MMA: A Practical Examination of Facial Hair and Its Role in Mixed Martial Arts

James MacDonald@@JimMacDonaldMMAFeatured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2012

Courtesy of ModernViolentGentleman.com
Courtesy of ModernViolentGentleman.com

Unkempt facial hair has long been a pervasive issue in the sport of mixed martial arts. It is time for the MMA media to shine some light on a problem that has been largely ignored, while such trivialities as testosterone replacement therapy are discussed ad nauseam on the sport’s major websites.

OK, I think I’ll dispense with the satirical rhetoric before you readers think you’ve taken a wrong turn and ended up at The Onion. However, there is a semi-serious point to be made regarding beards and their function within the sport—honestly, there is.

It occurred to me last night, as Ariel Helwani and our own Jeremy Botter lamented Kyle Kingsbury’s decision to take a lawnmower to his cartoonish beard, that MMA fans do not appreciate the advantages of entering the cage while looking like a member of ZZ Top.

As a man whose facial hair is limited to the kind of heavy stubble you’d only expect to see on a movie character battling alcoholism, I envy the ability to grow a full beard.

With that said, there is a reason why having “a beard” is considered a euphemism for possessing a granite chin: Excessive facial hair protects the most vulnerable part of a fighter’s face.

If we’re allowing men—or indeed, women who supplement their diet with sufficient quantities of testosterone—to fight while wearing the kind of beard that makes Father Christmas look like he boasts a mere soul patch, we might as well grant permission to follicly-challenged fighters to strap a couple of pillows to their chin.

A fighter like Roy Nelson already possesses a set of whiskers that are Homer-like—the cartoon character, not the author of the The Iliad.

Is it fair for him to then add a few layers of padding to an area of the face that already rivals the density of a diamond? I daresay even Drederick Tatum would struggle to make a dent in so robust a combination.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not for one moment suggesting that the addition of some facial hair will cure a chin that can scarcely withstand a strong breeze.

I mean, Brendan Schaub won’t start absorbing punishment like he’s Jake LaMotta just because Trevor Wittman has decided to hide his razor. However, there is no doubt that a full beard bolsters punch resistance to some degree.

Then again, Kyle Kingsbury was able to absorb so much punishment last night that I began to formulate homeopathic-like theories about recently shaven faces retaining some sort of beard memory.

I don’t expect Keith Kizer to start measuring beard length with a ruler, but common sense should at least be operative when assessing whether a beard offers some sort of competitive advantage.

In other words, if a fighter arrives at the arena looking like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, it might be a good idea to ask him to trim the edges, just in the interest of fairness.


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