MMA Gloves and Boxing

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

So, why did old-timey boxers box in that old-timey way? James LaFond explains, while looking at MMA gloves and boxing:

Anyone who has studied film, photos and illustrations of old-time boxers and bare-knuckle boxers realizes that these fighters punched differently than modern boxers. This has been explained as evidence of the evolution of punching mechanics, finally resulting in a more skilled modern boxer. So, when an MMA fighter looks to develop punching skills he looks to the latest in boxing techniques.

The problem with this very reasonable assumption is that it ignores the primary influence upon the evolution of boxing techniques: the development of the boxing glove. The result has been a high frequency of hand injuries (particularly to the unprotected thumb) among MMA fighters. (See Ultimate MMA, September 2010, pages 92, 123).


Before we continue let us establish the terminology.

  1. A fist that lands with the palm and thumb down is pronated.
  2. A fist that lands with the thumb up is vertical.
  3. A fist that lands with the palm and thumb up (like an uppercut) is supinated.

Applications must be worked out with your trainer, and will often feature a trade off. For example, bare-knuckle boxers did not hook or uppercut to the body because of the danger posed to the thumb by the defender’s elbows.

Straight punches to the body tend to leave the puncher open for a counter to the head. This was not a problem in the London Prize Ring, because fighters were more than willing to take a counterpunch to the skull that might break their opponent’s bare hand. However, as an MMA fighter, your opponent may very well punch you in the head with his tapped hands and 4 ounce gloves and not suffer a broken hand.

There are also kicking and grappling concerns to consider, and these are areas I am not qualified to comment on. One note: the first bare-knuckle boxing champion, James Figg, won one of his bouts via a standing arm bar. It has been postulated that this was a counter to one of his opponent’s supinated jabs to the face.

Without a glove, the jab is a totally different punch:

The vertical jab was the overwhelmingly dominant punch for 4,000 years of boxing. It is not as powerful, and does not have quite the reach of the pronated jab. Its advantages are that it gets through the opponents hands more easily, with minimal risk of thumb injury. It was used primarily for striking up the middle to the nose and mouth (Bare-knuckle punches to the mouth that are pronanted or supinated can result in teeth entering the fingers or knuckles.) Modern coaches who teach this punch sometimes call it the sneaky jab.

The supinated jab was used primarily for punching over the guard while stepping to the outside. It offers total protection to the thumb. It was called the “special punch”, a maiming blow intended to strike the eye-ball directly as the two large knuckles slide into the socket from below. With MMA gloves this can be used to crack the orbital bone or cut the eye-lid. Those few modern coaches who teach this punch sometimes call this an up-jab.

Before boxing gloves pronated jabs were used primarily to strike the body, allowing the thumb to hang safely beneath the hand, away from the descending elbow. Other applications included striking the jaw of an opponent with a low guard, or the forehead of a shorter fighter.

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