MMA Fighters Ears - How Does This Happen?

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 comprehensive guide, we'll cover everything that you need to know about cauliflower ears including how they occur, how to prevent them, how they're treated and more.

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

Why? 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 own 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 BJJ: Extreme cases can occur where a person has put an extraordinary amount of rounds in a short period of time, 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 of times, 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 actually 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 literally their only way out, it is much more common. Whether due to not having headgears, not having the option to take a few days off to let the ear heal, or actually 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 cauliflowered ear, and it immediately exploded on impact. The fight was immediately stopped due to a doctor's stoppage.

 

 

 

How to Prevent Cauliflower Ears - Headgear

A high quality headgear is the best way to prevent a 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 a headgear.

best headgear mma

We've created a list of the best headgears on the market. Whether you have a large head, small head, looking for an all purpose MMA headgear, or just a grappling one. We've got you covered.

grappling headgear

Treatment

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 that the trauma is, the better the chance that the ear has of preventing a permanent deformity.

draining cauliflower ear

Don't make the rookie mistake: 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. You wont 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.

caulibuds

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. 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 to staying inside your house the entire time you're wearing them. You can easily walk around in public, without getting weird looks!

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

Notable Fighter With Cauliflower Ears

randy couture cauliflower ears

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. They all stare at his ears! He has grown used to it by now and takes those looks as a compliment. He jokes "It's my ears that are famous"

Life After - What it can affect

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.

Headphones: No more Airpods! Over the ear headphones for the rest of time.

In Conclusion - MMA Fighters Have Weird Ears & Swollen Ears due to not Wearing a Headgear

If you've made it here you now know why MMA fighters have cauliflower ears, how to treat them, how to prevent them, and how they can affect you later on in life.