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Why Do UFC Fighters Have Ugly Ears And Best Ways To Avoid

khabib Nurmagomedov shows his cauliflower ear.

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One of the striking features of many UFC fighters is their cauliflower ear. Now what I mean by cauliflower ear is when the ear becomes deformed, sometimes beyond recognition. But why do UFC fighters have ugly ears in the first place?

In terms of combat sports, cauliflower ear is caused by repeated impacts or trauma to the outer ear. Which in turn causes blood or fluid to fill the void between the cartilage and outer skin of the ear, leading to a haematoma.

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And it’s something which many fighters wear with a distinct sense of pride. Whether wrestlers or UFC fighters, boxers or even rugby players. What some might call ugly cauliflower ear is commonplace across any sport where participants receive repeated damage to the ears.

How Does It Happen

The resulting bumps and lumps you see on the ear are a complication from repeated damage to that area. It can happen when people wrestle repeatedly getting their ears rubbed on the mats. That and their heads and ears repeatedly clash, making the injury worse.

It can happen when someone is punched or even worse kicked in the ear. It can also happen when someone is attempting a submission. By holding their opponent’s say with a guillotine or cross-face hold. The forearm can end up grinding against the ear.

It’s mainly the forte of wrestlers and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu players in the UFC. As you will see many fighters appear to not suffer from it at all. While for another group of mostly ground fighters, it will be very common.

Alexander Gustafsson shows his cauliflower ear.
Alexander Gustafsson cauliflower ear.

So basically there are numerous ways in which the injury can happen. And I know from personal experience how easy it can happen. Having trained a lot in MMA, I eventually began to feel pain, particularly in one ear, during and after practice.

Now for someone who is not a professional fighter and does not make their living from it. I personally did not want to have cauliflower ears. Because firstly it became sore as hell, secondly I already have big ears and could picture the new slew of nicknames. And finally I simply just didn’t want the look, simple as that.

So I made sure to be aware and take it easier on my ears. Even applying a little pressure to bring down the swelling and help the healing process.

UFC Fighters With Cauliflower Ear

As I already mentioned many UFC fighters have very pronounced cauliflower ears. But some more so than others, often with one ear significantly worse than the other.

Because they are so distinctive, seeing just an image of an ear can help to identify the owner. So below you will find some names of fighters who can in many cases be identified just by their ears alone.

  • Randy Couture
  • Tony Ferguson
  • Frankie Edgar
  • Khabib Nurmagomedov
  • Raphael Dos Anjos
  • Alexander Gustafsson
  • Demetrious Johnson
  • Conor McGregor
  • Antonio Rogerio Nogueria

And many many more to varying degrees. But for a lot of fighters, their ears are a source of pride. Representing the many hours, days, weeks and years they have spent on the mats honing their craft.

So the superficial damage you see on their ears is, in fact, the culmination of many years of work. And for that reason, many do in fact love admiring their own cauliflower ear in the mirror every morning, very much seeing it as a badge of honour.

Khabib Nurmagomedov following a win inside the octagon.
Khabib has very distinctive ugly ears.

And many fighters are more than happy that their fans find their ears so interesting. As the former five-time UFC champion Randy Couture once mentioned in an ESPN interview, saying;

“Nobody really cares about the other stuff. It’s my ears that are famous. People want to feel them, squeeze them and take pictures. These ears attract a crowd.”

Randy Couture – ESPN Magazine

So who could blame them for admiring their own ears when so many fans do too? Sure you will find those who don’t like how they look and who would never want them. But as we can see, many fighters and fans alike find them quite impressive indeed.

How Do They Treat Them

If you have ever trained in MMA or BJJ you may sometimes have seen someone getting their cauliflower ear syringed. Now I have seen this in person and it was one of the other reasons I did not want to be next in line.

But essentially they get their ears drained by someone who is familiar with the process. And this person won’t usually be in any way medically trained. But usually, someone who has experience in dealing with the condition and knows exactly what to do or even do it themselves.

Draining The Ear

So below is a quick overview of how the ear is usually drained. I am in no way recommending that you do it yourself, as it should be done in a safe and hygienic environment. By trained persons who know what they are doing. So take this as simply as an informational overview.

  1. They clean the swollen area around the ear with some alcohol wipes.
  2. Insert the syringe into the front of the ear at an angle, directly into the location of the swelling.
  3. Begin to draw down on the syringe, extracting the mixture of blood and fluid which has built up in the cavity. And depending on the volume in the ear, this can take some time.
  4. If the syringe is filled, they do not (should not) reuse it, using a new sterile needle to repeat the process.
  5. Sometimes they will apply some pressure to areas around the insertion to push any excess fluid into the cavity. Making sure that as much of the fluid is extracted as possible.
  6. Once completed people will sometimes apply compression bandages to try to help the tissues reconnect.
  7. They will sometimes also take some antibiotics to stave off any infection, but honestly many do not.
An MMA fighter having his cauliflower ear drained

So this whole process can be extremely painful and completed in not the most hygienic of environments. As remember you are dealing with a gym full of sweating fighters. Who’s business it is to hurt other people and so they can often be pretty rough and pretty unforgiving. So a little bit of pain or infection for them is all par for the course.

How To Avoid Them

And of course, there are ways to avoid getting cauliflower ear in the first place. As you will no doubt have seen many collegiate wrestlers wear headgear to help prevent or at the very least minimise the amount of trauma their ears take.

And minimising the damage in the early years while the body is still growing is key. As it’s here where much of the deformation will take place. If it goes unchecked will morph into far more pronounced ears in the years to come.

And many UFC fighters who did not come from a wrestling background will also use headgear during their training. Again to minimise the trauma they take, as there are some fighters who don’t want to cauliflower look.

If it does happen, the draining of the ear followed by the application of compression bandages is necessary. The bandages should help to reconnect the cartilage to the skin. But to stop it from happening again in the future some protective gear should be worn.

So it’s a mixed bag when it comes to who does and doesn’t like the look, even amongst professional fighters. As you may have noticed some of the greatest champions the sport has known don’t have ugly ear syndrome.

Some Final Thoughts

It’s true that you can tell who is a UFC fighter or who is at the very least someone who has dedicated themselves to their craft. Whether that be MMA, wrestling, BJJ or the many other sports where cauliflower ear can occur.

And while many people could avoid much of the damage they receive to cause the injury. It seems as though many are happy with the look and willing to go through the pain necessary to over time form those beautifully deformed ears.

Because what one person might think of as ugly, another will find beauty in that same ugliness. So it is up to the individual to make the best decision for themselves, as the condition is avoidable.