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How much would MMA change if gloves and wraps were banned?

Martial Arts Asked by BatWannaBe on December 17, 2020

It seems obvious that punches would be far riskier without hand protection designed specifically to cushion the knuckles and stabilize the hand, but I don’t have any idea how much it would change the sport. To be clear, I am talking about a change to the unified rules of MMA, not a complete change to "anything goes in the streets."

I am hoping to get more practical evidence, and online searches aren’t helping. The closest sport I could find was the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship, but it disallows almost everything except boxing and still uses hand wraps. Warfare has always been primarily armed and armored, so that’s no help. There are endless self-defense resources, but the takes are often conflicting, undemonstrated, or untested (to get a sense of how much BS there is, look up knife defense tests).

I’m looking for historical sports that approximate MMA minus hand protection (allow striking and grappling that target most of body) and an overview of their techniques, or personal knowledge from sparring and unarmed combat.

2 Answers

From my experience in sparring without a gi both with and without gloves/wraps, there will be two main differences:

  • Some submissions, like straight armbars, might become more difficult since it is easier to slip out (or retain control) when the arm doesn't get stuck at the wrist due to the glove. To talk more generally, things get more slippery.

  • Due to slippery grappling, it's not like there would open up a whole new world of new techniques. Basically yes, one would be able to attack the wrist. And you see some wrist locks in no-gi BJJ, i.e. highly controlled groundwork. So there's that.

As of standing fights, I would not expect too much of a difference regarding the grappling itself, since due to the lack of clothing, there simply isn't much there which is hindered by MMA gloves. Mind, the reason they feature open fingers basically is to enable grappling.

What will probably happen are the occurrence of more blood and maybe less ruthless punching. There is quite the possibility to cut or break your hand if you just punch like you are used doing with gloves, not what professionals whose bodies are their capital love to see. This may - and I am theorising at that point - lead to a shift towards elbows, kicks (including knees), and grappling. No idea how much of a shift, but a shift. It becomes exceedingly more difficult to check and keep your distance with jabs and the threat of a follow-up punch to the head when the other one knows how to move the hard parts of their head into the way of the punch and you cannot risk ending the fight by breaking your hand.

Answered by Philip Klöcking on December 17, 2020

One change, relatively minor, but important individually, is that it might further reduce the risk of injuries due to hidden weapons. Aside from the stereotypical weighted gloves sometimes seen in media for boxing, some MMA competitions have problems with loaded hand wraps and the consequences can be career ending (the linked video is Ramsey Dewey recounting how this is what led to his retirement, as well as to his characteristic speech patterns resulting from how he compensates for the brain injury he sustained). The less covering you have, the harder it is to hide such weaponry, pro wrestling shenanigans aside.

Answered by Macaco Branco on December 17, 2020

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