The rules of a combat sport determine every other aspect, including the equipment used. Most striking sports have adopted boxing gloves, but mixed martial arts present a unique challenge that regular boxing gloves cannot handle. But what is the difference between boxing and MMA gloves?
Boxing gloves are designed only with striking in mind and protect the hands of fighters and their heads from superficial damage. On the other hand, MMA gloves have the same role, but the open-finger design also allows for effective grappling and fighting on the ground.
Aside from the noticeable difference being the open fingers of MMA gloves, some more subtle things separate the two types of gloves. We will go through all of them.
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Differences Between Boxing Gloves and MMA Gloves
The first and most obvious difference between the two types of gloves is the open fingers in MMA gloves. Wrestling and grappling require the unrestricted use of hands and fingers for many finer movements, and MMA gloves facilitate that.
There are different types of designs for the palm; some gloves have it almost completely open, while others cover it with leather. A part of the thumb can also be open or partially covered, but the hand must always have the option to grip.
Boxing gloves, on the other hand, protect the hand from injuries and are designed to keep the hand clenched in a fist at all times. All the fingers are covered, and the thumb is connected to the rest of the fingers.
The only available motion in a boxing glove is to partially open the palm, and the level varies depending on the model.
The amount of padding in a glove determines its weight and, by extension, its size, measured in ounces. Fighting MMA gloves have padding only on the knuckles and top of the hand and usually weigh 4 oz.
Sparring and amateur gloves are much thicker, but only around the knuckles, and weigh around 7 ounces. The knuckle padding of amateur and sparring MMA gloves is comparable to that of boxing gloves.
Boxing gloves have padding on all sides of the glove, but this can vary greatly depending on the intended use of the glove, but more on that in the different types of boxing gloves paragraph.
The biggest portion of the padding is always on the knuckles. At the same time, the rest is distributed all around the glove, which makes boxing gloves heavier than MMA ones. Competition gloves are 10 ounces, while standard sparring gloves are 16 ounces.
Boxing gloves have two ways of strapping—by Velcro or by laces. The laces provide a much tighter and more comfortable fit. Still, they are nearly impossible to put on yourself properly, so for most of the training, fighters prefer to use Velcro gloves. Many boxing gloves also protect the wrist and, with some models, half of the forearm.
MMA gloves go to the wrist; the only closure system is Velcro, as there is not enough space for laces. For that reason, many brands use a more sophisticated system of closure that includes a few straps that overlap in a specific way to ensure better wrist stability.
Hands wraps are a must in boxing gloves. They provide stability to the wrist and the entire hand and keep all the bones, ligaments, and muscles tight together and braced for heavy impact. Boxing gloves have a lot of space inside, and you can use long wraps with extra padding on the knuckles.
MMA fighters also use hand wraps, but there is much less space inside the glove, and less space means less wrapping. Wrapping in MMA gloves mainly provides structure to the whole hand, not to protect the knuckles that much.
Effective boxing training requires hitting a heavy bag, pads, various types of equipment such as a double-ended bag, and other people. The best way to do these is with dedicated boxing gloves with the proper features.
Obviously, you won’t need a different glove for every bag you have at your disposal. Still, the bare minimum is one pair of training gloves for all needs and one pair of sparring gloves used solely for that purpose.
There is also a difference in the thickness, firmness, and padding distribution in gloves used for fights and those designed for sparring.
Competition gloves are harder, and the padding protects the hand more than the one receiving the punches. Sparring gloves, however, are softer and bulkier to avoid unnecessary damage in the gym.
Then there are variations on the boxing gloves used for different sports. The difference comes mainly in the Muay Thai gloves that need to allow more freedom of motion in the hand for clinching and protection on all sides of the hand to block elbows and kicks.
Different Types of MMA gloves
MMA gloves have fewer versions and can generally be separated into two categories: professional and amateur. The gloves used by pros for competition are usually 4 ounces (unless they are a bigger size, like XXL) and have a completely open thumb.
Amateur MMA gloves are also used for sparring and have much thicker padding. They are easily recognized by the fact that, on top, they look like a boxing glove with an open palm.
Still, they must always allow movement in the hand and fingers for grappling. There are more variations and diverse features in amateur/sparring MMA gloves, but the overall approach is always the same.
Which Gloves Deal More Damage
A very frequently debated topic in the fight world is comparing the dangers of boxing and MMA. While MMA seems more brutal, the worst injuries that can be life-altering or even lethal for a fighter are usually to the brain.
There are many factors to consider, one of which is gloves. MMA gloves are thinner and firmer and do much more superficial damage in the form of bruises and cuts.
The smaller gloves make it easier to land punches and more challenging to defend them by just keeping the hands up as a shield. The often-bloody MMA battles make people think the gloves do more damage, but this is only true on the surface.
Boxing gloves spare the skin more, but they also spread the force of a blow to the brain more. According to studies, they reduce the force of a blow. Still, they also allow boxers the freedom to throw with full power with a vastly lower chance of injuring the hand than they would with MMA gloves, let alone with a bare fist.
So while MMA gloves deal more surface damage, boxing gloves may harm the brain more seriously, especially in competition over many rounds.
In the gym, though, MMA gloves always hurt more than boxing gloves. Because of this, sparring MMA gloves are larger than competition gloves, and sparring boxing gloves have the most and softest padding.
Even professional MMA fighters frequently spar using boxing gloves because they provide the best protection for both sides, even when things get heated.
MMA gloves are not suitable for boxing. The punches, defenses against them, and strategies in the sweet science have been developed and honed for use with boxing gloves.
Once they are gone, things change quite a bit. You cannot punch as hard without running the risk of breaking a hand, you must pay more attention to which part of the hand is landing, and most of all, the size of MMA gloves makes it much easier to find holes in the guard.
In MMA, you can lower the risk of getting punched by kicking or, better yet, engaging in a clinch or taking the fight to the ground. In boxing, you don’t have these options, and using MMA gloves will surely decrease the duration of boxing matches and change the dynamics quite a bit.
Boxing with MMA gloves, like bare-knuckle boxing, alters the sport to the point where it becomes a new discipline.
MMA gloves and boxing gloves are made for hitting, but the difference comes from the fact that mixed martial artists must also be able to grapple. For this reason, MMA gloves have open fingers, a free palm, and much less padding. MMA fighters also use boxing gloves in the gym for striking sparring, while boxers have no use for the smaller fingerless gloves in their sport.