Gloves, padded leather or synthetic hand coverings designed to offer protection during a fight. Pretty simple really, but there are a few things that we need to consider when we’re choosing our gloves.
Firstly, there are multiple styles and weights of gloves. From 16oz (or even up to 20oz) boxing or Muay Thai gloves down to 4oz MMA or shooto style gloves. There are even bag mitts, which aren’t considering to be gloves, but are worth mentioning just to say that they shouldn’t be used as gloves. They offer no wrist of hand support and very little padding which increases the chances being injured.
Gloves serve a couple of very important purposes in sparring or fighting. Firstly, they protect and support our hands and wrists while striking. The support provided for the structure (bones and tendons) of the hand and wrist is often something that is overlooked, but something that is vital to our ongoing health and wellbeing as a fighter.
Glove weight is a measurement of how much padding goes into them. This means that a heavier glove provides more protection, both to your hands/head and to your opponent when you strike them. The different weight/design of various different gloves affects the way we use them. A 16oz glove is mostly used in the gym for sparring practice. It’s actually less good for some things because, while it offers a lot of protection, it’s size makes it less effective for working on accuracy. There are boxing techniques which in 12oz or MMA gloves are very effective, but in 16oz gloves just don’t work.
Another factor that affects your choice of gloves is hand size. You need to wear gloves that fit correctly. If your gloves are a little loose, you can make up the difference by wrapping your hands, but if your gloves are too loose even wrapping won’t make them fit well enough to support your hand properly. At the same time, having large hands, I find it difficult to wear anything smaller than a 12oz glove and even those are uncomfortably tight until the leather has had a chance to stretch.
Most amateur and professional boxing matches use 12oz gloves or lighter (it depends on weight class). If you’re at the level where you’re ready to start fighting in the ring or cage, you really need to have multiple sets of gloves (I have three sets which I use regularly). It’s not a good idea to wear competition weight gloves for the first time on fight day, but at the same time if you’re wearing anything smaller than around a 14oz or 12oz glove (depending on your size) in sparring you’re running an increased risk of hurting your training partners.
Personally, as a heavyweight, I use 16oz gloves for sparring. I use 12oz gloves for bag and pad work (boxing and Muay Thai) and occasional sparring when I’m looking to focus on accuracy. I also have MMA gloves for MMA sparring and I also favor them for bag work. The advantage of using MMA gloves for bag work is that they force you to have good technique. If you throw poorly you scuff up your knuckles on the bag and pain can be a most effective teacher. The down side is that the smaller glove normally offers less wrist support and padding so the chances of injury are increased.
Most of the smaller guys in our gym (under 85kg) wear 14oz gloves which is fine. As a rule they don’t hit so hard as the heavyweights so the lighter gloves tend to fit them better while still offering an acceptable amount of protection. Of course females and non-adult practitioners tend to wear lighter gloves, it’s not uncommon for female martial artists to wear 8oz gloves just because anything too much bigger tends not to fit.
When it comes to the design of the gloves there are two basic kinds of full gloves. Boxing gloves have most of the padding forward over the knuckles, the back of the glove tapers down toward the wrist offering far less protection over the back of the hand. This is because in boxing your primary defense is movement. Head movement, body movement, either way your greatest defense is avoiding being hit in the first place.
Muay Thai gloves have the padding more evenly spread over the glove. They characteristically have an obvious step between the padding of the glove and the wrist. This is because blocking is far more accepted as a defensive technique in Muay Thai. In Muay Thai because of the danger of kicks, knees and elbows; slipping, weaving and bobbing are discouraged (the Muay Thai response to someone bobbing is to knee them in the head) so we block far more than we do in boxing. The design of the gloves reflects this, providing far more padding over the back of the glove to absorb the impact of those strikes.
MMA and Shooto gloves are somewhat similar, the main difference being that MMA gloves have separate fingers, allowing far more finger movement. Shooto gloves have a single solid section of padding with finger loops under it. It provides (arguably) more protection when striking, but is more awkward when it comes to grappling. They also tend to be a little more bulky, just because of the shape, which can make it harder to free your hands in grappling.
When it comes to buying gloves, there are a few things that make a good glove. Firstly, good quality construction. I like the full leather Twins and Fairtex boxing gloves, although to be honest I like the design and quality more than the brand. With that said, my Hyabusa MMA gloves are a synthetic engineered leather and have lasted longer and been worn harder than my previous full leather Twins MMA gloves. They also show less sign of wear, although it should be noted that they were considerably more expensive.
Another thing to consider is the padding. Some gloves use a lighter, less dense padding. This results in a physically bigger glove than an alternate brand of the same weight. Personally I prefer a smaller, denser, glove as it allows you to take advantage of holes in your opponent’s defenses. I also feel that the lower density padding tends to wear less well over time, ending up packed down where it doesn’t provide as much protection as it does when new.
The last, and probably most important thing, is wrist support. Some gloves just don’t offer enough wrist support, and if you then fail to wrap adequately, it becomes very easy to roll your wrist forward or back when you’re hitting a moving target. These wrist injuries to tendon or cartilage can cause long term damage and weakening of the wrist which can in turn develop into long term “I can’t train anymore” kind of injuries. A well made glove with plenty of wrist support (again, I personally own Twins, Fairtex and Hyabusa, all of which provide plenty of wrist support) does a huge amount to protect you from these injuries.
A good quality glove, regardless of style, will cost you a decent amount to buy. Making a good choice when it comes to those gloves is important; you don’t want to spend your hard earned money on flashy, expensive gloves that don’t provide you with the protection and support that you need to train safely. At the same time, paying for high quality gloves that offer performance and quality as well as lasting for a long time makes sense. Buying cheap low quality gloves that will have to be replaced in a short time and may well lead to injuries will probably end up costing you more in the long run. You can’t put a price tag on safety.