Mixed Martial Arts has transformed the world of combat sports as we know it. Not only did it bring one of the most exciting matches in the world to more people, but it has also changed the landscape of training, MMA gear, and sports science in general.
One of the marks of an MMA fight nowadays is using the familiar pair of MMA gloves. The iconic glove has also gone through different transformations over the years. Along with its evolution is the addition of safety features that protect fighters whenever they face each other on the ring or in the widely popular Octagon.
These gloves allowed for a standup fight because they offered protection for the hands and knuckle of the fighters. They also provided dexterity to fighters to prefer grappling and fighting on the ground. Of course, the more freedom for the fighter, the more they can compete safely.
History of MMA Glove Design
It is interesting to see how mixed martial arts conceived the MMA glove’s standard design. If you’ve watched Ultimate Fighting Championship initially, fighters didn’t even use gloves back then.
Looking closely at the MMA glove, it resembles a Kempo glove than a boxing glove. Simply take off the fingers from the Kempo glove, and you have something very similar to modern MMA gloves. But the design for the gloves goes back even before the UFC.
Before the Octagon fights became popular in North America, this combat sport was making its way to rings in other parts of the world. In Brazil, the Gracie brothers were pushing vale tudo (anything goes) fights to challenge anyone who wanted to prove their strength against the legendary family.
The Bruce Lee movie, Enter the Dragon, in 1973, gave light to mixed martial arts to popular culture. The bout featured different styles of martial arts in one fight. What’s more interesting were the gloves that they used.
These looked close to what we know as MMA gloves nowadays. Bruce Lee and his opponent wore them during the fight, and, spoiler alert, Lee finished off his opponent by way of an armbar. Lee utilized the open fingers of the glove to help grapple the other fighter to the ground.
Although it was in Japan that we would see the first design of the MMA glove. Wearing these open finger gloves was made mandatory for Shooto promotional fights in 1989. Shooto was a derivative of the shoot style fighting, which incorporated wrestling and martial arts. This was implemented largely because bare fists during bouts resulted in cuts and lacerations, which caused a number of stoppages.
UFC fights did require gloves because, back in the beginning stages of the championship, it was a stage for different styles and disciplines of fighting.
In the first UFC tournament in 1993, Art Jimmerson, a professional boxer, entered the ring with a glove. Yes, not a pair of gloves, but a single glove on his left hand. He intended to use his left hand to strike without causing damage so that he can still fight boxing matches in the future.
He would then use the ungloved hand for surprise attacks. As sound as the plan seemed, going against Royce Gracie, he never had a chance to land or even get off a single punch. At 02:18 of the first round, he was taken down and submitted by Gracie.
At UFC 3, Felix Mitchell entered the Octagon with red gloves. But they were not regular boxing gloves, as you would hear from the commentators. They were curious that they could see his fingers through the gloves. It would have been the first time MMA gloves were used. But before the match started against Ken Shamrock, he elected to take off his gloves.
And then, at UFC 4, Melton Brown came in. He was determined to wear the same style of gloves Mitchell removed. Although he was fairly successful in his boxing career, MMA proved to be on a different level even for this heavyweight.
This is why he is not the first person to come to mind when talking about the first person to use MMA gloves in a UFC match, even though he is, technically.
Tank Abbott is widely known for using MMA gloves in his matches. Because of his more successful fights, he gained popularity for his fighting style and MMA gloves in the UFC. Other fighters began to notice that the gloves seemed to provide better power in their punches. But that is not entirely the case for Tank.
As a street fighter, Tank had more than 200 fights behind him before entering the Octagon. As he fought bare fists, his hands would feel sore after fights. Going on a professional fight, he did not want that to be the case. This was why he resolved to use gloves to protect his hands from further injury.
Abbott bought and modified boxing gloves by cutting off the fingers to make them more suitable for grappling. Upon the fighter’s meet before the tournament, he presented the gloves to the people. People had mixed reactions about the gloves he brought, but John McCarthy allowed him to wear the gloves to the contest. He proceeded to win his fights and gain the fame he holds today.
Even with this development, the UFC only required the use of MMA gloves at UFC 14 in July 1997. They created a standard that is still used today. This was largely due to the bid of making MMA a professional sport and regulating it due to the many backlashes it received.
MMA vs. Boxing Gloves
Although MMA gloves look similar to Taekwondo or Kenpo sparring gloves, there is a lot of difference when looking at them closely. The design of MMA gloves is specific to what they are intended to be used for.
Each finger of these gloves is separated by padding that helps spread fingers evenly, which helps with open hand and grip. There is no padding on the palm to help strengthen the grip further.
A good pair of MMA gloves will provide fighters with ample flex on the wrist and fingers. It will also protect the fighter’s hand and knuckle from untoward injuries and damage.
One notable difference between these two is the padding that each glove employs. Boxing gloves have a minimum requirement of 16 oz which means there are more layers of foam on them compared to MMA gloves which have significantly fewer paddings which make them look smaller as well.
What differentiates an MMA glove from a boxing glove is the prominence of fingers. MMA gloves are designed to let the fighter use their fingers in a fight while a boxer is restricted. Boxers have their hands enclosed to ensure that no finger gets in the way while MMA fighters are given enough space and freedom for their fingers in order to be more efficient whenever they are grappling, submitting, or even trying to escape their opponents.
When using a boxing glove, a hand or wrist wrap is necessary because it helps reduce friction inside the glove and keeps the glove from moving around during the fight. MMA fighters, on the other hand, can opt not to have any wrap as these are designed to be as taut as possible.
In terms of delivering punches, we have to consider the weight, speed, and power of the person doing the punching. Practically, the power of the punch depends largely on the individual. But as far as measuring if the gloves make a difference, a study was conducted and showed that the lighter and less padded MMA glove did deliver more force than a boxing glove but by just a hair.
But the difference between a gloved hand and a bare fist is staggering. A glove reduced the impact by more than 100 lbs which means there is significantly more protection for both fighter and their opponent when they are wearing either glove.
Types of MMA Gloves
Mixed martial artists can choose from different types of gloves depending on what they will use them for. These gloves are primarily designed to prevent any injury whenever they compete in an official fight, train with their partners and coaches, or spar with other fighters to bring them up to a good condition prior to a fight.
The main difference between the types of gloves MMA fighters use and why are the weight of the padding. Saying four ounces means the weight of the foam or pad inside the glove and not the overall weight of the MMA glove. As mentioned earlier, a more padded glove offers a bit more protection and “cushioning,” which helps secure the welfare of the fighter and not cut their careers short.
Source: UFC Store
Professional fights require the use of an MMA competition glove. These are characterized by their lightweight. Usually, these measure from four ounces or 110 grams. Amateurs who are going to fight for the first time are recommended to wear a heavier glove with six ounces or 170 grams of padding.
But seasoned fighters are allowed to wear them as the UFC allows gloves weighing between four to six ounces. This is especially true for fighters who need to wear 2XL gloves or bigger.
Since competition gloves are thin, fighters use hand wrap to further protect their hands and knuckle from injury. Since these types of gloves are designed to give more damage to your opponent, that design also goes the other way toward the hand of the fighter.
Different manufacturers and brands have different paddings and support in the gloves. Some add side paddings that help stabilize your hand while reducing chafing if you’re not wearing any hand wrap. They also use a layer of foam made from synthetic materials that provide more cushion to your hand upon impact.
Some variants even have gel-like substances in place of foam.
These have a natural downward curve that helps position your hand and knuckle for punching, which minimizes the risk of poking your opponent’s eyes or injuring your fingers in a scramble. It makes the glove fit even more. You can also find variants that have an open-palm and closed-palm design.
To secure the wrist, these employ either a glove lace or Velcro wrap. This helps in adjusting the glove so that it won’t restrain the fighter from moving his hands. Additional comfort features include a ventilation system, anti-microbial feature, and reinforced finger and thumb openings to support and protect them.
A variety of materials are used for competition gloves. Some use cowhide leather, synthetic leather, or a combination of both, depending on the quality of the glove.
Training gloves are also known as grappling gloves or hybrid gloves. These usually have less padding and have more space for your fingers to move around since they are primarily designed to help train a person. These provide more comfort and allowance to the fighter allowing them to master their movement and focus on increasing their skills.
Put an MMA training glove beside a competition glove, and you will see a difference in the padding and the allowance for finger movement. This will help protect the fighter’s fist and their partner when they are training together.
A great training glove is something that can be used both on the ground as well as standing up. Thus the term hybrid. Most of the time, standup training will require a glove to have thicker padding so that it would be safer to train on a heavy bag. On the other hand, when working on your grappling skills, a lighter and open palm glove is ideal for making it easy to move around on the mat without being constrained of movement.
Training gloves usually have features that would be beneficial in any form of training. These gloves provide good grip, have ample curves and padding to keep the fighter safe whenever they are training to improve their lunches.
These are also made with durable materials as they are expected to be used daily and for long periods of time. Aside from choice materials, the stitching is reinforced so that these could be worn without worry of tearing apart suddenly.
Breaking in training gloves is fairly easy as well. Some brands have opted for a broken-in design so that the fighter can wear these and feel as if they’ve used them many times before. Manufacturers also focus on adding contours to training gloves to provide a good grip and let the fighter make a fist comfortably or do grappling when wearing them.
Source: Sanabul Sports
There are certain types of gloves worn by fighters who like to utilize their ground skills. Grappling gloves have less padding compared to competition gloves. This feature helps grapplers train better since it would be less cumbersome to move around with lightly padded gloves.
A grappling glove also provides more freedom of movement for the fingers so that grapplers can have more grip on their opponents.
Source: Fightwear Shop
As with any combat sports, sparring is one of the most important steps a fighter has to make in MMA. This helps condition the MMA fighter while they are waiting for their official match. An MMA sparring glove is usually heavier and more padded.
These gloves weigh around seven to ten ounces which is good protection for the knuckles as well as the areas hit by the fighter. Mostly the padding on sparring gloves is about an inch to an inch and a half thick. The dense foam protects you and your partner from serious injuries.
Some even make the padding double which gives an extra layer of protection for your hands as well. They do this by utilizing a split stitching technique that distributes the impact. It results in safer sparring and grappling sessions and even less fatigue on the fighter.
Sparring gloves also have special reinforcement for fingers. These usually have focused padding on knuckles and thumb and areas where the critical impact is expected to happen. While you still have a good economy of movement when wearing these gloves, you and your sparring partner will also be protected from any untoward injury.
It is secured with either a Velcro system or a lace, which holds the glove in place throughout the sparring session. A wrist wrap can also be worn underneath these gloves for better security and safety. They also contour these to provide comfort and a more natural curve to your hand when fighting.
There are variants that have an open palm design, while others have a closed palm design. The choice is entirely up to the fighter on what they are most comfortable with. You can expect high-quality sparring gloves to be made from durable materials in order for the fighter to not hold back in every sparring and grappling session.
How to Measure Your Glove Size
When picking out a glove, the fit is the most important consideration you should make. This is why knowing your hand size is crucial to choosing the right mixed martial arts gloves.
Now, if you’re an amateur, the best way to know your glove size is to ask your coach to help you determine it. There is no amount of DIY process that can amount to the years of experience and understanding of a seasoned professional coach or a professional athlete.
But if you don’t have anyone around you to help you out, then get a tape measure to wrap it around your hand. Do this with an open palm and with your thumb out of the way. The trick is to measure the circumference of your hand and then match it to the size of the glove.
Hand Circumference – Size of the Glove
5.5″ to 6.5″ – 8oz.
6.5″ to 7.5″ -10oz.
7.5″ to 8.5″ – 12oz.
8.5″ to 9.5″ – 18oz.
Mind you, these are approximate values that serve as a guide. If you want to be sure, go to an authorized store and try some gloves and see which ones are most comfortable and ask them for assistance as well.
Can you wear MMA gloves for heavy bag training?
Yes. You can use a training glove or a sparring glove when training on a heavy bag. These have extra protection, which helps reduce impact and damage to your hand.
What to consider when buying a pair of regular MMA gloves?
Fir should be your primary concern. Other considerations include the padding, wrist support, and what you will use it for.
Why do you need hand wraps for MMA?
Mostly, it is for added protection from damage and skin irritation.
Do leather MMA gloves require any special care?
If you’re using genuine leather gloves, then they may require some conditioning from time to time to prevent them from drying out and breaking prematurely.
MMA gloves have evolved with the times. From their humble beginning, innovations are now being presented to make the sport more exciting, safer, and more competitive than ever. Choosing the right MMA gear is just one step toward better fighting. Knowledge and understanding will always play a part not just in winning but in keeping yourself and your opponent safer in every bout.