You can often tell if someone is a fighter with just a glance. Numerous indicators indicate extended time honing martial arts skills, but few are as telling as deformed ears.
The specific deformity of the ears of many MMA fighters is called a “cauliflower ear,” and it occurs after blunt trauma to the ear. This is what causes fighters to have “weird” ears.
Some people try to avoid having cauliflower ears, while others wear them proudly as battle scars. Regardless of how you feel about them, cauliflower ears are something you should be knowledgeable about, so keep on reading.
Why Do Most MMA Fighters Have Weird Ears?
The deformity of the ears present in many MMA fighters is called a “cauliflower ear.” The condition begins with trauma to the outer ear, often in wrestling and grappling positions and sometimes via a strike, which is why it’s a frequent “possession” of MMA fighters.
And long before the rise of MMA, the cauliflower ear was commonly referred to as the “wrestler’s ear.” Many wrestling positions and BJJ chokes apply heavy pressure to the ear with forearms, elbows, or even legs.
Escaping pulling away from a headlock, for example, puts even more strain on the delicate cartilage of the ear. It is almost unavoidable that a fighter’s ear will be broken at some point.
As a result of the damage to the ear, the skin separates from the cartilage, and the open space fills with blood and other fluids. The beginning of the condition always comes with swelling and pain, so it’s hard to miss.
Unlike in other parts of the body, this blood has nowhere to go and, in time, hardens and begins to take the form you recognize as a cauliflower ear.
Usually, suffering through this once is not enough to make the cauliflower ear visible. Severe deformity happens with the accumulation of damage combined with the stubbornness of fighters who refuse to treat it or return to regular training in the next session without draining the blood.
A single occurrence is common, but only the accumulation of scar tissue transforms an ear into a full-fledged cauliflower.
You may find it interesting that modern MMA fighters are not the first to wear their cauliflower ears. The world-famous Boxer of Quirinal statue clearly shows that ancient Greek fighters looked just like their modern descendants.
Cauliflower ear is not an irreversible condition. These days, plastic surgery can fix almost everything, and ears can also be reconstructed if needed. While some people believe deformed ears look cool because they show the person is a fighter, they can cause significant discomfort.
Symptoms can vary from simple visual deformity to severe pain, impaired hearing, and other inconveniences like the inability to wear earbuds.
Former UFC fighter Daron Cruickshank said a cauliflower ear is like a black belt you wear all the time, and indeed, it will serve as a red light to a lot of people not to mess with the guy.
However, these weird ears are not regarded favorably outside of the fighting circles. They may prevent you from getting a more “respectable” job or draw some uncomfortable looks your way.
How To Prevent Cauliflower Ear In MMA
Headgear – Actual prevention is a far superior option to surgical reconstruction. The easiest thing you can do is wear specialized headgear. Wrestlers have been doing it for over 50 years, and no one can accuse wrestlers of being “sissies.” There is also grappling-specific headgear on the market, better suited for submissions and BJJ-specific movements.
Icing – Icing when (not IF) the damage is done, you must take a few steps to prevent a lasting deformity. First is icing the trauma. Ice is the simplest solution to any swelling. Applying an ice pack to the ear will likely reduce the overall swelling and, with enough pressure, may prevent the filling of blood, which is the actual cause of the cauliflower ear.
Draining and specialized products – The most common treatment when blood has already entered the space between the skin and cartilage is to drain the ear. A doctor best does this, but many people do it themselves. The procedure is quite simple. The hard part is to prevent the ear from filling up again, and the draining sometimes has to be done a few times.
There are specialized products that take care of this problem. The first option is a simple mold that is first taken when the ear is healthy and then applied after the trauma. The cast keeps the ear in its original form and does not let the fluids come in.
The other similar product is the compression magnet. These are two magnets placed on the outside and inside the injured area after the ear is drained. Again, the compression prevents the entry of fluids into the ear and allows it to hear correctly.
Perhaps the most famous case of a cauliflower ear exploding in the UFC is that of female fighter Leslie Smith.
In her 2014 fight against Jessica Eye, Smith’s ear created an anime-like moment after Eye blasted her with a right hand, which caused Smith’s ear to literally explode in a fountain of blood. You can’t deny “The Peacemaker’s” toughness, though. She continued fighting as her ear was flapping around.
And if you think Smiths’ blood spray was impressive, wait until you see the following video:
Despite the condition being very common amongst UFC fighters, not all of them have it. But this is seldom due to fighters being careful and gentle. They just don’t form cauliflower ears and keep their hearing attributes nice and pretty.
Headgear does prevent trauma, but there are also many drawbacks, so fighters usually don’t use it. Even the best headgear will cause some discomfort, will get in the way while wrestling, and for some, it’s a “girly” thing to wear. Let’s not forget that you can’t wear headgear in a fight, so it’s generally pointless for competing fighters to use it in training.
The treatment measures we’ve listed above are potent and working. Still, in many cases, when you see a UFC fighter without cauliflower ears, it’s just because they naturally don’t form them.
Practicing contact sports can cause cauliflower or “weird” ears, and the danger in combat sports is double. Some people can get them in their first months of training, while others will not even after years in the gym. But most professional MMA fighters have cauliflower ears and wear them proudly as a badge of honor, even if they’re not exactly pretty.