JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — UFC is set to unveil a new glove designed in large part to stunt eye pokes that often render fighters unable to continue, the first major change of the protective equipment in more than a decade.

The global MMA leader made the impact-absorbing gloves mandatory, starting with Saturday’s UFC 302 card in New Jersey. UFC said the gloves should provide fighters with enhanced protection, improved fit, greater comfort and maximum flexibility.

The early verdict among fighters on the pay-per-view card who used the gloves during training camp seem to be a split decision.

“I think they’re more comfortable,” lightweight title challenger Dustin Poirier said. “It’s easier to make a fist. I do think there might be more cuts because the padding isn’t as dense. I feel like the knuckles are going to pierce through that padding that they have and cause more cuts. But I like them better. They’re more comfortable to make a fist. The other gloves are really stiff and straight. Whatever foam they’re using in these, it’s really easy to make a fist.”

The gloves, designed and engineered by sports equipment manufacture Vicis RDI, are available in black for the 3Eight series and gold for the 5Eight championship fight series.

Some notable changes include: all seams are now on the palm side of the hand just below the fingers, designed to minimize abrasions and cuts; new padding expected to make it easier for fighters to keep their fingers in a natural position and minimize eye pokes; and removal of finger binding intended to reduce bulk and minimize seams that may cause abrasions and cuts.

Male and female sizing was eliminated in favor of 10 unisex sizes. The gloves weigh between 3 and 4.9 ounces (a reduction of 1 to 1.5 ounces).

Duncan French, Senior Vice President, UFC Performance Institute, said the company’s research showed significant eye pokes happen once every 14 fights and delays last an average of about 50 seconds.

“Eye pokes clearly disrupt the bout,” French said. “We want to maintain the tempo, the cadence but obviously have the bout finish by rules and regulations rather than a stoppage through an improper eye poke.”

Some notable fights of late have been marred by eye pokes, highlighted by Chris Weidman’s win in March over Bruno Silva. The fight was stopped twice because of Weidman’s persistent pokes. Weidman actually double-poked Silva in the closing minutes of the third round and won by decision.

“We believe the new gloves will provide greater benefits in health and protection for all our athletes,” French said. “We’re going to be very focused on monitoring and evaluating the data and the results coming through. If we need to make ongoing (changes) in development, we’ll do that as needed. But we’re confident moving forward.”

The 35-year-old Poirier, who made his UFC debut in 2011, said he didn’t expect much of an adjustment with the gloves ahead of his title fight against Islam Makhachev.

“No, I like to know what’s better,” he said.

Makhachev, the Russian fighter riding a 13-fight win streak headed into the main event, isn’t a fan of the gloves.

“Honestly, I don’t like them too much,” he said. “They become very old after I use them for two weeks. When you try to open your fingers it’s a little difficult. The new ones, they keep your fingers closer.”

UFC had a soft launch with the gloves in “Dana White’s Contender Series” late last year but they become official for all fighters starting with Saturday’s card at the Prudential Center in New Jersey.

Sports medicine physician John Neidecker, the president of the Association of Ringside Physicians, was part of a team that studied eye pokes in UFC, PFL and Bellator fights from Jan. 1, 2022 through June 30, 2022. The study found 31 total fights with an eye poke and 36 total eye pokes. The average pause in action was 36 seconds among eye-poke delays in 256 UFC fights, 89 Bellator fights and 52 PFL fights.

“Gloves are tricky,” Neidecker said. “There’s one job of doing protection. That’s on a whole sense of things. You’re protecting hand injuries, wrist injuries with a good glove. Especially with MMA, you also need function, too. Is there a tradeoff of, if you make the glove safer, are you limiting the function of things?”

MMA gloves haven’t evolved much since the company’s inception. When UFC held its first event in November 1993, fighter Art Jimmerson competed with one bare hand and one boxing glove. UFC 14 in 1997 was the first event where the company made it mandatory to wear padded gloves.

“When you make a change like this, it needs to go through a period of normalization,” French said.

At least one fighter wasn’t willing to wait for the new normal to settle in ahead of fight night.

Former UFC middleweight champion Sean Strickland, known as much for his controversial comments as he is for his championship fights, lambasted the makeover in a profanity-laced rant.

“They’re a little bit more stitched,” he said. “People get (expletive) poked in the eyes because they opened their (expletive) hands. Unless you put a boxing glove on, that (stuff’s) not going to stop. People are creating a problem that we did not have. If you get cut, it’s because you get hit in the (expletive) head, don’t get hit in the (expletive) head, you don’t get cut. You get poked in the eyes because you (expletive) open your hands. Don’t open your hands, you won’t get poked in the eyes.”

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