Conor McGregor & Khabib Nurmagomedov Both Have ‘Cauliflower Ear’

What is cauliflower ear? Who gets it, and what can you do about it?

Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov faces-off with Conor McGregor during the UFC 229 Press Conference at Radio City Music Hall
Steve Ryan / Getty Images

What is cauliflower ear? Who gets it, and what can you do about it?

With the rising popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), the public is learning a whole new vocabulary about Ultimate Fighting Champions, cage fighting, and more. And with that comes talk of injuries that before seemed rare and remote, and that includes a very specific injury/condition called cauliflower ear.

After the international UFC fight between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov, viewers noticed that both McGregor and Nurmagomedov had something odd about their ears. Nurmagomedov’s was far worse than McGregor’s, but both had some sort of inflammation to their outer ear. The condition, cauliflower ear, was once found mostly in Greco-Roman wrestlers, but due to the mix of fighting styles in MMA, it’s become quite prevalent in the UFC, says The Sun.

But how do fighters get cauliflower ear, and is it reversible? What are the long-term dangers? Cauliflower ear is caused by direct contact with the outer ear tissue, either by being slammed against a mat or hit or kicked.

According to doctors, the condition starts with the rupturing of blood vessels.

“The outer ear is full of blood vessels, rather than bone, and if these burst, it can stop the flow of blood to the ear, leading to infection and for the tissue to die. New tissue begins to form, which leads to the cauliflower-like effect.”

Hearing can be affected, and the damage can be permanent.

Common symptoms of acute cauliflower ear are:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Deformity of the curvature of the ear

The more severe form can cause severe bleeding and infections that are difficult to treat. If treated at the first signs, it is possible to prevent deformity, but if the area continues to be traumatized, it will require surgery, and it’s unlikely that ear will ever return to normal.

MMA Insight said that cauliflower ear has become so common that the media outlet has ranked the worst cases in the world of MMA fighting. The website posted an article called “Top 7 Worst Cauliflower Ears in MMA History,” and it includes some seriously swollen and inflamed ears.

There was a lot of competition for the worst cauliflower ears in the sport, but the winner has to be Japanese MMA fighter Kazushi Sakuraba, whose ears reportedly “tell the story of all of his fights.” But the main damage to Sakuraba’s ears was done in one fight in 2010 when he fought Marius Zaromskis, according to MMA Insight.

Zaromskis punched Sakuraba in the ear causing it to seemingly “explode,” sending blood flying in every direction.

“Once the action continued, Zaromskis hit Sakuraba hard in the ear once again, this time his ear partially tore off from his head and the fight was stopped. Despite the nasty injury, Sakuraba stayed in the ring long enough to embrace Zaromskis and then address the crowd, simply saying, ‘Sorry, my ear came off.'”