Listening to Joe Rogan go crazy over eye pokes and MMA gloves at another UFC event really got me thinking about if this situation can even be fixed. As far as I can see, there is no way to protect the thumb without having a bulkier, boxing-style glove that would make it hard to grapple. I have heard people say less eye pokes happened in Pride, so maybe the bigger gloves with laces on the inside would help, but I am still skeptical. It seems to me like the only way would be to tape fighters’ thumbs to their index fingers, but how would that screw up grappling? I guess all I’m trying to ask is if you think there is any way that a new glove or a new way of taping hands could help at all without screwing up the actual fighters and the techniques, or if we just need to deal with eye pokes in MMA. -- Carlos from Queens
Chris Nelson, associate editor: This seems like it should be a problem with a simple solution -- just change the gloves, right? -- but the more I think and read about it, the less sure I become. I’m also wary of overreacting just because UFC 159 happened to have two fight-ending eye pokes, one of which didn’t necessarily need to be fight-ending.
Off the bat, we can eliminate the finger-taping thing, because yes, it would definitely impact grappling by reducing the ability to grip. Like you, I’m also skeptical that Pride-style gloves -- which were heavier and covered more of the fingers -- would fix the problem we’re seeing. If the standard UFC gloves were to be redesigned, the best people to go to would be the fighters themselves. In an interview with BloodyElbow.com, Cub Swanson said that the UFC’s “square” gloves are “crap” and suggested that a more contoured design would allow for a more relaxed hand, which in turn would lead to fewer eye pokes. It’s worth noting that Swanson is primarily a striker, and grapplers would need to be heard on the subject as well, but I don’t see how a freer hand could be a disadvantage when trying to apply submissions.
While the glove issue definitely needs to be looked at, there are other factors to be addressed. One is that fighters need to be held accountable when eye pokes happen. Even at the highest levels of MMA, we hear referees constantly telling guys to keep their hands closed when striking. This is not an accidental low blow, where a fighter might throw a low kick at the same time as his opponent, or his opponent changes positions mid-strike and catches one on the cup. If a fighter is striking with an unclenched fist, or sticking out an open hand to catch a punch or push off, that’s a choice they’re making. If a finger from that open hand pokes his or her opponent in the eye, maybe a point needs to be taken away.
On the regulation side, the UFC has said after UFC 159 that they intend to address the way eye pokes are handled by officials. Referee Kevin Mulhall was going by the book when he stopped the Ovince St. Preux-Gian Villante fight after Villante said he couldn’t see. It wasn’t Mulhall’s fault; when a fighter says they can’t see, the fight needs to be waved. But Villante certainly could have continued in that fight, given a couple moments to recover and a better choice of words, which is why the UFC now wants the cageside doctor to have the final say.
Obviously, I don’t know the solution here. It’s going to take some bigger brains than mine, plus some people with experience using their gloved fists to hit other people in the face. But at least people are talking about this now, and that’s a good first step.
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