Why Do UFC Fighters Ears Look Weird? You’ll Be Surprised.

UFC Fighters ears

The world of sports, while exhilarating, can become a nightmarish experience for the stars we admire due to the relentless pressure, scrutiny, and demands they face.

These stars, who spend hours a day consistently pummeling their bodies in preparation for sports games that surely excite us, sometimes pay for it at an extreme cost.

The world of sports is filled with these classic grim realities of stars enduring momentary discomfort, even for a considerable while. All because they never wish to leave the action that gets them all excited.

A classic instance is that of Real Madrid forward, Karim Benzema, who since 2019 has continually postponed surgery on his pinky finger so he would not be sidelined in action.

Benzema Finger
Benzema Finger/ Marca.com

While the Benzema instance is an isolated case in soccer, there are sports where virtually all participants possess certain injuries or deformities peculiar to avid participants in such sports.

MMA is a sport where professional fighters have certain battle scars. One popular battle scar noticed by fans is fighters ears, these weird-looking ears are a sign of honor and prestige, with amateurs sometimes going to great lengths to get them.

But for a vast multitude of fans, it begs the question, why? In this article, we review the science behind the weird-looking ears of MMA fighters. causes of cauliflower ear in UFC fighters

Why Do UFC Fighters Ears Look Weird?

The weird ears you see UFC fighters have are referred to as cauliflower ears. It is primarily caused by regular trauma to the ear, which leads to hematomas, and misplaced ear cartilage.

Cauliflower ears are not limited to UFC fighters but affect fighters who engage in intense combat sports such as wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Muay Thai.

Dan Henderson sideview
@danhen/ Instagram

The MMA, which involves all of these combat sports and more, is thus one of the sports whose participants are most affected by such weird-looking ears.

Cauliflower ears are not limited to combat sports but also other sports that lead to trauma to the ear, such as Rugby. 

How do Cauliflower ears form?

In simple terms, a cauliflower ear is formed when there are repetitive blows to the ears that result in damage to the ear structure.

In the UFC, techniques such as the guillotine choke, or cross-face hold, can cause a fighter’s forearm to grind against an opponent’s ear. When such behavior is actively repeated, it leads to the fighters ears looking that way.

For a keen understanding of the science behind the formation of cauliflower ears, a basic knowledge of the anatomy of the ear is essential. Three regions of the ear, the musculature, the cartilage, and the perichondrium, are involved in the formation of cauliflower ears.

The perichondrium is responsible for the blood supply to the ear. With each stroke or grind against the perichondrium, a small blood clot is formed between the cartilage and the upper ear’s connective tissue (the muscle).

The small blood clot blocks blood flow to the cartilage tissue as a result of the desperation of the cartilage and the perichondrium. The interruption in blood supply in the ear leads to venous congestion.

Prolonged blockage of the blood flow to the cartilage leads to necrosis, that is, the death of the cartilage.

The ear begins its healing process by forming fibrous, tough tissue that makes the ear look weird, thereby forming the cauliflower ear.

The first symptom of cauliflower ear is usually swelling, which is followed by bruises or redness of the affected ear region, a key sign that indicates a lack of blood flow.

Aside from this, other symptoms that precede the formation of cauliflower ears include:

  • Headache or severe bleeding
  • Swelling on the outer ear
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Pain in the ear.

Can Cauliflower Ears be treated?

While most UFC stars seem unbothered by cauliflower ears, it can be very painful, especially for fighters new to combat sports.

Those especially affected by this, who get punched in the ears and already have wires in their ears, may want to explore medical options for cauliflower ears.

While there is no self-help or home remedy for the quick resolution of cauliflower ears, the alternative is to see an ear specialist.

The ear specialist will most likely drain the blood from the hematoma that has formed in your ears. This may reduce the ear pain fighters experience.

The process may go as follows:

  • The swollen area is wiped with alcohol wipes.
  • A sterile needle is inserted in the direction of the swelling area at an inclined angle. The hematoma is thus drained with the syringe. The size of your ear determines how long it takes to drain the hematoma.
  • Pressure will be applied as the hematoma is drained to ensure all fluids are drained out completely.
  • A compression bandage would then be applied to your ear to facilitate the connection between the cartilage and the perichondrium, and other essential tissues.
  • Antibiotics would be prescribed to prevent infection of the drained hematoma. Often it is dependent on the fighter’s choice.

We recommend that a qualified medical professional who specializes in ear infection treatment carries out the above procedures.

Does Cauliflower Ear go away?

As stated earlier, sports professionals sometimes do not embrace medical procedures for certain injuries. This is especially true when such injuries present little or no challenge to their sports performance.

Hence, many fighters have decided not to treat cauliflower ears. This thus inspires the question, does cauliflower ear go away?

If a fighter regularly contests bouts, his cauliflower ear will likely not go away, at least not anytime soon. The only condition that would see cauliflower ears go away with no medical procedure is when a fighter stays out of MMA action for a long time.

The absence of repetitive strikes and grappling during bouts for a relatively long period would undo the damage done by years of martial arts fighting.

The application of ice and compression, combined with the absence of MMA action, would make cauliflower ears go away. 

Why Some People Prefer Cauliflower Ears Instead of Treatments

Despite how painful and weird-looking cauliflower ears are, some fighters, albeit the majority, prefer to leave them untreated. Fighters even relish the cauliflower weird-looking ears.

This is not surprising, as cauliflower ears are a sign of toughness and experience in not only the UFC but also in MMA. It is a sort of badge of honor that indicates how well-versed a fighter is in the ways of MMA. Also many famous fighters ears are flaunted by them on social media.

Conor McGregor sunny
@thenotoriousmma/ Instagram

In fact, cauliflower ears are a thing to long for among teenage MMA trainees. In 2008, The New York Times reported on just how eager teenage MMA enthusiasts are to earn the badge of honor that cauliflower ears give.1

This is mainly to look like their senior MMA counterparts and some of the stars in the sport, such as Khabib Nurmagomedov and Randy Couture, who boast of cauliflower ears.

How Can Cauliflower Ears Be Prevented?

While many in the sport enjoy having cauliflower ears, thus leaving them untreated, exceptions exist.

If you are one who wants to get in sports but want to avoid the physicality then you can check out these 15 non-physical sports where you do not need to be an athlete.

Some fighters may not be swayed by the idea of having deformed ears, despite it being a badge of honor in the sport. Well, if you are among such fighters, here are in-depth tips on how to avoid having cauliflower ears.

  • Avoid Hits in the Ear: The best way to avoid cauliflower ears totally is to avoid direct hits in the ears. But to be realistic, no fighter goes into the octagon or rings 100% sure that they will avoid all hits. As a result, keep conscious approaches and steps in your fighting techniques and styles that would not see you get hit in the ears. Although you may not entirely avoid hits in the ears, especially when your ears are exposed, minimal hits in the ears are not likely to cause cauliflower ears. If the rules in the promotion you fight permit, wear helmets during fights, which will prevent hits to the ear. But then, helmets are heavy and may slow you down, so your best bet is to ensure your moves and techniques do not leave your ears prone to hits.
  • Ice Ear Trauma: In all combat sports, hits to different parts of the body are not uncommon. In fact, every fighter goes into a bout with the knowledge that he will receive his fair share of blows and punches in different body parts. When such occurs, especially in the ears, the best thing to do to prevent cauliflower ears is to ice the injury immediately. The ice will prevent the formation of blood clots and thus prevent the formation of cauliflower ears.
  • Wear Headgear: For every fighter concerned with cauliflower ears, your best bet is to avoid ear punches by wearing headgear. Wearing headgear may require you to adjust your fighting style and techniques as it would make you slower. But to prevent cauliflower ears, that seems like a necessary sacrifice. Even with headgear, punches to the ear would not be eliminated. But headgear would take in most of the impact such punches would deliver to the ears and will reduce trauma significantly. This will thus drastically prevent the development of cauliflower ears.


MMA being one of the most physically intensive sports on the planet, is gruesome, with fighters sustaining scary injuries.

One of such injuries almost exclusive to the sport is cauliflower ears. While outsiders to the intricacies of the MMA may seem confused over cauliflower ears, many familiar with MMA action feel differently.

While some wear it as a badge of honor, with fans cheering them on and quite satisfied with it, others seem particularly unswayed by the fuzz over it.

Leslie Smith outdoor
@lesliesmith/ Instagram

The case of these fighters’ ears looking weird is not gender-specific, as women also have cauliflower ears. This doesn’t stop them from still being beautiful, as seen in our Top 20 hottest Female UFC Fighters of All Time.

Whether you are for or against cauliflower ears, taking the necessary precautions as an MMA fighter is of utmost importance.

References & Notes

Facts Sources:
  1. MMA Ears. New York Times

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