When the International Boxing Association voted last year to eliminate headgear for elite amateur boxers, it also forced a split decision on young fighters everywhere.
Only by shedding the headgear could up-and-comers continue to compete in international events, but at the cost of wear and tear on their bodies in a busy amateur schedule.
Those who decided to stay in headgear now compete in the Senior Division of the USA Boxing National Championships, where the athletes are every bit as skilled – and still looking to make the most of their future.
“If I want a good future as a pro, I don’t think it’s a good idea to fight without headgear,” 123-pound Senior champion Gary Russell said Saturday afternoon on the final day of the tournament.
Russell acknowledged that he’s handicapped by a lack of international experience. “But the plusses are that I still get to fight, and I’m getting time to perfect my craft,” said Russell, whose older brother, Gary Russell, Jr., is 22-0 as a professional at featherweight.
The question was posed to Russell last year by his father, former amateur Gary Russell, Sr. “He wanted to pick my brain,” recalled Russell. “I told him I didn’t think it was a good idea. That’a lot of wear and tear injuries, cuts, head butts.”
Not everyone has a choice. Soldier Reyes Marquez, the 152-pound champion, said he prefers to box without headgear, but the Army still requires it.
“I don’t think it affects me, but hopefully in a couple of months we’ll be able to fight without headgear,” said Marquez, who said the issue is under review by military sports authorities.
Regardless, Marquez, a native of Mexico, said he’s very grateful to the Army for it suport en route to his first national title.