Have you ever asked, “What’s wrong with MMA fighters’ ears?” If so, you’re not alone. This condition, known as cauliflower ear, wrestler ear, UFC ear, MMA ear, and BJJ ear, is prevalent among combat sport athletes. In this article, we tell you everything you’ll ever need to know about cauliflower ear in BJJ, MMA, and wrestling.
What Is Cauliflower Ear?
Cauliflower ear, also called an auricular hematoma or a perichondrial hematoma, is the result of either a direct blow or excessive friction to the ear. When the ear experiences either of these types of trauma, its cartilage separates from its overlying tissue. This then causes blood to pool in the pinna, which is the medical term for the outer ear. This pooling of blood, called a hematoma, if not treated immediately, results in the formation of tissue in the overlying skin. This causes the outer ear to become swollen and deformed, giving it a cauliflower-like appearance.
Cauliflower Ear Symptoms
As noted above, UFC ear is caused by trauma to the ear. Common symptoms of BJJ ear include:
- swelling or bruising of the ear
- change of the of the shape of the ear
- ear tenderness
- ear pain
If left untreated, wrestler ear can result in the following issues:
- ringing in the injured ear
- hearing loss
- blurry vision
- ear infections
- permanent deformity of the ear
How to Get Cauliflower Ear
In BJJ, MMA, or wrestling, any technique that places friction on the ear can cause UFC ear. For example, in BJJ and MMA, armbar and triangle drills can irritate the ears of the uke (i.e., the student “receiving” the technique). When performed repeatedly, these drills can lead to the accumulation of fluid under the ear’s connective tissue. Muscling out of chokes and performing certain takedowns can also place friction on the ears.
How to Prevent Cauliflower Ear
Use Ear Protectors
The easiest way to prevent UFC ear is to wear ear protectors. Ear protectors vary in price and quality, so you should do some research before purchasing a pair. Ear protectors can take a little getting used to at first, but it’s worth it if you want to prevent wrestling ear.
Use Proper Technique
As noted above, muscling your way out of submissions can wreak havoc on your ears. However, this isn’t the only reason you shouldn’t power your way out of submissions—it’s also poor technique. If you take the time to learn how to escape properly, not only will you prevent UFC ear, but you’ll become a better grappler.
Take a Break
Although cauliflower ear can occur instantly, it is usually a gradual process that is the result of prolonged friction to the ear. This means that if you pay attention to the early warning signs of cauliflower ear, you can usually prevent it. One of the most common early warning signs is redness and soreness. If your ears begin to feel tender, take a break from training until they feel normal again.
How to Treat Cauliflower Ear
Apply an Icepack
If your ear swells up, you should apply an icepack immediately. An icepack will help reduce inflammation and can slow the flow of blood into the space between the ear’s skin and cartilage. You should apply an icepack to your ear for about 10 minutes every hour from the time the swelling first occurs. You can repeat this process for up to four hours. There are a lot of great icepacks out there that are specifically designed for grapplers.
Compress the Ear
Another effective way to treat MMA ear is to wrap a bandage around your head to create pressure against your ear. When combined with an icepack, compression is a great way to combat swelling. Compression can also slow the buildup of fluid in the ear.
Finally, you generally have about 48 hours from the onset of swelling to drain the fluid and blood from your ear before the damage becomes permanent. Although some people do this themselves with a hypodermic needle, we recommend that you have a medical professional perform this procedure.
Worst Cauliflower Ears in MMA History
MMA ear can range from mild to serious. The following MMA fighters are known for having some of the worst cases of cauliflower ear in MMA history.
Randy Couture Ear
Randy Couture ear is often a topic of discussion among MMA fans. To put it simply, Couture has some of the worst MMA ears ever seen. Couture’s ears are the result of years of wrestling and MMA. In fact, Randy Couture was an Olympic-level wrestler before even beginning his MMA career in his 30s. Years of wear and tear from wrestling and MMA blessed Randy with the worst UFC ears in history.
Khabib Nurmagomedov Ear
Khabib Nurmagomedov is widely considered the greatest MMA fighter of all time. While growing up in Dagestan, Khabib Nurmagomedov spent most of his time on the wrestling mats. Therefore, by the time he could walk, Khabib was training. Over the years, Khabib Nurmagomedov’s ears clearly took a serious beating. As of 2021, Nurmagomedov’s record stands at 29-0, and he’s one of the most famous MMA fighters on the planet. That being said, Khabib Nurmagomedov ear may be as famous as he is, as he has one of the worst cases of cauliflower ear in MMA history.
Leslie Smith Ear
Unlike the other MMA fighters on this list, Leslie Smith has the unique honor of having her ear explode during a fight. That’s right, at UFC 180, Jessica Eye hit Leslie Smith’s ear, which was already swollen with blood and fluid, so hard that it burst. Yuck.
Alexander Gustafsson Ear
Alexander “the Mauler” Gustafsson is a UFC fighter who nearly beat the great Jon Jones in their first meeting. He also happens to be the proud owner of some seriously deformed MMA ears. The Swede has been in some serious wars in the UFC. Gustafsson’s brutal MMA contests have resulted in the development of an extreme case of cauliflower ear. Alexander Gustafsson ear istruly something to behold.
Shia LaBeouf Cauliflower Ear
In addition to its prevalence in MMA, BJJ, wrestling, and the UFC, cauliflower ear occasionally makes an appearance on the silver screen. A notable example is Shia LaBeouf’s character in the Tax Collector. In the film, Shia LaBeouf’s ears are noticeably deformed, leading many people to ask, “What’s wrong with Shia LaBeouf’s ears?” Of course, if you’ve read this far, you already know the answer: Shia LaBeouf’s character in the film has MMA ear.
The Tax Collector is a 2020 American action movie written, directed, and produced by David Ayer. The film, which features Shia LaBeouf as an enforcer, focuses on David Cuevas, a tax collector who works for one of the biggest gang leaders in Los Angeles. Cuevas finds his family’s safety compromised when the rival of his boss upends the business.
In the film, Shia LaBeouf plays a debt collector in California. His character, Creeper, sports a pair of mangled cauliflower ears, suggesting that he’s an MMA fighter, wrestler, BJJ practitioner, or some other type of martial artist.
Although Shia LaBeouf cauliflower ear looks realistic, his mangled ears are the result of an excellent makeup artist—not years of MMA, wrestling, or BJJ.
Cauliflower Ear is Nothing to Fear
Cauliflower ear is by no means inevitable in MMA, BJJ, and wrestling. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!