to the head and body with the fists. But in MMA, the attacks can come at you from almost any angle and with different parts of the body, like an elbow or a knee.
It makes perfect sense, then, to ensure you’re wearing the best headgear for MMA training as you need one that is adapted for the additional needs of a mixed martial arts fight than just what a boxing headgear can achieve.
Below is my top pick if you are looking for a quick recommendation!
Venum Elite Headgear
Excellent visibility for sparring with lightweight and sturdy foam protection.
Unlike most headgear that isn’t specialized for MMA, this Venum Elite Headgear retains complete visibility while giving adequate protection.
In the rest of this article, I’ll tell you what you need to consider when picking out an MMA headgear and tell you more about some of my favorite options.
What To Look For In MMA Headgear
Wearing headgear for your MMA training could be a big help to give additional confidence to your sparring and reduce superficial cuts and bruises across your cheek.
Protective headgear for combat sports is essentially the same whether you’re boxing, wrestling, or fighting Muay Thai style.
But a few considerations differ to be most appropriate for mixed martial arts. Let me lay it down for you:
- Protection Against Different Strikes: In MMA you need to be aware of punches and head kicks coming from a wide array of angles. With advanced sparring, it could also involve elbows and even knees to the head. These are far more damaging than most punches, and if you receive a blow from one of these you’ll want to have adequate protection.
- Less Impaired Vision For MMA: While the biggest reason for wearing headgear is protecting from strikes, you also don’t want your vision to be so impaired that you lose vision on your opponent and have less chance of detecting spinning attacks, head kicks, or even takedown attempts. A regular headgear will most likely hinder your abilities to defend all the different possibilities, and so a headgear specific for MMA is ideal.
- Lightweight Enough For MMA: Typical headgears are designed for Boxing which are big, thick, and heavy. They create a bigger target for your opponent for one thing, but their extra size and weight makes it more difficult for you to move freely and grapple how you would need during mixed martial arts.
- Reduce Cauliflower Ear: With the added element of grappling in MMA, your headgear should ideally protect your ears in such a way that it prevents friction or direct trauma to your ears which can result in the unsightly cauliflower ear that you see with many UFC fighters.
If you’re keeping these factors in mind, it will help you pick out the best headgear for your MMA training and sparring.
Sure, you could pick up any kind of combat sports headgear quickly enough and use it. But if you really want to get the best out of your training, then using a little more scrutiny will ensure you are getting entirely suitable headgear.
Best Headgear Options For MMA Training
Now you know everything you need to consider when choosing headgear, I’ll give you some of the best options for MMA headgear below.
I’ve extensively researched each of these options to pick out what I think will be ideal options for different needs.
Premium: ONX Sports Elite Ultralight Headgear
✓ Premium Option For Excellence
At the top of the list is the Elite Ultralight Headgear by ONX Sports.
You may have heard of ONX if you’re a fan of Justin Gaethje’s coach Trevor Wittman, as he is the inventor behind the patented technologies of various protective equipment for mixed martial arts, not only headgear but also boxing gloves for MMA training.
As an MMA coach, Trevor has witnessed the constant struggles of his athletes. Most traditional headgear impairs the fighter’s vision. It doesn’t provide a suitable fit to prevent it from moving around during a sparring session.
Traditional headgear can often get moved around the head as you take strikes and forces the fighter to reset or retighten the headgear is getting in the way of training.
One of the other common issues with most headgear is that it is bulky in areas that don’t offer protection for MMA.
This is where ONX Sports comes in with the Elite Ultralight Headgear.
- Excellent visibility for sparring
- Made by a pro fighter coach
- Used often by pro fighters
- Looks amazing
- Really high quality memory foam
- Doesn’t have chin protection
- Paying a premium, very expensive
- Maybe hasn’t been proven for as many years as other options
The Elite Ultralight Headgear has a unique shape that most notably protrudes across the cheekbone of its wearer.
Most headgear doesn’t have the same shape as the Elite Ultralight Headgear by ONX to protect the cheekbone and surround the eye sockets without impairing vision.
The inside materials of this headgear are made from a specially designed memory foam which means that after wearing the headgear for 4-6 sessions of use, it will mold to your brow and head shape for a perfect fit.
This headgear is the ideal choice, in my opinion, because of the fighters that these are regularly tested on. Trevor Wittman coaches the ONX Sports fight team that has produced incredibly high-level competitors like Kamaru Usman, Rose Namajunas, Justin Gaethje, and Cory Sandhagen, just to name a few.
These fighters regularly use the whole ONX Sports gear line, including the Elite Ultralight Headgear. I trust that Trevor is constantly tweaking and improving his line of products to bring the best training to his fighters while preventing injuries and that we get to benefit from this.
The Elite Ultralight Headgear is a premium product, and the price tag reflects that. Still, if you are looking for the very best option available to you, then this is what I would recommend going for.
Great Value: Venum Elite Headgear
Next up is the more balanced option between price and function. The Venum Elite Headgear is the top level of Venum’s protective offering for the face and head. However, it is still pretty affordable for most people and worth it when considering the quality.
Like the Elite Ultralight Headgear from ONX Sports, this Venum Elite Headgear does an excellent job of having a unique shape for protecting the critical areas of attack around the face and head.
This headgear’s shape practically protrudes across the cheekbone. It also has additional protection on the chin area, which some headgear doesn’t include.
- Really good visibility for sparring
- Great value and protection
- Has chin protection
- Good ear protection to avoid cauliflower ears
- “One Size fits all” when some people will find it too small
- Simple strapping system, it could move around during sparring
Finally, the protection continues to be unique as it has additional protection around the ears, which could be preventative of cauliflower ear.
The protection over the cheekbones is sufficient enough for safety. Notably, it offers enough visibility to make this headgear useful for MMA sparring and other martial arts like Muay Thai that depend on good visibility on your opponent’s feet.
This headgear is made from Skintex Leather (which means fake leather of high quality), with dense and lightweight foam inside that doesn’t weigh your neck down.
There is a double velcro strap at the back that tightens around the back-top of your head for the fitting. As it is easily adjustable, the one size of the Venum Elite Headgear means it fits most people’s heads comfortably. But if you have a larger head, this might not be the best option as some people struggle with the “One Size fits all” design.
Budget: Sanabul Essential MMA Headgear
Rolling in as the budget option is the Sanabul Essential Headgear.
This Sanabul headgear offers a strong protection level with a lot of material covering the forehead, cheeks, and chin. It’s definitely providing more coverage than the other options already mentioned, which could be good and bad.
The benefit of having a high level of protective material covering your face is that it’s more likely to soften a variety of blows to your head. The negative side is that it could be less comfortable and block your vision.
- Incredibly cheap!
- Very high protection level
- Thick padding for cheeks, chin, and forehead
- Cheaper materials, it may not last as long as other options
- Lower visibility for sparring
Other than how cheap it can be to buy, a good thing about it is that it’s useful for just about any martial art as long as you’re comfortable with the larger areas of material. You can use it for Boxing, Kickboxing, and Muay Thai, as well as MMA. But it’s probably best suited for striking arts only.
This headgear has a shock-absorbing foam inside. It makes it a helpful tool in medium-to-heavy sparring. When you add that with the full face coverage on offer here, you’re getting an outstanding level of protection for the price.
The hook and loop closure on the straps work really well to keep this headgear in place, so you shouldn’t need to keep stopping to adjust it.
Overall this headgear gives a high level of protection and a proper fitting for different sparring needs. The only drawback is the reduced visibility for sparring. At this price, though, it’s a pretty reasonable balance.
There you have it, now you know what I think is the best headgear for MMA training. Most headgears don’t offer the right amount of protection while allowing for maximum visibility. Still, now you should have a couple of options you can choose from and get back to sparring with the utmost confidence.
Joe Bloom is the lead author and editor of MMA Hive. Joe has been a passionate mixed martial artist in training since 2019, having studied Boxing and Muay Thai at BaliMMA and Soma Fight Club, as well as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with RitualsJJ.