Fan Questions | Martial Arts History

Why Do UFC Fighters Touch Gloves?

Touching gloves is a pretty well-known tradition in both boxing and MMA. In MMA, it is also commonly done by the fighters once the fight starts, despite the fact that they usually do it right before, when the ref is giving instructions. So why do UFC fighters touch gloves?

UFC fighters touch gloves as a sign of respect and sportsmanship. For most fighters, a glove touch is also a way to communicate that any part of the buildup to the fight was simply said in jest, and that there is mutual respect between them at the end of the day.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at what exactly is behind a touch of gloves.

Touching Gloves Before vs During The Fight

So in this post, I’m assuming you know what a glove touch looks like. But if you don’t, it is exactly what it sounds like. The two fighters simply put out their gloved hands for a tap, kind of like a handshake.

Touching Gloves Before The Fight

There are basically two types of glove touches in the UFC. One is right before the fight, when the two fighters are in front of the ref, and the ref tells them they can touch gloves if they wish to do so.

This is the first type of glove touch, which happens right before the fight starts, at the order of the referee.
This is the first type of glove touch, which happens right before the fight starts, at the order of the referee.

This is the most common, as the referee always calls the two fighters towards him to clarify the instructions before the bout begins. Of course, fighters always have the choice of simply not touching gloves, if they so wish.

Touching Gloves During The Fight

The second type of glove touch happens during the fight, once it has already started. This one is less common, as the initial glove touch has already happened when the ref was giving the instructions. However, many fighters still opt to touch gloves this way as an added sign of respect.

Israel Adesanya and Anderson Silva touch gloves during their fight.
Israel Adesanya and Anderson Silva touch gloves during their fight.

It has a bit more value than the first glove touch, because the ref is not directly supervising or asking the fighters to touch gloves, and so it may seem more genuine in that sense.

Often this type of glove touch will happen right when the fight starts and the two fighters come towards each other. To signal the glove touch, a fighter will walk out unassumingly, with their hand out. Once the glove touch occurs, then they get into their fight stance.

Although there is no rule for glove touching once the fight has officially started, an unspoken rule between MMA fighters is to not attack your opponent directly after the glove touch. Obviously, it is also seen as disrespectful to flat out reject the glove touch and attack your opponent.

A lot of emphasis and meaning is put into the glove touch in MMA, so much so that fighters have to respectfully clarify that they don’t want to touch gloves to their opponent.

For example, when Luke Rockhold challenged Chris Weidman for the UFC middleweight championship, Rockhold and Weidman touched gloves before the bout. However, as they were separating and the fight was about to start, Rockhold said “no touch”, referring to the second touch of gloves that happens once the fight starts.

Here you see Weidman and Rockhold touch gloves, despite them not touching gloves at the start of the round.
Here you see Weidman and Rockhold touch gloves, despite them not touching gloves at the start of the round.

The glove touch has so much meaning that Rockhold didn’t want to disrespect Weidman by flat out rejecting the touch of gloves. Rockhold would later clarify why he doesn’t touch gloves, saying, “It’s nothing personal, but the fight has already started mentally, and my focus is getting my mind locked on winning the first round”.

This is an interesting statement from Rockhold, because even though he didn’t touch gloves with Weidman in round 1, he would touch gloves at the start of the later rounds. This is likely because Rockhold was already mentally in the fight, and both fighters had earned the other’s respect while fighting each other.

Glove touches during a fight are also often issued as a form of apology between fighters, or an understanding that an illegal move was used unintentionally. You will often see this after a groin shot or an eye poke from which the fighter will need a break to recover. When the fighters resume fighting, the one who caused the injury usually comes out offering a glove touch.

Faking A Glove Touch

Of course, the risk with touching gloves during the fight is that your opponent may use this to their advantage. As mentioned earlier, your opponent might attack right after the glove touch, or may simply reject the gesture altogether.

MMAJunkie wrote a post about one such occasion. This occurrence did not take place in the UFC, but rather, in the lesser-known Lights Out Championship. The two fighters, Jagarr Jenerou and Cedric Santana, were both making their amateur debuts, in a fight contested at flyweight (125 lbs).

Both Jenerou and Santana came out with their hands extended, both indicating a glove touch. However, just as they touch gloves, Jenerou quickly starts swinging at Santana, and TKO’s him just eight seconds into the bout.

It is a well-known and unspoken rule that a fighter shouldn’t attack his opponent during or right after a glove touch. Unfortunately in this case, Jenerou used it to his advantage to get the win.

This has also happened in the UFC. Below you can see a clip of UFC Strawweight Nadia Kassem faking a glove touch against Ji Yeon Kim.

As you can see, Kassem approaches her opponent holding out her hand, seemingly signifying a glove touch. However, while her opponent unassumingly toches gloves (notably not in her fight stance), Kassem hits her with a right kick.

Very unsportsmanlike conduct by Kassem, who got dropped by Ji Yeon Kim just seconds after this. Fortunately, Ji Yeon Kim won the fight by second round knockout.

Conclusion

So as you can see, there are a lot of meanings one can attribute to a glove touch. But overall, the meaning is universally understood in the moment. Fighters can use the glove touch as a way to show respect, to signify that no matter how the fight ends and no matter what was said previously, everything is in jest and the fight is the only thing that matters at the end of the day.

So in short, UFC fighters touch gloves as a sign of mutual respect. Oftentimes, a glove touch can also be used as an apologetic gesture, such as after an accidental groin strike or eye poke.

I hope this post helped explain the significance of a glove touch in MMA. If you enjoyed, please consider checking out similar posts on the Fan Questions page, where I answer common questions about combat sports such as MMA and boxing. Thanks for reading!

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