In New York State, the violent world of professional boxing may have become a little safer.
Since Jan. 15, the New York State Athletic Commission has required all boxers in professional bouts to wear ''thumbless'' gloves. The only exception is in championship title fights.
According to most estimates, eye injuries represent between 65 and 85 percent of all boxing injuries. Many of these are caused when the thumb of a conventional boxing glove enters the eye socket. Thumbless gloves prevent this.
The new gloves are expected to reduce the number of eye injuries to fighters by 80 percent, according to Marvin Kohn, deputy director of the state's boxing commission.
''We hired a lab at Wayne State University (in Detroit) to check the value of the new glove and they endorsed our feeling that it would prevent injuries,'' Mr. Kohn says.
So far, only Everlast Sporting Goods Company in New York City has manufactured a thumbless glove that meets the commission's requirements. Called the Everguard, it has an inside thumb pocket that does not protrude from the surface.
Although thumbless gloves were patented as early as 1915, they were never popular. Boxers disliked them because they failed to offer a comfortable grip, says Dan Golomb, chairman of the board at Everlast.
The impetus for designing a workable thumbless glove came 21/2 years ago when the New York State Boxing Commission asked manufacturers to submit prototypes.
According to Mr. Golomb, the thumbless glove already has been used in about 50 professional bouts. ''The fighters are saying that once the bell sounds, they forget all about the unusual gloves,'' he says.
Not only do statistics show that the gloves cause fewer cuts and bruises, he says, ''there's also less illegal holding of opponents because the lack of a thumb provides no way to get a grip. And that's made for faster matches, too, which are more exciting for the fans.''
He adds that the new gloves have another valuable side effect. An 8-ounce thumbless glove (the standard weight for professional bouts) has the same shock-absorbing ability of a more heavily padded 10-ounce glove of the conventional design. Boxers usually prefer the lightest glove possible.
Several boxing organizations have yet to take a position on the thumbless gloves.
''We are interested in anything that will increase the safety of boxers,'' says Stan Gallup, director of the amateur Golden Gloves Association of America, who hasn't yet seen a prototype of the glove. He will meet with Everlast officials in late March during the Golden Gloves championships.
So far, the World Boxing Association, which ranks professional boxers and stages championship bouts, has taken no position on the use of the new glove, says spokesman Bernard Shankman. But individual state commissions are free to require the use of the glove if they wish, he points out.
One longtime advocate of the new gloves is former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, now a member of the New York State Athletic Commission. ''We've used the new glove in bouts in Albany, and before that I tested it for three months with boxers at my own gym,'' Patterson says. ''The fighters didn't like the way it looked, but that's just psychological. It feels just as comfortable as a regular glove.''
Patterson says the commission didn't require fighters in championship bouts to wear the glove because it didn't want the state to lose the chance to host major fights. Many of today's champions, like Sugar Ray Leonard, have a contract to wear a certain glove in their bouts, he says.