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Clarifying Exactly When Did The UFC Start Using MMA Gloves

An analysis of when the UFC started using MMA gloves.

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The UFC today looks very different to the UFC which began in 1993. Back then it was no holds barred fighting in a cage, which very much mirrored what someone might see on the street. But over time, with new rules came some big changes including the use of gloves. So when did the UFC first start using those gloves?

The UFC first initially introduced the use of gloves at UFC 14. However, the very first time a fighter attempted to use gloves was Melton Bowen was back at UFC 4. But due to the fact that he lost the fight, he never got to fight in the UFC again. His recognition over the years has gone unnoticed.

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But many people to this day still believe that it was UFC fighter David Tank Abbot who first wore gloves inside the UFC octagon. Much of this is down to the fact that Tank became a huge star in the sport. Being the first fighter to use the gloves to great effect.

So as a result of fans seeing Abbott routinely knocking his opponents out cold-wearing gloves. He very much became the fighter synonymous with their use.

But there’s more to this story than meets the eye, as there was in fact yet another fighter who had first attempted to wear gloves during his fight.

The First Attempt At Using Gloves

Back in 2003, a fighter by the name of Felix Mitchell was, in fact, the first person to try and use small gloves in a match. Mitchell was brought in as an alternative to face Ken Shamrock after the original opponent Keith Hackney was unable to continue due to injury.

Mitchell did make the walk to the octagon wearing the gloves. But before he could enter the cage, referee John McCarthy instructed him to take off the gloves. Thereby removing the opportunity for him to be remembered as the first fighter to ever do it.

Fighter Felix Mitchell making his way to the octagon at UFC 3.
Felix Mitchell wearing the first MMA glove UFC 3.

we are not sure why McCarthy directed Mitchell to remove the MMA-style gloves. But we can assume it was simply down to the fact that no one had done it before. And as the UFC at the time was a no holds barred fighting format. Wearing gloves on would have gone against the grain and no doubt would have seemed strange.

Felix would compete in the fight wearing only hand wraps. Losing the bout to Shamrock via rear-naked choke.

The First MMA Style Gloves Worn In The UFC

But back to the original innovator Melton “The Punisher” Bowen who wore gloves for his fight with Steve Jennum at UFC 4 – Revenge of the Warriors. Bowen was a one-and-done fighter who after his loss to Jennum would never again compete in MMA.

And as a result, his one-time appearance in the octagon went very much unnoticed by the MMA world. But Bowen was an accomplished boxer who had at one time fought for a world heavyweight title.

With a record of 35 – 9, the Jamaican-born boxer had competed at a high level. And has in fact fought former world champion, Shannon Briggs, in a fight he lost.

But in terms of being acknowledged as the first person to wear an MMA-style glove in the UFC. To this day the majority of fight fans give that accolade to Tank Abbot.

Why Wear Gloves At All

Tank Abbot was a renowned street fighter who very much came to the sport of MMA as a seasoned bare-knuckle boxer. And so for Abbot, the no holds barred octagon format was much more akin to the world of street fighting than it was to professional boxing.

And so Abbott drew on his experience of street fighting when making his decision to wear MMA-style gloves in the cage. Reported to have been in some odd 200 street fights.

A pair of MMA glove lying on a table in a room.
Modern standard professional 4oz gloves.

The one thing he was aware of was that your hands could get easily broken. When hitting another human being on say the skull or another hard part of the body with an unprotected fist could spell disaster. And so Tank wanted to draw up his experiences and pre ?? that ever happening.

Taking it upon himself, he went to a local sports store and bought himself a pair of boxing bag gloves. With the help of some scissors, Abbot cut away the fingers thereby allowing his hands-free reign to grapple on the ground.

Learning from what he had already seen in terms of UFC fights. Tank realised that at one time or another, the fight may end up on the ground. and wearing gloves that covered his entire hand would not allow him to use his grip to grapple.

The UFC 6 Fighters Meeting

So he brought the gloves along to the fighter’s meeting which takes place before all events. And in this video interview below, he talks about the process involved in being allowed to use them in his fight.

David Tank Abbott discussing the first use of MMA style gloves in the UFC

“I was the one that brought the actual fighting gloves you see nowadays. Up until that point, all these guys thought they were martial artists and stuff and they were bare-knuckle guys. And I was wondering have they really ever been in a street fight?”

Tank Abbott MMA Digest Interview

Tank goes on to say talk about how badly his hands had been affected after being in a street fight. Being cut open from hitting people in the mouth, that kind of thing.

But he explains why he chose the boxing bag type gloves and how he wanted the ability to also be able to grapple. And when he took out the gloves at the fighter meeting and asked whether he could use them or not?

Not only was he told he could by referee John McCarthy. But some of his fellow fighters in the room, many of which were traditional martial artists laughed at the idea. But they were all to be proven very wrong.

“So I went from the laughing stock to the envy, all in one show.”

Tank Abbott MMA Digest Interview

As Tank would go on to knock out the man-mountain John Matua, followed by a TKO of another huge man Paul Varelans. Being able to punch with full power and all without hurting his hands due to the gloves now protecting them.

David Tank Abbott was a UFC heavyweight fighter here wearing some 4oz MMA gloves he helped to promote in the sport.
Tank Abbott wearing 4oz MMA gloves.

The UFC Mandates Use Of MMA Gloves

The first official use of MMA-style gloves took place on July 27 at UFC 14. A show on which Abbot himself did not compete. But in order to try to bring the UFC into the mainstream, the addition of gloves seemed like an obvious step to take.

As the UFC looked the minimise the brutality of the sport and try to bring it more in line with other combat sports. This was also due to the pressure being put on them by the government. After watching a VHS of an event, Senator John McCain had taken it up himself to try and ban the sport of MMA in the US, referring to it in 1996 as;

“human cockfighting.”

Senator John McCain on the UFC

So it could be said that if anything Senator McCain’s ??? against the sport did, in fact, help to shape it into what we now today see. While there’s little doubt it would have eventually happened anyway. McCain’s intervention if anything helped speed up their introduction.

In Conclusion

So as we can see the history of when the UFC first introduced gloves is somewhat clouded. And while Tank Abbot is quite happy to take the plaudits for first wearing them inside the UFC octagon. That acknowledgement goes to a lesser-known fighter by the name of Melton Bowen.

And while not for referee John McCarthy Felix Mitchell could have been that guy. For many, it was Abbot’s presence and record in the sport that truly helped to popularise their use amongst other fighters.

Sure he may not have been the first, but he was the guy that through his one-punch knockouts. Helped catapult the idea of protecting a fighter’s hands, while at the same time maintaining most of that knockout power.

Perhaps Tank being the fighter most associated with the introduction of gloves to MMA is a fair deal for what he did for the sport. One of the early icons, if not for fighters like him. Who knows if the UFC or even MMA itself would even exist today.