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Study shows UFC gloves lead to higher eye poke rate compared to other promotions

UFC gloves were compared to gloves from Bellator and PFL.

Jose Aldo being poked in the eye by Chad Mendes at UFC 179.
Jose Aldo being poked in the eye by Chad Mendes at UFC 179.
Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Eye pokes in MMA were discussed at the 2022 Association of Ringside Physicians in Las Vegas recently (per Combat Sports Law). During that discussion data was presented showing how the rate of pokes differed based on the gloves being worn at the time.

The study that was shared at the conference was presented by ARP President Dr. John Neidecker, who is a ringside physician. The study included research by Neidecker, Jared Bukowski, Vijay Kurup and Bobby O’Donnell.

For their study, the researchers analyzed fights in the UFC, Bellator and PFL (all of which have different glove designs). The researchers looked at fights through January 1, 2022 and June 30, 2022 and counted the amount of eye pokes that happened in the bouts.

The study found that the rate of eye pokes in the UFC was considerably higher than the rate calculated in Bellator. PFL’s was slightly higher than the UFC’s.

The eye poke rate in the UFC was 23 in 233 bouts, which translates to one per ten bouts. The PFL rate was 6 in 46 (one in every eight bouts). The Bellator rate was 2 in 87 bouts (one in every 44 bouts).

Dr. John Neidecker

The findings aren’t a great shock, considering that Bellator announced a substantial change in their glove design in 2014 with the express purpose of reducing eye pokes. Their glove design includes stiffer finger sections which force an athletes fingers to curl inwards. UFC gloves have no such mechanism, which allows fights to measure distance with their fingers pointing straight out, which often leads to eye pokes.

Neidecker said online that his plan is to continue his study for the remainder of the year. Neidecker also said he would expand his research, looking to see if eye poke rates are affected by which fighters are competing or which official is refereeing the fight.