why do ufc fighters have weird ears

Why Do UFC Fighters Have Weird Ears?

One of the main thing that draws attention to the viewers is the look of the UFC fighter’s ears.

They are called cauliflower ears, and although old fans don’t even perceive them as weird anymore, many new fans ask themselves the same question: “Why do UFC fighters have weird ears?”.

UFC fighters have weird ears because of the blows their ears receive, which causes them to cramp up. That state of ears is called cauliflower ears. There are ways to minimize the damage and make the ears look somewhat nicer, but most fighters prefer them the way they are.

I will talk about how cauliflower ears develop, how to prevent it, and about famous fighters who have them.

My first experience with MMA and cauliflower ears was when Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipović fought in a Japanese organization, Pride FC.

I would wake up early and watch the fights with my dad, and I still do that today.

Pride FC is long gone, and “Cro Cop” retired, but new fighters and new organizations appear every day.

My obsession with MMA will never end the same way cauliflower ears won’t stop drawing new fan’s attention, so let me teach you something new.

UFC Fighters Ears

The medical term for cauliflower ear is a perichondrial hematoma, but athletes want to keep it simple, so cauliflower ear is a better term to use. [1]

Although cauliflower ears are mostly associated with MMA fighters, many athletes outside of MMA have cauliflower ears.

The fact is that in any close-contact sport, there is a high chance of developing them, and even you can get them although you probably don’t engage in such activities. So, let’s talk about the way cauliflower ears are formed.

When the cartilage of the ear gets injured by inflammation or trauma, the blood supply gets messed up, and blood has nowhere to go, so it formes a hematoma.

The cartilage gets separated from the overlying perichondrium, so nutrients can’t reach it, and it dies off.

Cartilage gets replaced by fibrous tissue and gives the ear its new look. 

The only real way to prevent cauliflower ears from forming is by wearing protective headgear during any activity that includes close contact.

Even more important is to get the right size of headgear that perfectly fits you because a helmet that doesn’t fit right can do more harm than good to you.

The main problem with this is that professional MMA fighters can’t use headgear during their fights, so most of them abandon that option during training.

Other options include the use of tape or rapid treatment after trauma to prevent it from forming.

The treatment greatly depends on the size and scope of the deformity as well as the time passed since the trauma happened.

The exterior ear can’t be easily damaged, so any trauma that causes that kind of damage needs to be treated carefully, so no critical intracranial injuries are not overlooked.

Treatment starts with a thorough head and neck examination, including a cranial nerve examination, an inspection of the tympanic membranes, and a detailed neurologic examination. 

With everything out of the way, the treatment of the ear can start. The ideal time frame to treat the ear is up to six hours after the injury happened since the cartilage death hasn’t occurred yet.

The medical worker anesthetizes the ear with lidocaine and then inserts an 18-gauge needle into the hematoma.

A more painful treatment is required if the patient reached medical attention outside of the 6 hours, where aspiration has the highest success rate.

If that is the case, an invasive incision needs to be performed to remove any coagulated blood. 

The most annoying thing about treating cauliflower ear is the chance of recurring.

Even if all of the coagulated blood is removed and the perichondrium can reattach to the cartilage, there is still a chance that blood will re-accumulate.

It will look like nothing has been done, especially if the patient is a professional athlete and does not have the luxury of stopping the training camp. 

Do All MMA Fighters Have Cauliflower Ear?

Not all MMA fighters have cauliflower ears. As mentioned above, some fighters simply don’t form cauliflower ears.

But, there are still some who have them.

Alexander Gustafsson

Gustafsson Returns As a Heavyweight And Immediately Faces a Fight Against The Former Champion

Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson is a Swedish MMA fighter. Although retired, he is still regarded as one of the greatest fighters of the UFC light-heavyweight division.

He was never a champion but fought many top contenders, as well as former and current champions. The biggest performances of his career were his fights against John Jones and Daniel Cormier. 

He lost via split decision in both fights but showed the world he can fight with the best as they earned The Performance of the Night bonuses.

Since then he had a mixed record, even retiring after the loss to Anthony Smith.

Still, he returned to fight in the heavyweight division against the former UFC champion Fabricio Werdum.

His fight record now stands at eighteen wins and seven losses. 

Because of the rigorous practice and all the “wars” he has been through, it is no coincidence that his ears morphed into something that doesn’t even resemble an ear anymore.

With that in mind, he had something interesting to say after an interviewer asked if he would fix them after retirement.

He answered: “I’m proud of them. It means I’ve gone through some tough battles.”

Frankie Edgar

The next fighter on my list is Frankie “The Answer” Edgar. He is the former UFC lightweight champion and one of the toughest fighters that ever fought in UFC.

He holds wins against Charles Oliviera, Urijah Faber, Jeremy Stephens, and Yair Rodriguez, just to name a few.

Even though he beat many great fighters, he is mostly known for beating B.J. Penn three times. 

His ears aren’t the worst ones on this list but aren’t pretty either as they stick out of his head.

“The Answer” doesn’t care about what they look like and wears them as a badge of honor. They also mix well with his personality.

He suffered a devastating KO loss in his last fight against Cory Sandhagen and now bouts a 24 and 9 record. 

BJ Penn

BJ “The Prodigy” Penn is one of the MMA pioneers, a UFC and Pride FC veteran, and a fighter who belongs on every MMA legend list.

He suffered seven losses in a row and now has a record with 16 wins and 14 losses. Because of that, many new fans can’t even comprehend what a great fighter he once was.

He fought in Featherweight, Lightweight, Welterweight, and even Heavyweight.

Also, he is the first non-Brazilian to win the black belt division of the world jiu-jitsu championship.

As for his ears, they don’t look alike. Both are badly damaged, but the left one is special, as sometimes you can’t even resemble what it once looked like. 

Leslie Smith

Leslie “The Peacemaker” Smith is the first female fighter on our list, but nothing less frightening than the male part.

Although she has seven fights in the UFC and now fights in Bellator, she is mostly known for the literal explosion of her ear in her match against Jessica Eye.

She entered the fight with a big cauliflower ear, and it only took her opponent one punch to hit the ear, with it “exploding” with blood.

After a few minutes, the fight was stopped as it looked like the ear was on the verge of falling off.

Kazushi Sakuraba

The last fighter I will cover in this list is the legendary Kazushi “The Gracie Hunter” Sakuraba.

In the era of MMA, when the Gracie family ruled with their BJJ, he was the one fighter to stop them. And boy, did he deliver.

He defeated four fighters of the Gracie family and acquired the nickname: “The Gracie Hunter.” 

He won the UFC Japan Heavyweight Tournament and holds wins against Ken Shamrock, Kevin Randleman, Rampage Jackson, and Vitor Belfort, just to name a few.

His current record is 26 wins and 17 losses. With that many fights and such a crazy career, you would think that his ears must be really messed up, and you would be right. 

Probably the craziest thing in his career happened when he fought Marius Zaromskis at Dynamite 2010.

After a punch to the ear, Sakuraba’s ear bursted open and caused the referee to stop the fight, so the doctor can perform an inspection.

The fight continued, but Zaromskis hit Sakuraba hard in the ear one again, so the ear partially tore off from his head, and the fight was stopped. 

The Bottom Line

If you are into any kind of contact sport, there is a risk of you developing the cauliflower ear.

With that in mind, you can try to protect your ears with the use of helmets but their application is limited.

Most MMA fighters have cauliflower ears, and they wear them with pride, so if you get one, maybe you should too, or just get it surgically removed. It’s up to you.

Vladimir Vladisavljevic has been training in the art of kickboxing for over seven years, holds a Taekwondo black belt, and has a master's degree in sports and physical education. He's also a huge mixed martial arts fan. He's a big deal in Bulgaria as a mixed martial arts commentator, analyst, and podcaster.
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Vladimir Vladisavljevic

Vladimir Vladisavljevic has a master's degree in sports and physical education. He has been training in kickboxing for over seven years and holds a Taekwondo black belt. He's also a huge mixed martial arts fan. Vladimir is a big deal in Bulgaria as a mixed martial arts commentator, analyst, and podcaster. He was known as The Bulgarian Cowboy in the Western world. In addition, he has a YouTube channel where he talks about his love of esports, one of the fastest-growing fields in the world. Our testing and reviewing method.
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