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Why do fighters have ‘Cauliflower Ear?’


Photo: Jessica Gow/AP

Have you ever noticed that mangled, puffy, and jagged appearance of some fighters’ ears?


The  phenomenon is known as Traumatic Auricular Hematoma, more commonly known as Cauliflower Ear due to the appearance of the ears resembling cauliflower.


The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia defines Cauliflower Ear as “… a condition that results when the external portion of the ear suffers trauma that causes fluid or blood to collect under the perichondrium, a layer of connective tissue that covers the cartilage.” 


In layman's terms, when a person receives a blow to the ear, the cartilage fills with fluid. Over time, that fluid calcifies and becomes what is known as Cauliflower Ear. This is also the  explanation for why it is so prevalent in MMA fighters.


In the past, this issue was most prevalent in Greco-Roman wrestlers. With the popularity of wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu on the rise in MMA, we are seeing more and more cases of Cauliflower Ear in fighters.


There is a problem with Cauliflower Ears, but it comes before the calcification actually happens. When loose liquid builds in the ear and can rupture. This leads to infection and necrosis, meaning the premature death of cells in the tissue. If not treated, then the calcification can set, at which point it can only be removed through surgical intervention.


Although this can easily be resolved by quick draining, why are there still fighters who have them? What about it makes it worth not attending to. Well, it is mainly because Cauliflower Ears has turned into a badge of honor, of sorts. 


These kinds of eruptions are not uncommon in the UFC. Back in 2014 at UFC 180, UFC Bantamweight Leslie Smith faced off against Jessica Eye in Mexico City. In the first round, Eye landed a right hook to Smith’s Cauliflower Ear, causing it to explode with blood. 


“My ear is not feeling nearly as bad as you’d think it would be feeling,” Smith told ESPN in the post-fight interview. “I can say my days as an ear model are over.” 


Luckily, the UFC’s medical staff is top-notch, so she saw medical attention without risk of too many issues. Regardless of the quality of medical care however, this can still lead to serious infection. 


Still, these Cauliflower Ears have become such a mainstay in the MMA and UFC that many fighters wear them as a badge of honor. There are even some MMA fighters that are known for both their dominating presence in the cage and their bulging ears. Frankie Edgar, Alexander Gustafsson, and BJ Penn, just to name a few. 


At the end of the day, it really comes down to the fighter and whether they will wear their ears as a badge of hard work and dedication or if they want to play it safe and avoid any issues down the road.  

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