Would the UFC Be Safer Without Gloves?

Bare-knuckle boxing may bring images of shirtless, mustachioed men beating each other to a pulp during the dawn of the 20th century. Since those days blood sports such as MMA and boxing have tried to make things safer.

One of the obvious ways in which this is purportedly done is by providing gloves and tape on a fighter’s hand. It allegedly adds padding for both the victim of a punch and for the person who is throwing it. Is this safer, though?

UFC commentator Joe Rogan doesn’t think so, and he took to his show to explain why. 

Rogan’s UFC glove argument

According to Rogan, MMA gloves, which are much smaller than boxing gloves and look more like fingerless gloves, don’t allow fighters to pummel opponents the way a boxer can with their heavily-padded gloves. “It’s much more rare for boxers to break their hands than MMA fighters,” Rogan said. He went on to explain that MMA gloves have their own set of issues, as well. 

Rogan’s main argument is that gloves and tape are more about an aesthetic than actual protection. In fact, he says they actually serve as a danger to a fighter’s hands and wrists.

Rogan goes on to explain gloves actually make the hand stiffer, which makes the punches stiffer and more dangerous for the puncher. Without them, Rogan says, fighters would have to be more tactical with their punches instead of always going for the knockout blow.

It is a fascinating argument, but is there truth behind it? 

Do gloves help or hurt in the UFC?

According to The Roar, Rogan’s argument is on to something. They allow something of a brace to the fighters’ hands which allow them to punch more recklessly than they would be able to without them. Although the aforementioned bare-knuckle fights of yesteryear may come to mind as the only time that true hand-to-hand combat was done this way, it may come to a surprise to some that the UFC began with gloveless bouts. 

It wasn’t until UFC 6 that gloves entered the octagon when Tank Abbott elected to wear them. In the world of CTE and other head trauma, one might think that these padded gloves add protection for the head and the brain. However they are actually allowing punchers to hit harder than they otherwise could have dreamed of. 

Gloves in the CTE era

People in violent sports often suffer from brain trauma. It has been covered relentlessly for years in books, movies, and medical reports. In a call for the UFC to ban gloves, The Daily Beast explained the way that gloves allow for more brain trauma not less.

Basically, with added padding, boxers are allowed to wail on their opponents with less concern for broken knuckles. However, as writer Jonathan Gottschall states, “When you punch a skull bare-fisted, the skull punches back.”

While this may increase hand injuries, hand injuries might hurt fighters in the short-term, but they don’t offer the same long-term problems that brain damage does. Fighting is inherently dangerous, be it bare-knuckle or with gloves. However, if we are going to worry about the long term safety of these fighters, we have to have a serious discussion about whether or not gloves belong. 

Our pictures of testosterone-fueled men from the early 1900s may seem barbaric, but it is no more barbaric than modern boxing. There are some precautions that gloves allow, but in many ways, there are many greater risks, and the aesthetic is not worth the safety of the fighters. Rogan may not be an expert on the subject, but he was not off-base with his analysis of gloves in the UFC, and to quote the old adage, it’s time for the gloves to come off.