What Are MMA Gloves? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Mixed martial arts has grown to be one of the most viewed contact sports in the world. It incorporates a variety of techniques from combat systems across the globe. Fighters are free to mix their style up as they like. However, a well-rounded style needs both striking and grappling. MMA gloves provide a happy medium between the heavily padded gloves for striking, and the bare hands grapplers need. Today, we’ll explore everything there is to know about MMA gloves.

MMA gloves wrapped in red and blue tape at the wrists

  • The history of MMA gloves

    Why do MMA fighters wear gloves? Well, in every sport, organizing bodies are concerned about the safety of their athletes. That’s why rules and equipment function to protect them–and MMA gloves are no exception.

    Some people think that MMA gloves, as we know them began with the UFC, but there’s a bit of misinformation in that. MMA gloves were first used in the Shooto and Pride FC, which are also MMA promotions. However, it is UFC that made it compulsory in matches since 1997.

    There are several theories about the origin of the MMA gloves. Some say the creators drew inspiration from the Kenpo gloves Bruce Lee wore in the 1973 movie Enter the Dragon. Others suggest they originate from Full Contact Karate, a sport that branched out from Kyokushin Karate in the late 1960s.

    In truth, hand protection during fights dates back as far as second-century Greece. The invention of boxing gloves tied into mythology.

    Ancient fighting gloves were weapons of destruction

    We can trace the development of the primitive form of fighting gloves to Amycus.

    (If you don’t know him, he’s the son of Poseidon and King of the Berbryces in Anatolia.)

    However, ancient combat sports were far more brutal. The masses enjoyed blood and gore and did not care much for athlete safety. That said, gloves were not a form of protection. Instead, to further the appeal of such shows, they were weapons of destruction.

    Cestus, the ancient fighting gloves

    Well, it began as protection. Fighters would wrap their hands with leather to protect their knuckles. Eventually, people begun adding metal to the knuckles of the gloves. This form of fighting gloves came to be known as cestus.

    (Needless to say, ancient fighters lived very short lives.)


  • Fighting gloves in modern practice

    Before they used gloves, different martial arts had practices to protect their knuckles. Boxers, for example, avoided blows to the head for fear of breaking their fists.

    Modern combat sports use padded gloves to protect the fists of the wearer. This is especially important for practitioners of the striking arts. An unintentional outcome of this is higher-intensity matches. (After all, fighters can now go all-out without worrying about breaking their bones.)

    Fighting or otherwise, function dictates form in the case of protective gloves. Different martial arts also influence specialized designs.

    Regardless, different types of fighting gloves have a few similarities. Gloves have padding of varying thickness to protect the hands. Also, Velcro straps on the wrists keep them fixed in place so that the padding moves with the user.

    Here are some of the most common fighting gloves:

  • Boxing Gloves

    Boxing gloves are much bulkier compared to their counterparts. They are the most heavily padded in the knuckle area. However, the thicker padding covers a much larger surface area. (After all, boxers make contact primarily through their fists, from almost any angle.) Since boxers have no use for thumbs, boxing gloves keep them curved and held in place.

    Boxing gloves can range from 8oz to 20oz. Their size and weight allows them to be utilized more to directly intercept an incoming strike. You can cover the entirety of your head simply by putting your hands up. That’s why defense in boxing relies more on curling yourself up and blocking incoming hits.

  • Muay Thai Gloves

    Muay Thai gloves are lighter with evenly distributed, thinner padding. This keeps the fighters’ hands protected and mobile enough to block and parry kicks as needed. Since Muay Thai practices clinching (upright grappling), Nak Muay need to be able to grab. That’s why Muay Thai gloves allow more flexibility, particularly around the thumb.

    Visually, you won’t find many differences between Boxing and Muay Thai gloves. You’ll see how they differ when you wear them, though, and definitely more when you use them to train.

  • MMA Gloves

    How heavy are MMA gloves? They’re about four to eight ounces. Compared to the first two, MMA gloves are significantly smaller and lighter. Their padding is mainly at the knuckles, the back of the hand, and the wrists. They also have stiffer padding and keep the fingers uncovered.

    MMA touch-glove is customary before engaging

    These gloves give the most flexibility in hand movement. It protects the knuckles and allows the fighter to perform non-striking moves.

    MMA gloves also go by a different name wherein lies the essence of its open, fingerless form: grappling gloves. As we (or most of us) already know, grappling is a significant aspect of MMA. A practitioner’s arsenal of techniques include more than just punching and kicking.

    These gloves protect the fighter’s fists when they need to strike. At the same time, it provides the freedom to maneuver closely to that of being barehanded. Being able to open and close your fists makes it possible to grab and hold on to your opponent. It lets you secure different grips. And since they aren’t big and bulky, they allow more grappling opportunities.

    The downside is that MMA gloves don’t allow blocking as much as Boxing gloves do. MMA defense then relies less on blocking and more on parrying and evasive movements.

    That said, we want to address some common questions about MMA gloves…

    Do you need hand wraps for MMA gloves?

    A man wraps his hands

    Some people assume that wrapped hands wouldn’t fit into MMA gloves since it’s so small. That’s not true, though. Their design actually provides a perfectly snug fit when you wrap your hands.

    You want to always keep your hand-wraps on during training for greater protection. Wrapping your hands keep your bones in place. It minimizes the risk of hurting your hands even after repeated impact.

    Can I use MMA gloves for heavy bag practice?

    a man practises on the heavy bag

    If you’re going to be practising on the heavy bag, it’s best to use gloves with thicker padding. There are some MMA gloves designed that way. Still, most striking coaches would recommend using Boxing or Muay Thai gloves instead. These provide more support in your hands, knuckles, and wrists and minimize the risk of injury.

    Anyway, it’s not like you’re going to be gripping the heavy bag. (We’d be most impressed if you could grip it somehow!) The most you can do with it in terms of grappling is simulate some clinching with it.

  • The eye poke problem

    Eye-pokes are unfortunate accidents that happen during matches. And with more freedom on your hands, the probability of such errors increases as well.

    An eye poke is when a fighter’s finger goes into the opponent’s eye. It happens in fights with boxing gloves since the thumb is separated from the fist. But it’s more likely to occur in MMA due to the gloves being fingerless and the fight’s fast pace.

    The official UFC MMA gloves have a well-known design flaw. It pulls the hand open and leaves a fighter’s fingers extended. This increases the likelihood of eye-pokes happening. Repeated incidences of accidental eye pokes have led fans to call for changes on the UFC’s official gloves.

  • Trevor Wittman Gloves

    …and so MMA Coach Trevor Wittman took matters into his own hands. The ONX glove under his brand, ONX Sports, have a curved knuckle design that minimizes eye pokes. It is literally the MMA glove to prevent eye pokes. This design holds the fighter’s hands in a more natural curved position. 

    the Trevor Wittman ONX gloves

    Having the fighter’s fingers tucked down gives more hand protection. Of course, it also means a fewer incidence of eye pokes.

    Taking inspiration, other organizations now use gloves of a similar design.

    We can’t really blame the UFC gloves for eye-pokes, but we can’t deny that it happens. If you asked us, what are good MMA gloves? Well, we’d say the ONX gloves have a lot of potential.