So I was watching UFC 270 and loving every minute, then comes the main event between Francis Ngannou and Ciryl Gane. Surprisingly, Ngannou walks out with black knee pads (sleeves) across both of his knees.
Knee pads in the UFC are rare, especially at the level of a Championship bout at the main event. But it does happen. But just how legal it is is another question.
In short, do UFC fighters wear knee pads?
UFC Fighters wear knee sleeves occasionally during their fights when they have a recent injury that needs extra knee joint support. Knee sleeves – not knee pads – are accepted under the Unified Rules Of Mixed Martial Arts as long as they are made of a soft neoprene material only.
Keep reading to find out more about the use of knee pads and knee braces in UFC history.
Can UFC Fighters Wear Knee Pads?
UFC fighters can wear soft knee sleeves but not knee pads in a UFC fight. Approved sleeves should not have any padding, velcro, plastic, metal, or any other unsafe material that has the potential to give them an unfair advantage.
Also Read: Why Do UFC Fighters Have Weird Ears?
As per the Unified Rules Of MMA, sleeves or wraps can be worn on either the knee joints or ankle joints in a UFC fight. However, fighters cannot wear sleeves or wraps on any part of their upper body.
Knee sleeves can’t have padding like knee pad does because it can give an unfair advantage in the fight. The extra cushioning on the front of the knee could allow them to take and maintain control of their opponent when wrestling or performing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Can You Wear A Knee Brace In The UFC?
UFC fighters can’t wear a knee brace because it adds padding and support, which is an unfair advantage against your opponent, as per the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. Knee sleeves (without any padding) are allowed, however.
A knee brace is often much thicker with padding. It may even have additional materials like metals or plastic inside them to brace the knee joint and give it extra stability, like having extra skeletal structure for support.
The extra padding in a knee brace gives you an advantage against your opponent because it’s easier for you to drop to your knees without as much impact or friction on them. If your opponent isn’t wearing any knee support, they would be just hitting the octagon floor with the joint and bone of their knees.
A knee brace gives more advantages over an opponent because of the extra material such as plastics or metals that add a lot more security in the joint when it can’t depend on itself quite as much.
Knee braces are often used after knee injuries from which the fighter can’t bend or support weight on their knee entirely and when transitioning back into full practice with rehabilitation.
This is why you can’t use a knee brace in the UFC; it’s a clear advantage. Plus, the plastics or metals inside the brace could snap and break through the material to be of danger to the opponent, and the rules can’t allow for this to happen for the safety of the fighters.
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Knee Pads Worn By Fighters In UFC History
In the history of the UFC, there have been some examples of fighters who wore knee sleeves to give them slightly added compression or support around their knees when fighting.
Let’s highlight some of them!
UFC 270: Francis Ngannou
Francis Ngannou wore knee sleeves at UFC 270 to defend his Heavyweight title against Ciryl Gane.
When we walked to the octagon for this title fight and undressed from his walkout clothes, we saw the first glimpse of his black knee sleeves around both knees.
I have watched plenty of UFC for the last few years, and this was surprising. At first glance, I wasn’t sure if it was even legal for him to wear knee sleeves for the fight (and it’s why I decided to write this article in the first place).
In post-fight interviews, Francis told reporters that he was very close to having to pull out of the fight just three weeks before the event.
In training camp for the fight, Francis had torn his MCL completely and hurt his ACL. He wore the knee sleeves to add a slight extra compression (for blood flow) and support his knees.
Now, I’m not sure which of his knees he injured. Maybe it was just one, or perhaps it was both. Either way, it seems to make sense to me that you should wear a knee sleeve on both knees just so that your opponent doesn’t have an obvious target.
If you’ve injured your left knee and you wear a knee sleeve on only your left knee, then it’s pretty clear where to find your Achilles heel.
He still went on to win the fight with beautiful wrestling techniques to dominate Ciryl Gane. Francis earned a cool $600K for defeating Ciryl and that’s not even including any PPV bonuses he may have had.
UFC 52: Georges St Pierre
Francis Ngannou hasn’t been the only high-level UFC fighter to enter the octagon sporting double knee sleeves.
Back in the heyday of the UFC, Georges St Pierre fought Jason “Mayhem” Miller wearing two black knee sleeves.
You might even go as far as to say that these were genuine knee pads that Georges was wearing for this fight. UFC 52 was still the early days of UFC, which was 2005, so knee pads could have still been accepted under the UFC rules at that time.
The Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts became active in 2001 but amended multiple times in 2010, 2016, 2017, and 2018.
It’s possible that it was perfectly acceptable when GSP was fighting and wearing double knee pads. After all, it wasn’t so long before it that UFC fighters could punch each other in their nice place.
There have been other events where Georges has worn knee coverings of some kind, sometimes just on one knee, sometimes on both, and sometimes not at all.
It seems that GSP has had different kinds of knee issues over the years, as is pretty common with MMA fighters and many other types of sportspeople.
What Are UFC Fighters Allowed To Wear?
UFC fighters can wear shorts, hand wraps, MMA gloves, groin cups, and wraps or sleeves for the knees and ankles. Their upper body must always be free of sleeves, such as for the elbow or wrists, other than the wraps added under their gloves.
To Sum It Up
UFC fighters will sometimes wear knee sleeves, but they can’t wear anything with added padding or other materials like a knee brace.
Padding gives extra support and protection to its wearer, and braces have dangerous materials if they were to snap.
For both these reasons, only knee sleeves don’t give an unfair advantage while allowing the wearer to keep fighting through a knee injury.
Joe Bloom is the lead author and editor of MMA Hive. Joe has been a passionate mixed martial artist in training since 2019, having studied Boxing and Muay Thai at BaliMMA and Soma Fight Club, as well as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with RitualsJJ.