Can You Wear Shoes In MMA? (UFC History Explained)

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Whether you’re taking up MMA yourself or love the sport, looking at fighters using different gear can leave you wondering what the proper attire for the Octagon is.

Shoes can protect and support the fighter’s feet and ankles. But can you wear shoes in MMA?

It depends on the circumstances. For example, a training center may allow you to wear shoes, but fighters in the ring cannot wear shoes. I breakdown the answer in detail in this post.

Can You Wear Shoes In MMA?

After the adoption of the uniform rules in 2009, MMA fighters were not allowed to wear shoes or foot padding in the Octagon. Fighters can only wear approved shorts, groin protectors, chest protectors, and mouthpieces inside the ring.

That being said, there was a time in the sport when no standardized rules existed. So I looked into the convoluted early history of modern MMA to understand how the ABC removed shoes from the sport.

History of Shoes in MMA

Mixed martial artists wearing different kinds of shoes for fighting

CV Productions founders Bill Viola and Frank Caliguri hosted “Tough Guy Contests” in 1979. These anything goes fights included punching, striking, grappling, and kicking – with shoes on.

Fast forward to 1983, and the Tough Guy fights were very popular until Pennsylvania laid a ban on these fights.

But other states didn’t have any legislation against these fights. Different versions of Tough Guy competitions were hosted across the country, and the term “mixed martial arts” was coined in 1993. The UFC was founded soon after.

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The UFC created rules to make fights safer after senator John McCain appealed to ban the sport nationwide. And as intended, the rules made the fights safer, but there was no consistency in the rules across states. 

Every state had its own athletic commission, which made ensuring the safety of fighters everywhere in the country a bigger challenge than it should have been.

Would fighters wear shoes in the ring after all this? The answer is, confusingly, yes.

There was a period where MMA fighters were allowed to wear shoes in the ring, but kicking was not allowed.

In the Pete Williams Vs. Mark Coleman fight (UFC 17, 1998), both Pete and Mark were wearing shoes. Pete knocked Mark out with a head kick – and the decision not to disqualify Pete Williams surprises some fans to this day.

The need for a governing body to protect the fighters was only recognized after 2000. Regulations were quickly put in place, and in 2009, the Association of Boxing Commissions finalized the unified rules.

Do UFC Fighters Wear Shoes?

No, UFC fighters do not wear shoes in the Octagon since it is against the unified rules. Many fans believe fighters should be allowed to wear shoes in the ring since they can protect them from injuries. However, most fighters prefer fighting without shoes on.

Martial artists cite several reasons for not wearing shoes when fighting:

Improved Muscle Training

A man using exercise bands to improve muscle strength in his foot

Losing the shoes during training removes any external support the muscles would get. As a result, the muscles in the feet and ankles must work harder and get stronger during training.

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Furthermore, training barefoot makes for more consistent training since the fighter doesn’t have to deal with the subtle shifts in the shoes during training.

Barefoot training is common in other sports as well. The cushioning in shoes changes how the feet strike surfaces. Runners believe this change in footstrike patterns does more harm than good. Research suggests a very limited to moderate increase in injury risk in runners that wear shoes vs. those that run barefoot.

Training barefoot has also gotten increasingly common among powerlifters. These athletes believe that training barefoot increases their awareness of their feet.

Tradition

Although MMA has some elements of wrestling and boxing mixed in, a lot of MMA was inspired by Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. BJJ is, by convention, fought barefoot. Furthermore, sports like Karate and Taekwondo are also fought barefoot. 

Professional fighters prefer keeping it traditional; however, tradition is not always followed. For example, athletes are required to wear slippers in traditional dojos. In addition, some training centers prefer that students wear shoes, while others require students to train barefoot.

Are Shoes Banned In The UFC?

Fighters cannot wear shoes in the UFC. Wrestlers are also not allowed to wear shoes in a UFC fight, although they don’t use kicks. This is because wearing shoes gives wrestlers better grip, which is an unfair advantage.

Further, the fighters are not allowed to wear a Gi, either. The only attire that’s permitted is:

  • Approved shorts
  • Groin protector (for male fighters)
  • Chest protector (for female fighters)
  • Mouthpiece

For this reason, you don’t see UFC fighters wear shirts, long pants, shoes, or shoe padding in fights.

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Before 2000, there weren’t any rules against what a fighter could wear in an MMA fight. Shoes were allowed inside the Octagon in the early days of the UFC.

However, more legislation was developed with time, and shoes were officially out of the sport when the Association of Boxing Commissions defined the unified rules in 2009.

What Do MMA Fighters Wear On Their Feet?

A common style of ankle support foot wraps used for MMA

MMA fighters wear foot wraps on their feet. There are three main types of foot wraps that these fighters can wear: ankle guards, cloth wraps, and tape wraps.

Ankle guards protect and support the fighter’s ankles and are especially effective in preventing ankle sprains. These have gel embedded in them, protecting the fighter’s feet from injury. Additionally, these guards can be slipped on and off, unlike other wraps that require wrapping. 

A fighter may also choose to use cloth wraps when they train since they are reusable.

Tape wraps are typically used in fights since they provide the same comfort as cloth wraps and are easy to remove after the fight. Ankle guards/gel wraps are not allowed in any MMA fight.

Do UFC Fighters Wear Foot Wraps?

A man's foot wearing very tight foot wrappings

In the UFC, fighters are only allowed to tape and cover their hands. No other kind of protective gear is worn on the upper body.

The fighters can use soft neoprene sleeves to cover their knees and ankle joints. However, these sleeves may not have any padding Velcro, plastic, metal, or any other material that will give the fighter an unfair advantage.

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