With the recent rapid mainstream success of mixed martial arts there has been an increased display and exposure of the deformed and scarred ears of professional fighters, which is known as cauliflower ear. SwoleScience is going to answer what is cauliflower ear, how it develops, how to prevent it, and give you the personal experience of a professional mixed martial artist and boxer: Kevin ‘Kage’ Pearson with a video of his medical ordeal. Read more below…
Cauliflower ear is a condition that occurs due to blunt force trauma to the outer ear. Due to the level of intense trauma sustained by the ear, the ear develops a hematoma which results in a large pocket of blood. The pooling of blood in the ear disrupts the natural shape of the ear by separating the skin of the ear from the cartilage with blood and fluid. Overtime, the ear heals on it’s own but appears distorted, bloated, shriveled, and pale, due to lack of blood supply and eventual hardening of the tissue. This condition is prevalent in activities where there is high likelihood for ear trauma to occur such as rugby, wrestling, boxing, or mixed martial arts.
There are many different approaches to dealing with cauliflower ear. Some mixed martial artists such as Randy Couture, Junior Dos Santos, and Matt Hughes have opted to allow their ears to heal naturally and thus have very prominent cauliflower ear. Others have chosen the best method of control which is to have the ear drained immediately after trauma. Once the ear has developed the hematoma and there is a pooling of blood, the athlete should immediately have the ear drained using a small syringe. After the ear is completely drained, the ear should have pressure applied constantly in the following days in order to promote reattachment of the ear to the cartilage and prevent further fluid build up.
The best method to prevent cauliflower ear is to wear headgear while wrestling and sparring in order to protect against trauma to the ears that can accrue due to training. The primary complaint of athletes is that the headgear is cumbersome and is annoying due to the additional weight and size added to the user’s head from the headgear, along with the tendency to become ‘caught’ and snag during combat sports. As the popularity of combat sports has increased there are a wide variety of affordable slim fit headgear options available for athletes of all levels. The negative effects of cauliflower ear are permanent deformation of the ear that can cause problems hearing, infection, and discomfort.
How an athlete chooses to prevent or deal with their cauliflower ear is personal preference, and professional mixed martial artist Kevin ‘Kage’ Pearson shares with SwoleScience his own exclusive personal story and opinion along with video of him getting one his ears surgically repaired.
“I have been involved in combat sports my whole life, I started boxing when I was seven years old and continued the sport through college. During that time, my father always made me wear headgear. I started learning jiu jitsu went I left to college in 2005 which was around ten years after my competitive boxing began. Within one year of grappling I had developed cauliflower ear. The first ear came primarily from lots of grappling with ground and pound. The next ear began to develop a few months later and it was provoked by wrestling takedown practice which involved intensive takedown drills. I had the first ear drained by a doctor five days after signs showed. The second ear I drained myself using a syringe. After this experience I bought headgear for wrestling and it has stopped my ears from getting worse. Occasionally I will roll with beginner grapplers without using head gear and my ear will get red and painful to touch. I can also irritate it doing wrestling drills without headgear on. I came to the conlusion that wrestling and ground and pound are what aggravates this issue the most for me. Which is evidenced by the fact that I have sparred standup without headgear on for years and never had redness of my ears. Additionally, other athletes are more susceptible than others due to the fact that I also have teammates that have been doing MMA for a few years and they show no signs of cauliflower.
There are some pros and cons of this condition. Some bad things maybe hearing problems if the orifice has closed completely. The only complication I have is when I wear headphones I have to wear the ones that clip around the ear because the buds will just fall out and not stay inside my ear. The damage to my ears is not very extensive so I can only imagine the fighters who have very noticeable ears. The cool thing about my ears is the credentials. I think with the popularity of UFC and MMA on television people are understanding that fighters can get cauliflower. There are many t-shirt blackbelts out there. These are the guys who flaunt the tapout and shiny throwndown graphic Tees, but they do not fight or train. When I’m working at my part time security job and someone notices my ear, they understand that I got this way from fighting. Actually doing it and not just wearing the UFC apparel and watching it on TV. My teammate has it worse and he too works as a bouncer and his ears prove his background as well. People see them and know not to mess around with him because this guy is the real deal. I’m not saying that I want my ears to get worse, but in a way, I am proud of my battlewounds from doing what I love.”
-Kevin ‘Kage’ Pearson
Kevin ‘Kage’ Pearson is a professional mixed martial artist with: twenty one years of boxing experience, seven years of brazilian jiu jitsu, countless amateur kickboxing/boxing/MMA fights, and is certified personal trainer and martial arts coach.
(This is an original post copyright to SwoleScience.com, credited to the aforementioned author. Its reproduction is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved to the original authors of any quoted or embedded material)