Why Do MMA Fighters Have Weird Ears? | Easily Explained

You're watching MMA on TV for the first time and the camera zooms in on the fighters' faces, and there you see it... The cauliflower ear.

If you've never seen an ear like that before, you'll catch your eyes staring at it for a few seconds, trying to make sense of it. And if you have seen it before, well. You'll still catch yourself doing that as well.

In this page, we will explain what cauliflower ears are, how they occur, how to prevent them, and how they're treated.

    How Do Cauliflower Ears Occur?

    A cauliflower ear occurs when the external part of the ear receives trauma and a blood clot is developed.

    In the MMA world, cauliflower ears most often occur in the grappling world. Wrestling, jiu-jitsu, and sambo to name a few.


    When grappling, you're constantly fighting for the better position, and a big part of winning the position battle is head placement.

    Grapplers are constantly rubbing heads (both purposefully and accidentally) and the ears are on the receiving end of the trauma.


    Although we're mentioning ears, something to keep in mind is this can occur with anything as long as the ear is being exposed to enough friction. 

    Although other parts of the head are receiving trauma such as the face, for example, the ear is a unique case as it is primarily made up of cartilage and skin. This causes the ear to react in its distinctive way to trauma.

    Cauliflower ears can develop in any position but these are some of the notable ones.

    In the Clinch

    Whether during wrestling or during an MMA match specifically when using a single collar tie, each person has their hand placed behind the other person's head, while leaned over, and they're positioned ear to ear.

    single collar tie

    In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

    Extreme cases can occur where a person has put an extraordinary amount of rounds in a short period, and throughout that time ear friction has occurred vs a combination of rubbing against the gi, head, and other parts of the person without wearing headgear.



    During Takedowns

    When shooting for a takedown, it is an explosive movement where there's a possibility of the ear colliding with a leg, a knee, or even a shin.

    Although we've primarily covered the grappling department, this doesn't mean it can't occur in striking also.

    It most definitely can, they're just less common as there are more areas to strike (head, body, legs), you typically aren't constantly within inches of each other for long periods, and the ears aren't exactly the easiest to hit.

    brazilian jiu jitsu

    Badge of Honor

    Although it is not the best sight to look at, the cauliflower ear is a coveted feature for fighters and trainers around the world.

    Typically the longer someone has been training, the better chance he has of having it.

    It is seen as 'earning your stripes' and this is just part of the process. For those in less fortunate countries where becoming a professional fighter is their only way out, it is much more common.

    Whether due to not having headgear, not having the option to take a few days off to let the ear heal, wanting to have it to earn their stripes or all of the above.

    This is why you'll see most fighters from foreign countries sporting the cauliflower ear.

    Cauliflower Ears Gone Wrong

    If you have the stomach for gruesome stuff, keep reading. If not, skip to the next section.

    One of the more recent events that happened was in the UFC.

    Bantamweight fighter Leslie Smith was in the middle of a fight when she received a punch to her cauliflower-ed ear, and it immediately exploded on impact.

    The fight was immediately stopped due to a doctor's stoppage.


    How to Prevent Cauliflower Ears

    A high-quality MMA headgear is the best way to prevent lifelong deformity in the ears. If you ask any fighter who sports a cauliflower ear, they'll tell you that it developed on the days that they did not wear headgear.


    Draining the Ear

    This is a procedure where a doctor sticks a needle in the ear and slowly drains out the blood that has accumulated. The more recent the trauma is, the better the chance that the ear has of preventing a permanent deformity.

    draining cauliflower ear

    Avoid Rookie Mistakes

    Make sure to put compression on your ear after draining the ear or it will fill back up with blood shortly.

    There is a product named Caulibuds that is a great hands-off way of doing this.


    They're meant for post-draining of the ear. They're essentially 2 magnets that go on each side of the ear. They work by compressing the area and not allowing the ear to fill back up.

    You won't have to worry about keeping the same amount of pressure in an area throughout the day, or even accidentally falling asleep at night when you were supposed to be staying in a certain position.

    They also come in two different sizes.

    One of the best features is how discrete it is.

    They're a small size and barely noticeable which doesn't restrict you from staying inside your house the entire time you're wearing them. You can easily walk around in public, without getting weird looks!

    For Adults Only

    This product is recommended for adults, the pressure the two magnets bring may be too powerful for younger kids.

    Notable Fighter With Cauliflower Ear

    Randy Couture: Known as 'Captain America' or 'The Natural', despite being one of the best all-time UFC pioneers (and champion), he says that most people don't recognize him due to that.

    He jokes "It's my ears that are famous" as many fans can recognize him from a crowd due to his ears.

    He has grown used to it by now and takes those looks as a compliment. 

    Life After Cauliflower Ears

    Randy Couture (now 57) mentioned in the article above that he heads to the gym with gauze and painkillers due to his hardened ears no longer bending on contact, and preferring to tear.

    Additionally, it'll be very tough to fit airpods in a cauliflower-ed.

    Over-the-ear headphones will be the more likely solution for those with cauliflower ears.

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