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Do Boxing Gloves Do More Damage Or Bare Knuckle Answered

Two heavyweight boxers competing inside the ring.

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The sport of boxing has existed in one form or another for thousands of years. From its early days when fighters wore leather strapping on their hands. To more recent innovations in the form of padded gloves. So with all of these advancements in design, people have wondered do boxing gloves do more damage than none at all.

Several studies have taken place to prove the dynamic impact boxing gloves have when striking an opponent. And while gloves do retain a high degree of peak force through to their target. They do carry less impact than bare-knuckle punches.

And you might think that is enough to warrant the use of padded gloves in the sport of boxing. However, there is far more to this issue than meets the eye. While boxing gloves do indeed help to minimise impacts, both on the giver and the receiver of the punch.

Boxing gloves have some unintended consequences in relation to long terms of damage to the fighter. While the padding on the glove does help to mitigate the immediate superficial damage inflicted during the fight. Helping to minimise cuts and prolong the match itself.

This extension of the fight can and often does lead to boxers having to take additional punishment not seen in bare-knuckle matches.

A pair of boxing gloves sitting on a table.
Some white boxing gloves sit on a table.

As if you have seen any bare-knuckle fights you will be all too well aware of just how brutal they can appear. Quite literally bone-on-bone, crunching shots that will often open up large lacerations on the fighter’s face.

However, the brutality of what you see on the surface can often hide the underlying and more important results. Which is that bare-fisted fights tend to end quicker than that their padded counterpart.

As more force is transferred through the bare fist, it means the fighters will often succumb to damage sooner than in fights where boxing gloves are used. And so those involved have less time in which to sustain the far more damaging lifelong effects of trauma to the brain.

Do Boxing Gloves Cause More Damage

Over the past several decades, multiple tests have been undertaken to analyse the role gloves have played in boxing, including a 1987 paper by Smith & Hamill. And while their results are relevant, a lot has changed in terms of glove design over the subsequent years.

Two professional boxers boxing on black smoky background.
A boxer throwing a punch.

So in order to stay fully up to date, we need to look at the latest study using the most relevant glove design. So that we can get the most accurate data available.

And in a study titled Striking dynamics and kinetic properties of boxing and MMA gloves by Benjamin LEE & Stuart MCGILL, 2014. They set out to discover the current kinetic impact properties of the most commonly used gloves.

The LEE & McGill Experiment

In their experiment, the scientists used a 16oz Hayabusa boxing glove with approximately 2 cm of padding. Which was attached to a biofidelic shape that simulated a human fist.

The gloves consisted of 65% premium cowhide leather, with 18% nylon/polyurethane mix used for the inner padding and a 17% later rubber foam composite. Which are the materials most widely used across today’s glove designs.

Then using a pendulum-based impact tester, over a duration of 5 hours and 10,000 strikes were landed. They set about examining the glove’s ability to retain its protective qualities after repeated strikes.

Samples were taken from 20 strikes over each 30-minute period. The result shows that the gloves did indeed degrade over time. As the peak force rose by some 25% over the duration of the tests.

Number of StrikesPeak Force (N)Time to Peak
0532.25 ± 65.0821.30 ± 0.64
1,000680.64 ± 80.5521.30 ± 0.41
2,000683.02 ± 114.8319.91 ± 0.53*
3,000725.58 ± 73.24*20.37 ± 0.44
4,000731.10 ± 68.6119.91 ± 0.46
5,000743.91 ± 76.1118.98 ± 0.43
6,000744.86 ± 93.3118.98 ± 0.28
7,000745.48 ± 42.4418.98 ± 0.33
8,000746.52 ± 91.5619.91 ± 0.49
9,000747.32 ± 62.6119.91 ± 0.33
10,000747.41 ± 59.7519.91 ± 0.59
Results from the LEE & McGill Experiment.

And while the results showed a definite degradation in the impact protection the boxing glove offered. It still managed to retain the majority right up to the last strike being thrown.

Showing us that regardless of this deterioration, the gloves still serve a purpose in terms of what they were designed to do. The question really is whether or not that purpose is having an overall negative or positive long-term effect on fighters.

The National Geographic Experiment

In an experiment that saw former UFC heavyweight champion, Bas Rutten, testing bare fists vs boxing gloves on a punching bag. Many of those involved in the sport believed that the boxing gloves allowed for faster and harder punches to be thrown.

Their world was about to get somewhat turned upside down by the results of the experiment. Bas first being asked to use a standard boxing glove. He squared up a took a right-hand hook punch on the bag.

The results of the strike showed 641 pounds of force being landed. A sizeable amount of power to get hit by. While the follow-up bare-fisted punch delivered a knockout of 776 pounds of force.

Boxing Gloves vs MMA Gloves experiment.

So a clear distinction in terms of the transfer of power between padded protection and no padding. And so we know from this that boxing gloves do indeed give more protection during a fight, but here is the caveat.

By giving the fighter more protection during the match. By helping to cushion the blows and lessen the amount of visible trauma to the face. What’s happening is that this is allowing fights to go on longer.

And when fights go on longer, what happens is a boxer will receive more and more punches to the head. Repeatedly causing the brain to recoil inside the skull, potentially adding scarring.

And this is where the question of whether boxing gloves do more damage comes to a head. While gloves are saving the fighter from having excessive damage done to their facial area.

What we don’t see is the damage being done inside the single most important organ in the body, the brain. While the gloves do help to prolong the fight, they also add an additional layer of danger over the longer rounds.

There are a number of reasons why the use of boxing gloves continues. And why during tests and fights their design characteristics give us the results that they do.

The Puncher Can Hit Harder

Nigerian boxer Young Ali against Barry McGuigan.
Barry McGuigan vs Young Ali.

In boxing, the hands and wrists are heavily protected by using hand wraps. And what this does is give fighters the confidence to throw harder shots. So while the impact of the punch may be lessened due to the padding. It has the knock-on effect of the fighter throwing more punches to achieve the desired outcome. Possibly resulting in even more trauma to the opponent’s brain.

More Surface Area

As there is a larger surface area on the glove, it means that at least some of the load from the punch will be dissipated. A smaller glove like an MMA glove delivers slightly more than a larger boxing glove.

Padding in The Glove

Padding in the glove helps to cushion both the hand and the opponent’s face on the receiving end. Psychologically this gives the fighter throwing the punch more confidence in them not breaking their hand.

Speed Of The Punch

Speed kills and when wearing gloves in the boxing ring, fighters are able to punch with the knowledge their fists will be protected. Quite different to a bare-knuckle fight where the athletes have to be aware that a punch can easily break their hand.

Improvements In Boxing Glove Design

Over the years in an attempt to help enhance protection for boxers inside the ring. There have been several attempts to improve boxing glove design. But outside of some minor innovations, nothing really all that different has caught on.

From the highly touted Trevor Wittman Onyx glove design, which looks to improve fighter safety. More out-there innovations have tried to use air as cushioning protection.

All of these have remained a niche within the market. As the mainstream of the sport doesn’t seem in any immediate hurry to change the current situation.

In Conclusion

So while boxing gloves do give added protection in a fight. There are also some major drawbacks which need to be considered.

While the padding will give both opponents an added layer of protection. It appears from the data collected that this results in them being able to take additional punishment inside the ring.

And while this is great news for the fans watching. For those partaking in a long gruelling boxing match. It can mean longer-term damage down the line.

So my final word is that while their use does mean less damage in terms of what we can see visually. It’s the damage we do not see which can and does have a lasting effect on the lives of some boxers.

And for this reason, I have to say that when you look at the picture as a whole. Boxing gloves do more damage than fights where they are not being used.