Why Do MMA Referees Wear Gloves? 🧤📃

As a mixed martial arts (MMA) fan, you are arguably familiar with one of the essential pieces of equipment that fighters must wear to protect their hands: gloves. But why should referees also wear gloves during fights?

MMA referees wear gloves for basic rules of sanitation and hygiene. Indeed, the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC) has adopted hygiene rules to prevent the transmission of certain diseases. This is why, like the medical staff, the referees wear black nitrile medical gloves

This article will briefly cover why referees need to wear gloves, which US organization sets the rules for combat sports, the main differences between MMA referee gloves and fighters’ gloves, and the referees’ basic equipment. Let’s dive in.

Why Did MMA Referees Start Wearing Gloves?

On July 31, 1987, the Illinois State Athletic Commission decided to follow New Jersey and other states to require gloves by the referees in all bouts. The reason? A precautionary measure against the transmission of AIDS.

If this measure may seem a bit excessive to you, know that it was only in 1981 that the first case of AIDS was reported. It goes without saying that in 1987, without the medical advances that we know today, the virus was still considered extremely dangerous. The Commission’s decision thus appears very legitimate.

Even though the experts agreed that the risk of transmission was extremely low, the Center for Diseases Control (CDC) has reported a case of transmission via infected blood. Indeed, three health workers contracted the virus after being splashed in the face with a substantial quantity of blood from patients infected with AIDS.

Scary, isn’t it? Well, that’s why they didn’t take any chances at the time.

What Is the Actual Risk of Contracting a Disease in the Ring?

For both referees and fights, the risk of contracting a disease during a fight is relatively low, considering that the ABC organization obligates a medical test before each fight.

Indeed, before each fight, the athlete must pass a certain number of medical tests to be qualified as “combat fit”:

  • Fundus examination
  • Electrocardiogram
  • HIV and hepatitis tests
  • Cranial CT scan following a knockout
  • Notebook listing the KOs suffered.

What Is the Complete Uniform of MMA Referees?

MMA referees do not need to wear the same equipment as fighters. Their uniform consists mainly of:

  • Black shirt
  • Black trousers
  • Black shoes
  • Black gloves

Is There a Difference Between Referees and Fighters Gloves?

There are significant differences between referees’ and fighters’ gloves.

Fighters must wear open-finger gloves approved by the Commission. These gloves are different from classic boxing gloves since the fighter must grip his opponent for different grappling and submission techniques. The fingers are, therefore, all free. The strike zone and the back of the hand are protected, and the wrist is securely supported but retains flexibility.

Additionally, gloves need to weigh between 4 and 6 ounces (113.4 and 170.1 grams). The fighter is not allowed to bring their own gloves since the Commission must ensure the conformity of each pair of gloves before the fights. The promoter must therefore provide them. Also, only one inch of padding is allowed to avoid potential injury.

Why Do Fighters Need To Wear Protective Gloves?

Why do MMA fighters need to protect themselves with gloves? There are two main reasons why the Commission obliges fighters to wear specific gloves:

  • The hands are the primary weapons of a fighter. These use their hands to perform a variety of positions. They must therefore use gloves that allow them to grab and knock down their opponent.
  • The fingers, knuckles, and wrists are extremely vulnerable parts to injury

Which Organization Regulates MMA Fights?

The organization responsible for organizing competitions and supervising mixed martial arts fights (just like boxing fights) is the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC). Various delegates govern this North American organization from athletic commissions from the United States and Canada.

The ABC must, among other things, ensure the application of federal laws for each member of the organization (fighters, referees, judges, etc.). Among all its objectives, it must also ensure to:

  • Promote uniform health and safety standards in these sports
  • Provide medical education training to all boxing and MMA professionals

Besides, the organization stipulates on its website the obligation for all fighters to undergo a medical examination before each fight. The need to undergo blood tests is also essential. According to AbcBoxing.com:

“Blood Work: All contestants in all bouts shall be tested for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV by a laboratory approved by the Commission. The initial test for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV shall be conducted within 180 days prior to competition.” 

What Are the Unified Rules of MMA?

Two thousand five hundred years ago, free fights were already organized in ancient Greece. Anything was allowed. It was forbidden to put the fingers in the eyes or the opponent’s mouth or tear off the ears or the genitals…Well, as you can see, the rules have evolved a little.

MMA is indeed a discipline that has exploded in recent years and allows fighters of various disciplines to cross the gloves in a ring. Thus, MMA has become a discipline of its own, bringing together multiple sports techniques -judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, English boxing, and even karate.

That means that a clear set of rules was needed. This is why, in 2000, the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board (NJSACB) established the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts.

These rules adopted by the NJSACB have become the standard for regulating mixed martial arts in the United States and Canada.

The athletic commissions that deal with this regulation have incorporated these rules into their practices. Thus, if a promoter wants to organize a fight in the octagon, he must comply with the Commission’s rules, under penalty of sanction.

Each organization makes modifications according to the athletic Commission of the country in which the event takes place. The fighters cannot hit the opponent in the genitals, pull the hair, bite, or put out his opponent’s eye. Knees, elbows, and kicks to the face or elsewhere are generally allowed. There are several weight categories, but they differ from one organization to another.

What Are the Most Important Global Organizations?

The most important global organizations are the US-based Ultimate Fighting Championship, which has purchased and embraced several other organizations. For example, the Pride Fighting Championships or the Strikeforce. The second biggest promotion in Bellator MMA.

Here are the main organizations that organize or have organized MMA fights in the octagon:

  • Ultimate Fighting Championship, United States.
  • Bellator MMA, United States
  • Cage Rage and Cage Warriors, England (note that the Cage Rage organization went bankrupt)
  • King of the Cage, United States
  • World Extreme Cagefighting, United States (disappeared in 2010 due to a buyout by the Ultimate Fighting Championship)
  • Strikeforce, United States (disappeared in 2013 due to a buyout by the Ultimate Fighting Championship)


Working in the ring for an MMA referee is not easy. They have to know all the Unified Rules inside out. Also, they must be extremely attentive during every second of the fights. A late stoppage of combat could indeed endanger one of the two fighters (if you don’t remember this story, you can review the sequence here).

Fortunately, the risk of contracting a disease transmitted by combatants’ blood is almost zero, thanks to the strict medical examination before the fights and their famous… black gloves.