Why Do UFC Fighters Have Cauliflower Ears?

Why Do UFC Fighters Have Cauliflower Ears?

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The sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) is gaining traction across the globe. UFC stands at its forefront and has gained more fans thanks to their ingenious ways of making fights happen. From Fight Island to UFA Apex, the company has put glitz and glamor in the violent sport. UFC promotions are unmatched, but there is something peculiar about the fighters. Most, if not all, have misshapen ears. The cauliflower ears

UFC fighters have cauliflower ears as a result of time spent during grappling, a critical discipline to master for any fighter wanting to make it big in the world of MMA.

Grappling disciplines include freestyle wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, combat sambo, judo, amongst others. Spend too much time on one, and you are bound to get your ears crumpled up. In the rest of this article, we will focus on which disciplines lead to cauliflower ears and in which the aesthetic appeals of your hearing aids remain in tacts. So, without further adieu, let’s start!

Why do UFC fighters have weird ears?

The doctors call it ‘Perichondrial hematoma’ or ‘traumatic auricular hematoma,’ but grappling enthusiasts like to keep it simple. Cauliflower ears works. It gives the ear disfigurement a sense of intrigue and normalizes it. Also, discussions with beginners about traumatic ears are far more challenging to have than a conversation on cauliflower ears. 

So, why do UFC fighters have these weird ears? The answer is simple. Their pursuit of excellence in various martial arts results in excessive damage to the external portion of the ears. A UFC fighter is not just excellent in one discipline but a master in both striking and grappling techniques. 

S/he is a fighting machine, able to hold their own against masters of various martial arts. But this is not because UFC fighters are exposed to different combat sports. From boxers to wrestlers, it is common amongst them all. Even NFL stars have cauliflower ears.

Before we go in detail, a brief explanation of what leads to crumpled ears is necessary. The basis for it lies in the fact that contact fighting results in the external ear tissue being damaged, either from headlocks or punches. The ear becomes filled with blood clots and other collection fluids. The ear cartilage is separated from the overlying perichondrium, resulting in a lack of nutrients reaching it. The cartilage dies/withers off and is replaced by fibrous tissue; this gives it the crumpled look and the aforementioned cauliflower ears.

It begs the question, why not protect the ears. After all, the disfigurement of any body part hurts and needs to be avoided. Using headgear is a simple and straight answer but they are not used for a variety of reasons. 

For striking training, the headgear can potentially decrease your visibility and you can get prone to receiving more punches. The same principle applies to grappling arts. At early age groups, they are religiously employed. But by the time the individual enters his late teens, his ears have already received enough damage, even with protection, that it does not make sense to take on the disadvantages. 

The cauliflower ears are an occupational hazard. For young athletes, it is a mark of devotion to their preferred sport. To top athletes of the sport, they are the spurs they have earned from years of dedicated practice. 

Do all UFC fighters have cauliflower ears?

Look at Khabib Nurmagomedov, Jon Jones, Conor McGregor, and Tony Ferguson. Now add in Randy Couture, Michael Bisping, and Georges St-Pierre, all have cauliflower ears. UFC greats not just in name but in practice as well. 

But not all fighters have dominant cauliflower ears. Israel Adesanya is a good example that comes to mind. Kumaru Usman is another. Tyron Woodley also makes the list, so does Anderson Silva. We can cap it off with the Last Emperor, Fedor Emelianenko. This list is full of champions but not that affluent. 

It shows that there are UFC big-wigs, who dominated the promotion with and without cauliflower ears. However, it seems that this trend will move in favor of the former. With a renewed focus on grappling following the rise in stature of St-Pierre and utter domination by Khabib, cauliflower ears are here to stay in the octagon. 

On the other hand, it can be argued that with the sport maturing and its training regimens becoming more structured, the ears can be saved from trauma. The coaches are aware of the damage that can be received and how headgears should be properly employed to allow the athlete’s development. 

The evidence for the former can already be seen in the young stars of UFC. Sean O’Malley, Christian Edwards, and A.J. McKee do not have cauliflower ears. Even a close examination of Daniel Cormier and Henry Cejudo shows that they have very limited fibrous tissue in their ears despite a life spent in freestyle wrestling and striking arts.

It shows that not all UFC fighters have this deformity. Proper protection from a young age and improved coaching techniques can arrest the sightings of cauliflower ears. However, it is unlikely that all UFC fighters will ever be without them. The sport welcomes athletes from all over the world and standards are not similar across the globe, most of the fighters do not even have access to world-class facilities when they begin. 

Is cauliflower ear permanent?

This is a tricky question to answer. The answer is lies between no and maybe. It depends on when the cauliflower ear condition is addressed and where the damage has been received. 

There are two classifications of cauliflower ear, Type 1 is when there is a minimal deformity to the outline of the ear while in Type 2, one can witness considerable deformity of the outline of the ear. 

Simply put, treatment of cauliflower ear depends on the amount of damage received and when treatment begins. In a perfect situation, treatment should begin from the onset of the initial trauma. However, fighters are aware of these issues and generally tend to dismiss them as part of the trade. 

There are various treatments available to begin with, especially at the perichondrial hematoma stage. However, there is no general consensus on the best treatment for it. One thing is for certain, if not treated, it can lead to cauliflower ear. 

To prevent deformation and buildup of fibrous tissues, drainage of the hematoma is a preferred treatment. There are other conservative treatments available that have not been as fruitful as drainage. Special care should be taken during this procedure and the individual should try not to get involved in combat sports in this period. 

In the case of an acute hematoma, the process towards cauliflower ear speeds up. Blood needs to be removed to prevent permanent damage to the cartilage. Drainage of blood can be done through various techniques. These include needle drainage, continuous suction devices, wick placement, and incision drainage. 

Once drainage has been completed, the person has to ensure that re-accumulation is avoided. In extreme cases, one’s hearing can also be damaged. It is recommended that adequate pressure is applied to the treated ear. This can be achieved through sutured cotton balls, absorbable mattress sutures, direct pressure dressings, buttons sutures, and thermoplastic splints. 

However, these methods are only effective if the trauma is recent. After six hours have passed, surgical methods are suggested. Antibiotics are also prescribed after a surgical procedure since infections are very real possibilities. 

One of the most extreme cases of the treatment going wrong was when UFC fighter Leslie Smith made headlines. The flyweight fighter’s ear exploded during the fight. Smith was getting this treatment during her fight with Jessica Eye. During the fight, a direct punch to her ear caused it to explode. It was later revealed that Smith was draining her cauliflower ear intermittently and the blow during the fight led to profuse bleeding. The bleeding got so severe that the fight doctors had to stop the match.


The life of a UFC fighter is not easy and from what we have learned today, it is fraught with dangers. Not only do they lead a very dangerous lifestyle, but they also do it in a way that is detrimental to their bodies. The appearance of cauliflower ears shows that they have paid their due with blood, sweat, and tears. And they should be lauded for their commitment to their passion. The cauliflower ear is just a visible mark that is just the tip of the iceberg for MMA fighters who constantly battle injuries to give a show for their fans. It does raise the need for further inspection about how changes in this bloodsport can be made so that permanent damage to the athletes is avoided. 

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