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UFC fighters call for new gloves following eye poke ending to UFC Vegas 21

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Eye pokes have been a problem in MMA since the beginning, but did you know a design flaw in UFC’s gloves increases the likelihood of them happening?

UFC Fight Night: Edwards v Muhammad Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

It hardly seems to be an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event without a few dick kicks and eye pokes, but on Saturday night (March 13, 2021) at UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, we were reminded of just how bad eye pokes can go in mixed martial arts (MMA).

Moments into the second round between UFC Vegas 21 main eventers Leon Edwards and Belal Muhammad, Edwards left his fingers outstretched during an exchange and they ended up deep in Muhammad’s eye. There’s a pretty shocking photo from the cageside photographer showing Belal’s eyelids forced open, the full front of his eyeball exposed.

Muhammad was left screaming on the canvas and the fight was quickly waved off as a “No Contest.” There’s no clarity on whether the two will rematch or what, and no clarity on whether this will be the fight that finally pushes UFC to make changes to its glove design to lower the number of eye poke incidents every year. While Muhammad was lucky enough to leave the hospital with no permanent damage to his eye, others in UFC have been badly injured and it’s always just a matter of when not if we’ll see yet another of these bad pokes.

So what to do? In MMA you need the fingers exposed so fighters can grapple. But, the official UFC glove has a well known design flaw that pulls the hand open and leaves a fighter’s fingers extended outward. Other organizations, including the infamous PRIDE FC that UFC now owns, used a glove that curves at the knuckles to keep a fighter’s fingers tucked down.

Fans have been calling for UFC to adopt this change for its gloves for more than one decade, and now that demand is reverberating through the ranks of UFC fighters after this latest incident.

Aljamain Sterling is referring to ONX gloves designed by MMA coach Trevor Wittman, which not only incorporate the curved knuckle design, but also include a host of other improvements that keep a fighter’s hands and wrists safe during training and fights. “Smilin’” Sam Alvey may not blame the current UFC gloves for eye pokes, but he’s a firm believer in ONX gloves regardless.

“These ONX gloves are incredible,” Alvey says in the above video. “Trevor Wittman was my coach on The Ultimate Fighter so when I broke my hand for the second time I hit him up. He sent me a pair and I can punch as hard as I can against, like, a brick wall since then. Highly recommend the ONX gloves and as much of a problem I don’t think the UFC gloves are currently, they could get better and these ONX gloves are better.”

Unfortunately, Wittman has already been in touch with UFC about using his ONX gloves and, while UFC President, Dana White, and UFC brass were all extremely high on the idea for a hot minute, issues with the company’s lawyers wanting to own the patent for the glove stopped negotiations dead in their tracks. You can hear Wittman lay out the story of designing the gloves and taking them to UFC in the The Joe Rogan Experience - Episode 96 at the 1 hour 43-minute mark:

And there’s also this clip of Rashad Evans showing the glove off to Rogan:

“As you know, when you get the gloves now, they’re like cardboard,” Evans explained. “They always want to open your hand. This allows your hands to stay in a natural fist locked position, and you don’t gotta worry about that.”

It sure would be nice if UFC went and got the ONX gloves. They’re designed by an industry insider and the improvements over the current glove are pretty big. It’s actually kind of shocking to realize we’re still using a very basic glove design and basic materials for a major league sport. The potential to cut down on not just eye pokes but hand injuries is huge.

But if UFC just can’t make a deal with ONX, then the absolute least it could do is patch things by curving the glove to keep them from pulling the fingers outward. Preferably before someone’s eyeball gets scooped right out of their damned head during a fight.