MMA Uniform History


In the early days of the sport, MMA fighters wore pretty much whatever suited them depending on their backgrounds. A fighter with a strong boxing history might have worn boxing shorts and maybe a standard boxing glove, such as the one Art Jimmerson wore in his first UFC fights to keep his jabbing hand from getting hurt. Many of the early wrestlers who became mixed martial artists still wore their wrestling shoes. The legendary Brazilian Jiu Jitsu artist Royce Gracie wore a gi in his first tournaments with the UFC.

Today, with the various influences that have combined to create the sport of mixed martial arts, MMA fighters have dispensed with the shoes according to the martial arts tradition, while the men compete bare-chested, as do boxers. Gloves are not the big bulky kind worn by boxers, but are ones that allow fighters freedom of movement while protecting the fingers and the knuckles. And mouthpieces are a must. Some liberties are taken with the shorts, just as long as they're not Speedos!

What follows here is a brief history of mixed martial arts uniforms and their three basic parts: the shorts, the gloves, and the mouthguards.

The Shorts

Ever since "horrified" UFC President Dana White awarded Brian Ebersole a $70k bonus in August of 2011 to knock out his opponent wearing skin-tight Speedo shorts, one thing's for sure. You'll never see them worn in a MMA fight again! They've been banned from the ring. Rules regulating the sport allow fighters to wear board shorts, as well as biking, vale tudo, and kick-boxing shorts. Vale tudo shorts are a snug-fitting compression type of trunks that come down over the thigh. Kick-boxing shorts are looser-fitting and more like traditional boxing shorts. Board shorts are light, almost knee-length, all-purpose trunks often worn for surfing and swimming.

As for the history of fighting shorts. The type of trunks fighters wore had a lot to do with the type of fighting done. Some boxing styles called for shorter shorts in order for the leg to be seen. Top-of-the-knee satin trunks worn by such boxing legends as Mike Tyson had become the iconic boxing shorts of the 1980s. Although, such satin trunks go back to the 1930s - the "golden age" of boxing. Longer shorts were worn more for training purposes.

MMA Gloves

Open-fingered MMA gloves allow fighters to grapple, grab, strike, and hold the opponent down while protecting their knuckles and fingers, and lessening the chances of injury to their priceless chops. The best kept secrets of any great grapple and submissions warrior are in the hands. Who had a hand in starting the indispensable practice of wearing gloves during MMA competitions?

Retired American mixed martial artist and developer of "Pit Fighting", David Lee "Tank" Abbott, whose UFC fighting debut dates to 1995, is said to have been the first to regularly wear a standard MMA fighting glove.

Fight gloves were a mandatory accessory to Japan's first professional Shooto event in 1989, and was picked up by the UFC when the sport became regulated. The first MMA gloves were similar to Kempo gloves as seen in the 1973 movie "Enter the Dragon". The fingerless glove allows a fighter to perform important moves while protecting the hand. Today, the standard MMA glove weighs between 4 and 6 ounces and feature protective padding around the knuckles.

Hand protection worn during fights goes back to at least second-century Greece with the invention of boxing gloves by the mythological Amycus, son of Poseidon and King of the Bebryces in Anatolia. The ancient sport differed radically from the modern sport of boxing, in that it was far more brutal. Ancient Greeks wrapped their hands with strips of leather for protection. Later, metal was added to the knuckles of gloves, a kind of glove called "cestus" often used in the game, 'pankration', and whose object was to really mess up the opponent. The glove was so dangerous, it was banned around 50 BC. A few hundred years later, the Byzantine emperor, Arcadius, banned boxing altogether!

Before modern fighters used gloves, boxers avoided blows to the head for fear of breaking their fists. In the seventeenth century, bouts were often fought bare-knuckled until ring rules mandated the use of gloves in the latter nineteenth century. Jack Broughton created the first modern padded boxing gloves known as 'mufflers'.

Today, MMA gloves are available in multiple styles and trendy designs for males or females, and for professional as well as recreational purposes to protect the knuckles.


For MMA fighters who would like to keep their teeth, the mouthguard is an indispensable piece of protection. It prevents injury to the gums, teeth, and lips, and is used for most contact sports today.

Before official mouthguards were made, boxers used cotton, tape, wood - anything they could clench their teeth on to keep their pearly whites in place. These devices were impractical, so in 1892 British dentist Woolf Krause began to design mouthpieces for boxers using pieces of natural rubber resin called gutta-percha to be placed over the teeth of boxers before they entered the ring (Reed, 1994).

Boxing was the first sport required to use mouthguards in the 1920s, and latex rubber was the most popular material used to make them. The first official re-usable mouthguard was worn during the 1921 championship fight between Jack Britton and Ted Lewis and was called a 'gum shield' (Knapik, 2007), although there were other claims to the invention of the mouthpiece in the early 1900s. From about 1930 on, mouthpieces were written about in dental literature and became commonplace for boxers. In the 1950s, the American Dental Association (ADA) began recommending them to the public.

In 1962, the ADA began requiring high school football players to use them. By 1973, mouthguards had become a necessary part of every college football uniform in the US, and have since become standard in many sports (Pontsa, 2008). Sports required to use mouthguards include football, ice hockey, field hockey, and lacrosse, although the ADA recommends them for about 29 different sports activities.

Modern mouthguards are sold in a variety of styles and material choices, depending on the sport and their uses. Most modern mouthguards are made from spongy EVA foam (ethylene vinyl acetate), latex rubber, acrylic, and polyurethane.


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Reed, R.V. 1994. Origin and Early History of the Dental Mouthpiece. 176, p. 479.

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