Some studies came to the conclusion that bare knuckle boxing may be safer because people punch harder with gloves. This was also attributed to it being painful to punch really hard with just your fists.
Here's a good summary of the studies:
Smith and Smith et al. found that the boxing and karate gloves were not particularly effective in preventing knockouts in boxing or full-contact karate. In fact, higher momentum levels were recorded for gloved punches on a heavy bag as compared with bare fisted punches. The karate glove would most likely cause concussions due to the higher impulse values. It spread impact forces over a longer period of time at higher velocities and caused greater accelerations of the impacted object.
Injury rates during the 1988 US Olympic
Team Trials for taekwondo
The studies cited in that paragraph (all done by the same one or two people: Smith and Hamill) are:
- Punching impact effect of the karate, boxing, and the thumbless boxing glove
- It mentions a highly relevant study too:
Dessureault and Therrien (1981) determined that large force
and weight variations existed between gloves of supposedly the same weights. The
Canadian study also found that gloves lost almost 50% of their force absorption ability after 11 impacts and that some gloves had been used in up to 100 fights.
- The study isn't properly referenced but I think it's the same one cited by this also relevant article: Dessureault, J., and Therrien, R. G. Caracteristiques de l'energie
absorbee et de la force transmise par les gants en boxe. Regie de la
securite dans les sports, Trois-Rivieres, mars 1981, 60 pp.
- Smith, P.K. 'Transmission of force through the karate,
boxing, and thumbless boxing glove as a function of
velocity' In Terauds, J., Gowitzke, B.E. and Holt, L.E.
(eds.), Biomechanics in Sports III and IV, Academic
Publishers, Del Mar, CA, 1987
- I couldn't find the article online
- Karate and boxing glove impact characteristics as functions of velocity and repeated impact:
It was surprising to find the boxing glove transmitted more
momentum to the bag than the bare fist. Possibly the cushioning
effect of the gloves allowed subjects to punch harder since
impact would be less painful to the puncher. Without the
impending pain from impact as a constraint, the subject could
feel freer to apply more momentum to the bag.
- Smith, P. K. and Hamill, J. The effect of punching glove
type and skill level on momentum transfer J Hum Mov
Stud 1986, 12, 153-161
- I couldn't find this one online either.
Another thing that's interesting to note is that many gloves being sold online only mention how they protect the wearer's hands or wrists (but mention nothing about them better for the person getting punched):
Gel Infused foam provides superb protection and softness to help prevent injury to your hands while training —Sanabul Essential Gel Boxing Kickboxing Training Gloves
Great for punching bag training and sparring, these gloves from renowned boxing equipment maker, Everlast, feature dense, two-layer foam padding and a patented Thumb-Lok for superb hand and thumb protection. — Everlast 1200026 Everlast Women's Pro Style Training Boxing Gloves - Black
The ultra-lightweight Force Training Gloves are equipped with triple-layered foam padding for optimal shock absorbency and energy dispersion, ensuring that your hands are always protected. The fully-adjustable, hook & loop elastic strap system found on these gloves provide secure wrist support to prevent against common striking injuries. — Amber Fight Gear FORCE-103 16 oz Amber Fight Gear Force Sparring Gloves Navy & Black