For Wrestlers, a Swelled Sense of Pride

Hayfield's Steven Ours, a 2007 Virginia AAA champion, shows off his "cauliflower ear," a condition developed by repeatedly being hit in the same spot.
Hayfield's Steven Ours, a 2007 Virginia AAA champion, shows off his "cauliflower ear," a condition developed by repeatedly being hit in the same spot. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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By Preston Williams
Thursday, March 6, 2008

It sounds like an ingredient for a highfalutin vegetarian recipe. Or maybe a flower indigenous to the West. And it would make a marvelous band name.

But what, exactly, is "cauliflower ear," and why are some wrestlers proud to have one, some desperately hoping to get one and still others covering their non-cauliflower ears at the very mention of possibly acquiring one?

Cauliflower ear is the condition that develops when one is repeatedly struck in the same ear. When bruised, the skin gets separated from the cartilage, loses its blood supply and dies. That prompts a shriveling of the cartilage and gives the ear a gnarled or puffy look.

It will harden permanently unless treated within days, often by draining and with compression, but that could mean missing matches during the season. Even when drained, the blood and pus often return. It can usually be corrected with plastic surgery.

For some, cauliflower ear is a desired deformity, like a tattoo, except that you earn it through prolonged hard work and sacrifice on the mat (and probably from not wearing your headgear).

Area wrestlers and coaches, even those who are anti-cauliflower ear, refer to it as a "trophy," a "battle scar," a "rite of passage," a "kind of a macho thing" or even a "conversation starter." And there is conflicting anecdotal evidence as to whether it attracts or repels the ladies.

It's all in the ear of the beholder. The rough equivalent would be the boxer with the crooked nose from all the breaks or a hockey player with a jack-o'-lantern smile.

"The general public probably look upon them with disdain or as being kind of barbaric, and I guess in a way, that's true," Hayfield Secondary Coach Roy Hill said. "But within the wrestling community, it's sometimes looked upon as a badge of courage."

Either way, cauliflower ears are worth looking for during downtime this weekend at the Maryland state championships at Cole Field House or the Virginia A and AA championships in Roanoke.

Hayfield senior Steven Ours, last year's Virginia AAA champion at 152 pounds and the third-place finisher at this year's state competition two weeks ago, is more than happy to flaunt his cauliflower ear, his right one.

"You see people walking down the street and look at their ear, and if they have cauliflower ear, 'Oh, that guy's a wrestler,' " said Ours, who finds his to be a source of motivation. "If I'm going through a hard time or something," he said, "I'll be like, I did this, so I know I can get through" a challenge.

One wrestler might not even acknowledge another's cauliflower ear, but non-wrestlers sure are interested. What happened to your ear? Ours, who will wrestle next season at Clarion University in Pennsylvania, has heard it in school, at the pool and at the grocery store.

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