No one doubts that being punched in the face with boxing gloves hurts. The question has always been how much it hurts when compared to a bare fist punch and, in more recent years, in comparison with MMA gloves. There is plenty of evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, al showing the following to different degrees:
Bare-fist punches can generate the most force and cause more pain than gloved punches. The more padding a boxing glove has, the less force generated and the higher protection it provides to the puncher and the one receiving punches. But the protection of the hands also means boxers can hit with maximum power without damaging their hands, leading to more concussive brain damage in competitive boxing.
The information regarding the level of protection of gloves and the effect it has on both head and hand damage is something everyone interested in combat sports should consider, even more so if you participate yourself. Let’s dive into some interesting research data and common-sense arguments to answer whether boxing gloves hurt and how much.
Do Punches With Boxing Gloves Hurt More Than Bare Fists
Punches with bare fists can deliver more force than punching with a glove and are much more painful. This is due to a few reasons. The purpose of padded boxing gloves is twofold. First, protecting the hand and wrist from fractures and injuries, but also cushioning the impact for the receiver of the punches.
The bare fists have a narrower contact area, concentrating more force on a smaller surface and, thus, a more powerful strike. The second factor making bare fists hurt more than gloves is the type of pain induced by both. With a bare fist, you land with bone against bone on the face.
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These contact points make cuts and bruises significantly more frequent than gloved punches. Conversely, boxing gloves disperse the impact over a larger area, causing less pain.
Many studies have shown how much force is generated with gloved and bare-fist punches. A popular experiment online features former UFC champion Bas Rutten hitting a bag with a boxing glove, bare fist, an MMA glove.
The results show 776 pounds of force with a bare-knuckle, 651 pounds with MMA gloves, and 641 for the boxing glove, clearly showing the higher force of the bare-knuckle punch.
But a much more thorough study was done in 2014 by Lee and McGill, comparing 4 oz MMA gloves and 16 oz boxing gloves.
The tests were conducted in a controlled environment with a mechanical fist hitting a tester 10,000 times over 5 hours. The results show whooping 4 to 5 times higher peak force and 5 times faster load rate in favor of the MMA glove.
Another interesting finding of the study was that the peak force increased with the material deterioration of both gloves, further strengthening the claim that better padding means less force. And while the test does not include bare fists, it’s easy to predict the results with no padding.
So boxing gloves provide a lot of protection not only to the wearer but also to the receiver of punches, making bare-knuckle punches more powerful and painful. But this is only part of the story if we consider long-term damage.
Can You Hit Harder With Boxing Gloves
The initial reason for boxing gloves to exist was solely to protect the hands of the person punching. While the force of a punch with a glove is lower than what a bare fist could deliver, the glove’s protection allows you to hit without worrying about breaking your hand.
The human bones are extremely hard for their weight and density, but in a good punch, you are putting your whole body behind the strike, transferring a great deal of force through clenched fists and the small bones in the hand. This heavy bone-on-bone impact to the head has a very high potential for injuring the hand and wrist.
Even in today’s boxing world, with all the technological progress in boxing gloves, hand, and wrist injuries are the most common types of injuries across amateur and pro boxing, so imagine what it was in the bare-knuckle era.
Fractures and other hand and wrist injuries meant boxers had to take longer periods off and had no way to train safely. The first gloves were created by an English champion named Jack Broughton, were called mufflers, and were used only for training to successfully protect from hand injuries and cuts.
With the protection around the fist and wrist, you can feel more confident to punch harder. Again, the force you can deliver is less, but the safety of the hands allows you to throw full-power punches without restraint.
Including gloves significantly changed the punching technique, punch selection, frequency, and power in competitive boxing.
Whereas a bare-knuckle boxer has to pick his shots carefully and avoid hitting the forehead, elbow, or generally out of alignment, modern boxers have the luxury to throw multiple punch combinations without much worry about where they will land.
If you need more proof, compare a few matches in one of the rapidly rising bare-knuckle boxing promotions to a regular boxing match while focusing on the types and quantity of punches being thrown.
But the lower force and less pain from boxing gloves have another side. The safety gloves they provide for the hands have been the subject of many debates, and studies show that gloves are responsible for serious brain trauma suffered in boxing.
With gloves, boxers can hit with more power and frequency and suffer drastically fewer consequences. Furthermore, the gloves reduce the chance of knockouts and cuts, which can stop a fight in advance, increasing the number of head strikes boxers must endure.
And the most serious contributor to irreparable brain trauma is the accumulation of damage, not single blows.
Do Boxing Gloves Hurt More Than MMA Gloves
Based on all the research we’ve seen and our experience, it’s safe to say MMA gloves hurt more than boxing gloves. While they still provide some padding and cushioning that dampen the impact of punches, the MMA gloves still have much less of it than the boxing gloves.
The material in the gloves also matters, in addition to the amount of it. The Lee and McGill study clearly shows stiffer materials provide more peak force than thicker and less stiff ones. But I sincerely doubt we need a lab test for this, although having scientific proof is always nice.
You can easily conclude a test by asking someone to hit you in the body with an MMA glove and then a boxing glove and quickly figure out the result. Hint: You will feel the MMA glove more.
And if you don’t want to subject yourself to such elaborate scientific experiments, here is a video of someone more willing:
Do Lighter Boxing Gloves Hurt More?
In continuation with the previous paragraphs, it’s easy to see why lighter boxing gloves, like the 10-ounce competition gloves, hurt more than heavier ones. This is why the standard gloves used for sparring everywhere weigh 14 or 16 oz.
As we’ve seen, weight is not the only factor. The type and stiffness of the glove materials impact the force generation and the pain level.
Competition boxing gloves have a different weight than sparring gloves and a very different composition. Back in the old days, gloves were filled only with horse hair, and the amount was measured in ounces. So, the heavier the glove, the more protection it has.
But with the variety of foams and gels in addition to horse hair used today, gloves of the same weight can feel quite different. Different brands have different approaches to competition gloves, so some models are known as “puncher gloves,” while others are called “pillows.”
Aside from the slimmer shape, puncher’s gloves usually have a layer of horse hair inside, making the gloves less protective for both the hands and the opponent. Cleto Reyes traditional gloves and the Everlast MX are two popular choices pro boxers use in fights.
On the other shore sit more protective gloves, which utilize different types of foam layered to optimize hand protection for boxers with past injuries, like Floyd Mayweather famously used.
For example, Winning gloves are the frequent choice for sparring gloves by many high-level fighters because of their exceptional protection for the puncher and the punched.
However, Hit N Move are the latest premium gloves on the market out ranking Winning gloves regarding construction, fit, and performance.
So while lighter gloves hurt more than heavier ones, the type and composition of the material also play an important role.
If we summarize everything said here, I can say the less padding there is on a glove, the more force a punch can generate and the more damage it can cause.
Bare knuckles punches are the most powerful and damaging because the contact area is smaller and more concentrated. Boxing gloves still retain a lot of force and hurt, but they also disperse the impact protecting the hands and their targets.