Boxing first appeared in the Olympics in 688 B.C. Early Greek fighters covered their hands with strips of ox hide softened with oil, called himantes to compete and thus the “hand wrap” was born. This wasn’t the only adaptation. The Romans later invented the myrmex, a hand wrap surrounding a three-pronged fork made of bronze that was also known as the limb piercer. Though that one certainly served to protect the fighter’s hands, but it didn’t pass sanctioning requirements. Today fighters continue to adapt hand wrapping techniques to fit individual needs, and it is important to know what you like to optimize competitive advantage.
Boxing was banned in Rome in 500 A.D. Like MMA in several states, the sport went underground. The competitors remained bare-knuckled until gloves of “fair size” were decided on in 1867 with the establishment of the Marquess of Queensberry rules. The progression continued and by the 1920s, use of gauze and tape had become standard and continues to be today.
Hand wraps are used in a number of stand-up combat sports such as boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai and MMA. In fact, they are required and heavily regulated across all of these sports in sanctioned competition.
The primary purpose of hand wraps is to protect the hand and wrist of the fighter wearing them. Boxers, kickboxers and Muay Thai fighters usually wrap higher up on the forearm for increased stability because striking and defending is the primary use for the hands. Wrapping for MMA is different because of the finger exposure and the necessity of gripping should the fight go to the ground.
Competition wraps typically consist of gauze and tape cut with bandage scissors to create something like a soft cast that fits into the glove. These are different from training wraps which are re-usable and often made of cloth. Some choose to use wraps that slip on like a glove with padding in the wrist and knuckles, though most fighters find that these are not ideal for intense training and fit differently than normal cloth or gauze/tape wraps.
Because of the wide range of variables in MMA, fighters may choose to adapt their competition wrapping preference to fit their specific style of fighting.
Coach and professional MMA and Muay Thai fighter Richard de Los Reyes has wrapped many hands in his tenure in the sport and he also serves as an MMA Inspector in Hawaii. “There is a difference in the way you wrap depending on the fighter’s style,” said de Los Reyes. “A grappler is going to need the flexibility of less material and a looser fit in the glove, while a striker will need much more support to stabilize the wrist and hand. In MMA, you are restricted on what can be done because of the size of the glove, but there are adjustments that can be made.”
Grappler Wrap: A fighter who specializes in elements of the ground game may choose to have the most dexterity possible in order to execute the gripping and hand fighting that may prove necessary on the ground. To get this type of wrap the gauze is usually not as think as it would be for a power puncher, and the tape placed in between the fingers is thinner, allowing each finger as much range of motion as the gloves will allow. The fighter may also opt to not wrap the thumb depending on regulations. A good amount of support remains across the knuckles. The wrist is also supported, but should not restrict the fighter from being able to maneuver into small spaces to pull off submissions.
Power Puncher Wrap: Someone coming in with the intension to hit like a ton of bricks is going to want as much protection over the knuckles as possible. Keeping a straight wrist for proper form is also crucial so the tape through the wrist is likely to be a bit thicker. A loose fit is not going to do anything for a striker.
How much difference does it make?
According to UFC fighter Johny Hendricks, hand wrapping can make a big difference. After his decision loss to Georges St. Pierre, Hendricks told the press that he was punching at 70 percent due to his hand wraps.
“I usually get a thick wrap and this time I didn’t do that,” Hendricks told the media post-fight. “Instead of me asking for a thicker wrap, I kept my mouth shut. It’s my fault. That’s on me. It means I hit hard enough that I can punch through the four-ounce gloves. So that’s what made my hands get bruised. I couldn’t punch as hard as I could (have). The more injured I get, the less I get to use it, the more he gets comfortable, so I had to tone down my power. I was still hurting at 70 percent. Wait till I get a full hand wrap. That only builds confidence, because I beat the pound for pound best fighter in the world. I will be back, and I will be stronger than before.”