Why Do UFC Fighters Have Cauliflower Ears

ufc ears

It’s well known that UFC fighters take a lot of punishment. It’s a brutal sport and one where injuries are common. One such injury is cauliflower ear, but why do UFC fighters get cauliflower ear, and is there anything they can do to fix it?

Well, thankfully we have all the answers. We’ll give you all the info you need about why UFC fighters get cauliflower ears and clear up some FAQs. Read on to find out more!

Why Do UFC Fighters Have Cauliflower Ears?

To answer the question of why do UFC fighters have weird ears, you need to understand what the perichondrium is. Your outer ear essentially consists of three main parts, with two of them being very well known.

If you feel your ear, then you’ll notice the flexible cartilage that forms the shape of the ear, along with the skin that surrounds it. However, in between them something called the perichondrium, which is a tissue layer that covers the cartilage.

We don’t want to get too technical here, but it’s the job of the perichondrium (which contains blood cells) to essentially feed the cartilage. Simply put, without the perichondrium, the cartilage will die.

What happens during MMA is that the perichondrium can get torn away from the cartilage. When it does, two things will happen. Firstly, this tearing apart will form a gap between the perichondrium and the cartilage. Secondly, the perichondrium will bleed.

You may be able to work out what happens next. The blood coming out of the perichondrium will fill the gap which has been formed by the trauma. This will continue to bleed, and you’ll start to notice the bulging of the ears that we’ve come to know as cauliflower ear.

So, if you were wondering what is the thing causing the ears to swell up, it is blood. This blood will slowly start to clot, which means that the deformity of the ear will begin to harden.

To put it in the simplest terms possible, UFC fighters have cauliflower ears due to internal bleeding and trapped blood inside the outer ear.

Can Cauliflower Ear Be Fixed?

Yes, but it gets a little more complicated than that. How easily it can be fixed will depend on how early you’re getting treatment. Let’s explain!

There are essentially three stages of what happens to the pocket of space that becomes filled with blood. Firstly, it’s in its liquid blood state. Secondly, that blood begins to clot, harden, and scar tissue will form. Thirdly, eventually that clotted blood will be replaced with fresh cartilage.

This happens due to what we mentioned above. The perichondrium keeps the cartridge alive by continually supplying it with oxygen. When the pocket of blood forms, it separates the cartilage from the perichondrium. Due to this, the cartilage starts to die.

Thankfully, your body starts to fight back, but this can have negative consequences on your physical appearance. Your body will start repairing the dead cartilage and rebuild new tissue in its place. The problem is that the body wants to connect the new cartilage with the perichondrium, through the blood clot.

This means that over time, that blood clot will be entirely replaced with new cartridge. As you can imagine, removing hardened cartilage from the ear is a lot more difficult than removing fresh blood. Let’s look at the approaches for these three stages.

Fresh Blood – This can be an immediate cure for cauliflower ear but needs to be done within the first day or so after the injury. Here the treatment is simple as the blood can usually simply be drained out using a syringe. Pressure is then applied to the ear to stop it from filling up with blood again. Some people will syringe the blood out themselves, but it’s always recommended to have the procedure done by a medical professional.

Clotted Blood – If the blood is clotted, or has started to clot, then often a syringe won’t be adequate to clear out all the blood. Here a small cut is usually made into the ear to remove the blood and then stitched back up. Depending on the length of time and the severity of the bleed, there may still be some minor deformity of the ear.

New Cartilage – If new cartilage has formed in the ear, then more severe action would need to be taken. Here the excess cartilage would need to be removed, and you also need to deal with the deformity left by the old dead cartridge. This would need to be done with cosmetic ear surgery, called otoplasty.

As you can see, time is of the essence when it comes to cauliflower ear. Dealing with it straight away is easy and straightforward. Trying to correct cauliflower ear that has been there for months or years is not only difficult but also very expensive.

Do All UFC Fighters Have Cauliflower Ears?

No. Cauliflower ear is like almost everything to do with our bodies, everyone is different. Just as two people can cut, bruise and break differently, two people will also have a different likelihood of getting cauliflower ear.

There is no specific reason for that aside from the fact that people are built differently. Some MMA fighters will go their whole career without ever getting cauliflower ear. Others will quickly develop it after their first few training sessions.

However, some fighters will take more precautions than others. The biggest preventive measure you can take is wearing headgear during training. This means that your ears are only vulnerable during fights.

Technique and fighting style can have an impact too. While cauliflower ear can be caused by punches, it’s more likely to be caused by grappling on the ground. Therefore, an MMA fighter that loves to grapple will be more prone to cauliflower ear.

As an addition to this, different fighters take different approaches to the problem. Some see their MMA fighter ears as a badge of honor and aren’t bothered about fixing them. Other fighters will have them drained immediately after they flare up, so you may never know for sure that they ever even had them.

Famous UFC Fighters Who Have Cauliflower Ear

So we’ve looked at what cauliflower ear is and how it can be treated, but what are the most famous examples of MMA fighters that have had cauliflower ear? Let’s check some out.

Khabib Nurmagomedov

Khabib is one of the most interesting cases of cauliflower ear as he only has it on his right ear, and not his left. This is most likely due to his preference to turn his head to that side when grappling, but you’d still have thought his left ear would have some deformity too.

He’s one of the best UFC fighters of all time and was renowned for his grappling, so it’s no surprise that his ears took plenty of punishment.

Khabib Nurmagomedov full interview (2019) | Conor McGregor, Islamophobia, and dealing with fame

BJ Penn

BJ Penn was in many difficult fights over the course of his career, so it’s no surprise that he got a bad case of cauliflower ear. Add to his stellar UFC career was also the fact that he won a gold medal at the World Jiu-Jitsu Championships. With all that fighting, a bad case of cauliflower ears seemed a certainty.

BJ Penn Talks Comeback | FULL INTERVIEW on Inside MMA

Frankie Edgar

Frankie Edgar had the double disadvantage of being an MMA fighter but also having pointed-out ears. It’s no wonder they came in for a lot of punishment! The legendary fighter was often bruised and beaten up after his fights, with his ears not escaping the damage.

Frankie Edgar Octagon Interview | UFC 281 – RETIREMENT FIGHT

Dan Henderson

There are a few other sports that can also cause cauliflower ear, and wrestling is one of them. Due to this, Dan Henderson got a bad case of cauliflower ears too. The veteran had a great career, even if he did manage to miss out on a UFC Championship.

Dan Henderson on Title Shot vs Bisping, Retirement and More on Inside MMA

Randy Couture

If you want an example of MMA ears messed up, there’s none worse than Randy Couture. His ears have always looked terrible, and it seems as though he’s not bothered about doing anything about them. But when you’re one of the best fighters of all time, who cares? He’s another who had an early career in wrestling and had ear damage before he ever stepped into the octagon.

Randy Couture Reacts to Francis Ngannou Leaving the UFC, Jake Paul Joining PFL – MMA Fighting

Famous UFC Fighters Who Have Cauliflower Ear

While there is a long list of fighters that have never had cauliflower ear, there are many others who have seemed to avoid it. We see this with the likes of Stephen Thompson, Robbie Lawler, Isreal Adesanya, and Joanna Jedrzejczyk, who must have used a combination of good technique, genetics, and good luck to avoid them.

However, by far the best example has to be Anderson Silva. Possibly the greatest MMA fighter of all time, he managed to avoid the condition, even after 46 fights. While part of that must be down to his genetics, a large part must have also been due to his genius ability in the octagon, which limited any punishment he took.

Anderson Silva Talks Dana White, Possible MMA Return, More | The MMA Hour

UFC Cauliflower Ears – FAQs

How long does it take to get cauliflower ear?

It can be immediate, develop over time, or never happen at all. Those who are most prone to cauliflower ear may get it after just a couple of weeks of grappling. But as we’ve mentioned, cauliflower ear is the result of trauma to the ear and therefore, it’s possible that a fighter will avoid such trauma for a long time, or be resistant to it.

How to prevent cauliflower ears during training?

By far the best thing you can do is wear headgear. This will prevent the harsh trauma that can come from direct contact. That being said, you can still get the condition with headgear if you have repeated contact or have ill-fitting headgear.

Of course, the best way to prevent cauliflower ear is to stop practicing MMA, but where’s the fun in that?

Is it harder to hear with cauliflower ears?

Not noticeably. The ear is shaped the way it is to act like a funnel for sound to enter your ear, and swollen ears can interfere with that. However, most people won’t notice any difference. There could be a change in hearing if the cauliflower ear deforms in such a way that it narrows the gap in your ear hole.

While that’s a possibility, for most people, cauliflower ear has no detrimental long-term side effects. Having the condition will also have no effect on the inner workings of the ear.

How long will cauliflower ear take to harden?

It varies slightly from one person to the next, but the blood will start to clot fully after around two to five days. After this time, draining the ear becomes impossible, and you’ll need more invasive treatment to solve the problem. If cauliflower ear is left for more than a month or two, then new cartilage will form, and cosmetic surgery will be required to revert the ears back to their previous shape.

Why do boxers not get cauliflower ears?

Many also ask why do boxers ears look funny? Even though some do get cauliflower ear, it’s less common. There are a few reasons why boxers with cauliflower ear are a rare sight.

As we’ve discussed, cauliflower ear comes from trauma to the head, and punches to the ear aren’t that common in boxing. Also, they use larger and more padded gloves than in MMA.

However, the biggest factor is that grappling is the biggest cause of cauliflower ear in MMA and this is obviously not a part of the sport of boxing. It’s the rubbing of the ear which is the quickest way to get deformed ears, which is why you see it in other sports such as rugby and wrestling.

Final Thoughts

Many people wonder why do UFC fighters ears look weird and hopefully now you know! UFC fighters ears can get filled with blood due to trauma to the ear, and this blood will harden and turn into cartilage over time. Thankfully there are ways to reverse the process, but this gets increasingly difficult the longer the condition is left untreated.

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Kenny Jarvis
Kenny Jarvis
I have been practicing and studying boxing since I was a teenager. I am passionate about the sport, along with many other martial arts. While my fighting days may be over, I love channeling my passion into my writing to provide insightful blogs.