A gentleman should always choose his gloves carefully...

Here's an interesting question that doesn't have an immediately obvious answer:

What allows you to punch harder- wearing 14oz boxing gloves, wearing 4oz MMA gloves, or not wearing any gloves at all (i.e. bare-knuckles brawling)?

Most people would likely respond that wearing boxing gloves allows you to deliver much harder and heavier punches, because the gloves themselves are actually pretty heavy. You try pounding on a heavy bag for 20 minutes with those gloves on, and you'll quickly discover just how heavy your hands will feel, and how much your shoulders will hurt, within just a few rounds.

But in fact, it turns out that smashing your bare fists into somebody's face will deliver far more damage than just wearing gloves:


This seems counter-intuitive, but it actually does make sense if you think about it.

As the video points out, there is quite a lot of padding available to a boxing glove, which significantly blunts the amount of force delivered from a single punch despite the additional mass involved.

Furthermore, since force is a function of mass and acceleration- if any of you remember your high-school physics- and given that the human body does not spontaneously gain additional strength the moment you add a little under a kilogram of weight to your body, you can't really accelerate your hand any faster once you put on gloves. So the additional mass gets cancelled out by the somewhat slower acceleration.

The result is that the amount of force delivered in a punch with a heavy boxing glove declines significantly.

On top of that, you have the fact that the surface area making contact is much larger. With bare knuckles and with MMA gloves, the surface area that makes contact with the target is fairly small; if you hit someone with just your closed fist, you're really making most of the contact with the two big knuckles of your fist. (Note: DON'T punch to hit with the two small knuckles. You'll break your hand.)

But with boxing gloves, you have a fairly large surface area making (very satisfyingly meaty) contact with someone's physog. And that blunts some of the trauma quite a bit; the force of impact is dissipated over a larger surface area, which means you do somewhat less damage with a glove than you do with a bare fist.

This, however, raises another interesting point: when you actually have to punch someone, you are far better off dialing down your strike a little if your hitting with a bare fist.

The reason for this is that the very things that weaken your punching power when wearing boxing gloves, also protect your hands.

The padding in the glove is not just for the benefit of the guy getting smacked. It's also for your hand. The goal of a good boxing glove should be to protect your knuckles, fine bones in your hand, and wrist when striking.

With bare knuckles, though, you have no such protection. And as such, you have to be very careful when hitting someone. You have to ensure that your wrist is locked, that your two big knuckles make contact, and that you strike correctly and with full range of motion.

This actually isn't easy to do, and most inexperienced brawlers who just throw wild punches will often find that they'll fracture or even outright break their hands when they throw the first punch in a street fight.

The result of this is that people tend to throw much harder punches when wearing boxing gloves than they do when fighting bare-knuckles.

This is also why, as a muay thai fighter and teacher once told me, you will find that boxers absorb tremendous damage to their heads.

If you've ever tried punching someone in the face, you'll quickly realise that jawbones are more likely to break fingers than the other way around, particularly if you throw your punches spastically and metacarpus-first. But if you're wearing gloves when you do this, the penalty for throwing a bad strike is nowhere near as great as when you're not wearing any form of hand protection.

The result is that, when wearing gloves, you can really pound the crap out of someone's face in a way that you can't do when fighting with bare fists.

This, incidentally, is part of the reason why modern cage- and ring-fighting arts require the adoption of different stances than bare-knuckle brawling. If you go look up pictures of old-school Irish bare-knuckle street fighters, for instance, you'll find that they started off in very odd-looking stances, standing much taller and straighter and with their hands held much lower and with the palms basically facing upwards.

That was because most brawlers knew- or found out very much the hard way- that attempting to knock a guy the hell out with a single punch to the face is actually not easy with bare fists and often results in severely broken hands.

Modern muay thai and MMA stances, by contrast, are much more square and hunched over a bit, with hands held much higher and palms facing forwards or down. This is because, once you put on gloves, punching someone's face becomes a much more tractable and palatable idea. As such, in order to maximise protection and minimise damage, your hands have to be held up a bit higher to protect against straights, crosses, and hooks that previously would have gone to the body and arms.

As my teacher told me at the time, that is why muay thai fighters have much shorter careers than boxers do. Muay thai fighters absorb truly ridiculous amounts of punishment over their entire bodies, so by the time they retire- typically around the age of 28 or so- they can't move properly. They can think just fine, but they can't move; their bodies are just too stiff from all of the damage and scar tissue and other fun stuff.

Boxers, on the other hand, often have longer careers- it's not uncommon to find championship boxers fighting over the age of 35- but they absorb absurd numbers of headshots. Their hands are heavily wrapped (as are those of muay thai fighters and MMA fighters, of course), but then they are clad in big boxing gloves designed to further reduce the blunt-force trauma delivered by any single punch.

The result is that muay thai fighters can think, but can't move- while championship boxers can move, but can't think. Or so said my teacher, and I have little trouble believing it.

So, the next time you feel like beating the tar out of some douchenozzle that richly deserves it, remember: don't be a fool, wrap your tool(s). Which is to say, find yourself some hemp rope, wrap your fists up so that you don't break anything important, and then go take care of business.

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