Like many people, I’ve always had an interest in fighting. I grew up watching “Iron” Mike Tyson in his prime, the early Ultimate Fighting Championships, and the rare kickboxing matches that would find their way onto late night television. Who hasn’t spent a little time in front of the television shadowboxing and trying to slip and weave?
The fight game has come a long way since the 80’s and 90’s, and it’s a safe bet that Mixed Martial Arts has become the fastest growing sport in the world today. As the sport of MMA has grown, more eyes and more fans have come to Boxing, Muay Thai, and Kickboxing as well.
“Boxing Gloves” is a somewhat ambiguous term in the world of combat sports; it can refer to the gloves used for Boxing, Muay Thai, and Kickboxing. The gloves for each different striking art have their own nuances, but most are interchangeable between disciplines.
There are more brands and styles of gloves available than ever before, and it can be overwhelming to try to wade in and make a decision. We’ll dig in to the details on Boxing Gloves overall so you can narrow down your options, and then decide which ones are the best for you.
Just a bit of history
Combat sports date back to pretty much the dawn of mankind, minus the sport part. Humans have been laying knuckles on each other since they started walking on two feet, and aren’t showing much sign of stopping soon.
Boxing as a sport goes back to Olympic Games in Greece in 688 B.C., and ancient Roman boxing gloves have even been uncovered in archeological digs. As rudimentary as those early gloves are, they still serve the same purpose as gloves in the modern era: protecting the hands.
Like any other form of combat, Boxing has to be practiced for any real fighting skills to develop. Even in ancient gladiatorial times, fighters must have realized that throwing bare fists on your training partners isn’t very good for either person involved over any amount of time.
Even as far back as the 1350 B.C. there are Egyptian relief drawings showing fighters wearing gloves. Over the centuries and as prizefighting became more common and modern rules sets
were implemented, the design and function of the boxing glove evolved.
Hands are Fragile, Heads are Hard
Boxing gloves are made for training. A proper boxing glove serves two purposes: to protect the hand of the wearer, and to protect whomever you are trying to lay those hands upon. A bit of leather and cushioning goes a long way.
A truly good boxing glove has the right amount of cushion that will allow you to throw fast and solid punches on a bag, training partner, or your opponent with the least amount of damage. In addition to cushioning your knuckles from your opponents thick skull, the glove is also there to disperse the impact of your fist over a larger area, somewhat softening the blow.
So What Makes a Good Boxing Glove?
There’s a few things that go into the recipe: Design, Cushion, Stitching, and Fastening.
The Design is what catches your eye, the flashy or intimidating colors and layout of the glove, the art of it. Design is also how the glove is weighted, and how the shape of it fits to the hand.
The Cushioning would be what’s keeping your knuckles from knocking up on to whatever you’re swinging at. Not all cushioning is equal, some foams are more dense or lighter than others. This will become very relevant when deciding if you want gloves for bag work, sparring, or fighting.
The Stitching is what holds the glove’s material together. You’ll want to be sure the stitching is top notch, as this will determine the life of your glove. Also, poor stitching on cheap gloves can be abrasive as it becomes worn and unnecessarily scrape up your sparring partners.
The Fastening would be the either laces or velcro that fasten the gloves past your wrist and keep them from sliding around during use. Laces are a bit more secure, but are less practical as you need some help to tie them up. Velcro is a one person job, and you can get it fairly tight.
What Are You Trying To Punch, Anyway?
As I mentioned earlier, the market for boxing gloves has really blossomed in the past decade or so. Before you start throwing money around at all the flashy new things, you should consider what it is you are shopping for.
Heavy Bag gloves are the most commonly available, and are probably the best all around gloves for someone starting out training on their own. Some sporting goods stores still sell the old school “bag gloves” which are basically thin leather mitts with no wrist support and minimal padding . These are not very good. I recommend 14-16oz heavy bag gloves with ample wrist support and decent padding for beginners and those doing fitness boxing.
For those hard-nose guys and gals out there that prefer to hit the bag bareknuckle because “that’s how it is in the streets”, I support you. However, one day your wrists might not. True, the continuous impacts might strengthen and toughen you bones and hands, but all it takes is catching the bag once with bad form and you’ve got a sprain, or a boxer’s fracture. Maybe just spend the money and get some decent gloves.
The reason I recommend the heavy bag gloves for beginners is that most of these are by design made to cushion your hand and protect it above all else. Most have pretty dense padding and a nice curvature that will encourage proper punching. Depending on your weight and height, 14 or 16oz gloves should work for you. Here is a good guide to finding the right size glove for what you need.
Wrap Those Fists Up Tight
Handwraps are readily available, and I highly recommend using them. There are a few great brands out there that offer quality handwraps to protect those precious little bones in your hands. A good first person perspective video on wrapping the hands can be found here. Watching the video in first person allows you to simply follow along and wrap as video host does. Practice at home so you’re able to pull it off at the gym.
Sometimes I’ll do some light sparring or light bagwork without wrapping my hands and wrists, but anytime I am putting in heavy striking work I wrap those puppies up. If you hit the heavy bag as it’s swinging towards you, or if your pad holder’s timing is a bit off from yours you can develop some trauma around the wrist joint.
Even with properly wrapped hands you’ll want decent wrist support on your boxing glove. The velcro or lace up part of the glove should help to keep your wrist from bending when you are hitting the bag, or mitts, or people. You can roll your wrist the same way you roll your ankle, causing stress to the tendons and ligaments, which can lead to some cumulative damage. It’s not worth the risk in, in my opinion.
Every Ounce is Not Equal. Choose Wisely.
Boxing gloves come in all sizes, from 8oz all the way up to 20oz. Boxing and Muay Thai competitions usually use 8oz or 10oz gloves. These gloves are designed to be much more compact, and with minimal padding. Gloves that are used for competition use are typically kept to a higher standard than your average training gloves, and most have to be approved by some sanctioning body.
14 and 16 oz gloves can vary widely in the overall size, style, and type of padding used. Some 16oz gloves look and feel like pillows, while others have the weight more evenly distributed throughout the glove. I personally prefer gloves that have a bit of padding over the outside of my wrist , especially when doing Muay Thai sparring. The extra wrist support is helpful, and it provides an added layer of protection.
For bag work almost any middle of the road brand of glove will do as long as you wrap your wrists and the gloves have decent padding. For sparring and mitt work you want to get a bit more specific, as the type of gloves you use can absolutely impact your performance. Generally most people use 16oz gloves for sparring, and you’ll want to find a pair that are smaller and have denser padding with more spring. The type of foam padding used in the gloves are important; you’ll want to be able to land strikes on your training partner at 20-30% and not leave them wobbled.
There is no substitute for holding the gloves in your hands and giving them a feel, but most reviews can give you an idea of what kind of padding you are dealing with. Competition gloves are small, and they hurt when you get hit with them. Unless you are planning on actually competing, it’s a better investment to just pick up some 16oz sparring gloves if you plan on training with a partner.
My Personal Favorites
Pillow Hands for the Heavy Bag
Just to use on the heavy bag or double end bag, I like 16oz gloves with plenty of padding. Venum actually makes a cheap and halfway decent entry level product in their Challenger and Contender series boxing gloves. These gloves are affordable, and are made of decent quality , durable synthetic leather. They are a bit like having pillow hands, but that is kind of what I am looking for when doing heavy bag work. I want something a little more bulky and clunky so that when I use my sparring gloves I feel lightning fast and smooth. The gloves have a mesh design near the palm to help air them out, which is something you’ll need if you are doing high intensity rounds on the bag. The Contender gloves aren’t anything overly special, but they get the job done, and are decent for someone who is purchasing their first pair of boxing gloves. Venum, Everlast, and Sanabul all kind of float in the same market space with their entry level gloves , in my opinion.
Boxing Gloves For Sparring
My all time favorite sparring gloves aren’t even a pair of gloves I currently own. Hayabusa T3 Kanpeki Leather are the Cadillacs of the world of boxing gloves for me. The design is stellar, and the balance of weight and the comfort of the padding are the best I’ve experienced thus far. The foam they use in these gloves is excellent, the dual closure system really gives extra structure to the wrist. The Hayabusa gloves are great for doing mitt work, and really just fit great on my hands. As far as sparring goes, I feel pretty comfortable giving my training partners a little heat without feeling like I’m gonna rock them, or send them into CTE city. These gloves might even be my favorite to be hit by; as I said the padding is excellent.
Boxing Gloves For Muay Thai
Fairtex has been a common name in the world of Muay Thai for quite some time. They are known for producing not only quality boxing gloves, but also shin guards, Thai Pads, Body Shields, Punching Bags, and pretty much everything else related to Muay Thai. Fairtex’s Muay Thai Sparring glove, the BGV1 model, are my favorite gloves to use when training Muay Thai. The leather is super durable and the glove has great stitching. The padding is perfect for sparring and doing pad work, and the velcro wrap keeps the wrist nice and snug. I have a few training partners that own the same Fairtex glove, and these aren’t too bad to get hit with either. The weight distribution is nice, and the foam is dense and compact, so the gloves aren’t bulky at all. I think you really can’t go wrong with Fairtex gloves.
Boxing Gloves For MMA Training
Gloves for Mixed Martial Arts are a whole different world altogether. Competition gloves for MMA fighters are open fingered, allowing for articulation the fingers for greater dexterity in grappling and clinching. Some gyms operate the striking portions of their MMA programs using the same sparring gloves they use for Muay Thai or Boxing. Others like to train with the gloves they will compete in. Sparring is generally much more dangerous if using MMA gloves, as they run 4-6oz, less than half of the usual sparring gloves for Boxing or Muay Thai. Additionally, there is less room for error with the smaller gloves, and the force generated across a much more concentrated area than when using large boxing gloves.
All of that aside, my favorite MMA gloves to train with are the Combat Sports MMA gloves. They are the ones I’ve used the most at gyms, and I’ve found them to be pretty durable and well made. I don’t really recommend them for sparring unless you have a fight coming up, or you are helping someone who is in their fight camp. There is minimal padding with these, and you will get hurt if you land heavy shots during sparring. They are great for bagwork, and these gloves are used at the amateur and semi-pro level for competition. The Combat Sports MMA Sparring Gloves or The Sanabul are a better choice for actual MMA sparring, they have much more padding, but still have all the staples of an MMA glove, allowing you to grapple and use your hands pretty much the same.
When You Find the One, You’ll Just Know
As I said earlier, there are more choices for boxing gloves available now then ever before. What works for one person may not work for you. You’ve got to get out there and try some on, take some hits, break a sweat, do battle in a few pairs before you know what you’re really into. But at least now you know what to look for.
Some final words of wisdom: Dry your gloves out after heavy training. Use dessicant, or newspaper, or anything. After weeks and weeks of sweaty hands inside, and sweaty faces getting punched outside, your gloves will start to smell. I’ve had to let gloves go long before their time was up, simply because the smell was unbearable. Don’t let it happen to you!