UFC fighter Reza Madadi who has cauliflower ears

Why Do UFC Fighters Have Weird Ears

If you find yourself arguing in traffic or in a bar with a person that has “weird ears”, and you are not aware of what this means and how they got those, be sure to stay calm, and walk away. It’s very likely that this person is a trained grappler or MMA fighter who has a ton of battle experience.

Those “weird ears” are actually called “cauliflower ears” in the fighting world. It is a type of ear defect common among MMA fighters, grapplers, or any other athletes who often get hit on the ears like in rugby for example. This is not a bad injury and fighters can heal it with a regular doctor visit. But, for some reason, some of them avoid treatment and prefer to “wear” these as trophies.

But why would a person do that? Well, read this article to learn more about cauliflower ears, and why most fighters don’t want to heal them.

Why do MMA fighters have cauliflower (weird) ears?

The explanation is quite simple. MMA is a sport where fighters strike each other to the head with kicks, and punches, as well as using elbows, and knees. A lot of these shots end up landing on the side of the head, hitting and causing damage to the ear. In some cases, they might damage the ear upon receiving a single hard blow to the side of the head, a kick in most cases, or an elbow. In other cases, the accumulated damage might cause this type of ear deformity.

But actually the most common way to damage your ear in MMA is while wrestling or rolling on the ground with the partner in training or opponent in a match. Fighters often smash their heads while battling for head control, or rub their ears off the ground during the grappling exchanges. Even some BJJ submissions like a triangle choke can easily damage the external part of your ear because the pressure of the squeeze is just too big.

mma fighter got hit in the face

What are cauliflower ears (cause and treatment)?

“Perichondrial hematoma”, or cauliflower ear is a type of ear deformity most common among martial artists who train and compete in martial arts that put a lot of stress on the ears like wrestling, BJJ and MMA. But what exactly happens when a fighter receives a hard blow to the ear or their ear gets pressed up too hard?

When the external part of the ear gets hit or pressed hard, a small blood clot develops between the connective tissue and cartilage inside the ear. This blood clot stops the delivery of nutrients from cartilage to the perichondrium, causing it to die and to form a much tougher fibrous tissue. As a result, the outer part of the ear becomes deformed and shaped like a “cauliflower”. Some of the first symptoms are:

  • Pain
  • Swelling of the ear
  • Ears turn red or bruised

On the other side, severe symptoms include:

  • Loss of hearing
  • Ringing in the ear
  • Severe headaches
  • Blurred vision

Treatment of this type of deformity does not fall into a group of complicated procedures. Once you spot the changes on the outer part of your ear or feel pain, the initial step is to apply ice to the affected area. This will reduce the swelling, ease up the pain and make your life easier before you get to the doctors’ office.

Once there, the doctor will, in most cases, try to drain out the blood collection using a small needle. It’s worth pointing up that the process is not too painful, and it won’t take much of your time. Once a doctor “unblocks” the blood flow, they will use stitches to connect the tissues and prescribe you antibiotics just in case to prevent infection.

The other way of solving this treating cauliflower ear is to undergo a surgery called “Otoplasty”, which by many is a more effective method of treating this type of injury.

After the treatment is over, you should take some time off and avoid any type of training, especially sparring until the doctor approves your comeback.

How to prevent cauliflower ears in MMA training?

The best way you can prevent this type of ear deformity is to always wear protective gear if possible. Whenever you are trading strikes, rolling on the ground, or wrestling, be sure to wear headgear or at least ear guards used in wrestling. When it comes to training, this would be more than enough to avoid ear damage simply because you ear will be well protected.

The story is a bit different when it comes to the official competition. While on the amateur level, your ears will still be safe because, in most tournaments, fighters need to wear headgear. But there is not much you can do on the pro level where wearing any type of head gear or ear guars is not allowed.

handsome mma fighter with cauliflower ears relaxing in the swimming pool.

Why some MMA fighters don’t want to heal their ears?

Cauliflower ears are not permanent ear damage. If you show up at the doctors’ office on time, they could be healed right away and you will have “normal” ears. This opens up a question, why do some MMA fighters, even the famous ones in the UFC, prefer to keep their ears deformed?

Most fighters wear cauliflower ears as battle badges, notably wrestlers. Outside the sport, deformed ears are an intimidating factor and an indicator that tells other people that you are a skilled fighter, a person you don’t want to mess with. In some way, this gives them a special “status” in the society they live in. In fact, some fighters go even a step further by damaging their ears on purpose just to enjoy all the “privileges” that come with having cauliflower ears.

In MMA circles, cauliflower ears are trophies, a medal of honor, a sign of toughness, and battle experience.

Most famous UFC fighters with cauliflower ears

Here is a list of UFC fighters who have the worst type of cauliflower ears:

Khabib Nurmagomedov — is the former UFC lightweight champ whose ears are deformed to the point that you wonder how he even hears anything. Like all other fighters from Dagestan, he too never bothered much about healing his ears. 

Randy Couture — is one of the best UFC fighters in history, and the former heavyweight and light heavyweight champion. As a former elite wrestler who built his career on grappling, his ears are destroyed to the point that the damage became permanent. 

Frankie Edgar — has been into wrestling since childhood, and at one point, he probably decided that fixing his ear damage is not worth it anymore. The former 145lbs and 155lbs champ have arguably the worst cauliflower ears in the business. 

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