Without headgear to protect the ears, wrestlers run the risk of having permanently scarred and disfigured ears. A condition called cauliflower ear is extremely common in wrestling from the constant pounding the ears end up taking. In the standing position, wrestlers grind their forehead into their opponent’s ear and temple for an advantageous maneuvering. A good takedown is often achieved from driving across your opponent with your head and often landing with your ear against his hip. The ears also take a beating constantly being ground into the mat. With all of this friction against the direct skin and ear cartilage, it doesn’t take long for an injury to occur. The most common injury includes a separation of the skin and cartilage creating a painful, swollen sack of fluid. This is an acute injury that requires a minor surgery and definitely time off the mat. Without the surgery, the acute swelling will go down but the space left from the separation will remain, eventually filling up again while each time leaving a scar behind. While some seem more prone to this problem than others, it’s serious enough to wear protective ear guards literally every time you wrestle.
Despite the potential inconvenience, severe pain, possible surgery and even permanent disfigurement, most wrestlers are surprisingly negative about wearing headgear. During the season you will see nearly every wrestler wearing a pair at tournaments. However this is because the headgear is required in school sports. The real opinions come out in the off-season. Unless required by the meet, you see few wrestlers wearing protective ear guards. Most rarely train with them on and when asked why you will find very few favorable responses. The fact is wrestlers actually hate headgear. It’s the wrestler’s moms and coaches who like it and make them wear it. The other fact is you can’t wrestle any tournaments that actually matter without it, so it’s here to stay. Considering this, it’s smart to choose a brand that offers the best protection and performance while being the least intrusive. This is the reason why you will also see most wrestler’s at tournaments wearing the same brand of wrestling headgear, Cliff Keen.
After a career as a legendary wrestling coach, Cliff Keen had worked in the industry long enough to know what athletes needed to perform at their best. He started producing and selling wrestling gear in 1958 and has been going strong for over 50 years creating equipment that has been the staple of the sport since he started. With innovative supplies seen worn and used by referees and athletes in tournaments and practice rooms all over the world, Cliff Keen is perhaps best known as the father of wrestling headgear. As a true testimony to his genius, the original design of the traditional headgear he created has changed very little since its inception and is still widely used today in nearly every level of wrestling. Compared to the few brands that dare offer competition, Cliff Keen headgear offers the lowest profile, most secure fitting and highest performing ear guards in the business by far. As time has progressed, only Cliff Keen has further developed wrestling ear protection by producing three different models, the Signature (Traditional), Twister and Tornado.
Cliff Keen Signature headgear is also known as the ‘Traditional’ model and is perhaps the most commonly used in all of wrestling. It’s made of a hard plastic rounded cup covered by firm, padded foam to fit over both ears. The foam is an important part of Cliff Keen’s original patent from over 50 years ago as it is firm enough to withstand tons of abuse rolling around on the mat and still forms a comfortable padded contact over the skin/head surrounding the ear. The hard inside cup offers complete protection for the ear and the padded outside foam has a slick surface so it slides well against the mat during combat. Four straps hold the Cliff Keen Signature headgear in place and give it a very sleek profile tight against the head. These ear guards are very lightweight and fully adjustable for the perfect fit. The adult size Signature head gear can also be adjusted to fit youth as well but you may have to shorten the straps by cutting them with a pair of scissors.
The pros of Cliff Keen Signature Traditional head gear are many and somewhat obvious as they remain to be the best selling ear guards of all time. They are super sturdy and can last several seasons if you take care of them. This includes wiping down the padding with anti-bacterial soap wipes to keep them clean and moisturized. Most wrestlers however neglect their Signature headgear and just throw them in their bag until the next tournament and eventually this will add to their wear and tear. When Cliff Keen Traditional ear guards start wearing out, the padding will develop cracks with can harbor bacteria and lead to skin infections. Fortunately, Signature headgear is very affordable (less than $35 in most stores) and many wrestlers opt for a new pair each season. Adjusting the Cliff Keen Traditional head gear is somewhat of a burden and is often done so just before the first wear. Set them tightly and they will loosen a bit after training in them a few times for the perfect fit. A very worn set of Signature head gear that needs to be adjusted is often more trouble than it’s worth as the padding/cup will cause tiny grooves in the straps and make them nearly impossible to change.
Tornado wrestling headgear is a later model from Cliff Keen that’s definitely a step up compared to the traditional Signature style. These ear guards are a successful attempt at improving what few shortcomings the traditional headgear may have. Based on a revolutionary design from research that’s actually been conducted by NASA, Tornado headgear is 43% lighter and significantly cooler to wear. They also have an ear cup that helps amplify sound so you can hear your corner coaches better. Cliff Keen Tornado headgear straps are made with material webbing and a Velcro/snap system that’s much easier and faster to adjust compared with the classic Signature model. The padding on these wrestling ear guards are also much softer and more comfortable against the skin. While the Tornado may ultimately perform better than traditional in the short term, they don’t seem to have the longevity that Signature headgear tends to have. If there are any cons to the Tornado style, it’s with the padding. Towards the end of their life, the ear padding starts getting too soft, loses its resiliency and goes flat. This is when it’s time to buy another pair however should last for a full year of training abuse.
The newest addition to Cliff Keen’s wrestling headgear family is called the Twister. While this model is yet another attempt at improving something that needs very little, it’s closer to the Tornado than the Signature. The Twister has the same basic arrangement as the Tornado headgear so it boasts the same terrific performance benefits; cool, comfortable, extremely lightweight, easily adjusted and good sound quality. The main difference between the two is the Cliff Keen Twister headgear has only two head straps instead of three. To some, this is a plus for even faster/easier fitting; to others, the 2-strap system doesn’t feel as secure. With the same type of head padding used on the ear guards as the Tornado, the Twister also has the same problems with the padding becoming flat over time. It should also be noted that strap systems with Velcro tend to show wear and tear considering how often wrestling head gear is worn/taken off.
When shopping for wrestling headgear, the list of varieties are somewhat limited. There are only a few other companies that offer wrestling ear guards and most are only offering their version of what Cliff Keen has already mastered. While this article mentions both pros and cons of the different models available, it should be noted the pros far outweigh the cons. Wrestling is a tough sport and most gear (including shoes, singlets, knee pads, bags, etc.) only lasts about one season no matter how well it’s taken care of. Despite listing wear and tear as one of the cons associated with Cliff Keen headgear in this article, these ear guards last longer or at least as long as any other. Besides a color or style requirement imposed by your team, wrestling headgear is very much an individual preference. The fact is however if you choose something different than Cliff Keen, you’re probably making a mistake.