It’s no secret that many fighters have mangled, mutilated faces. They take a serious beating every time they step into the ring. Just ask Mickey Rourke, who opted for a massive facelift to mask the damage caused by indulging his fascination with boxing. Unfortunately for Rourke, this procedure left him looking freakish in a different way. Luckily, he’s done alright for himself by garnering movie roles that required a beat-up, scary looking guy (Sin City, Iron Man 2, and The Wrestler come to mind).
But while Mickey Rourke, and quite possibly many other fighters, turned to plastic surgery to make their face look whole again, there has been a small contingent of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighters who have discovered that facial plastic surgery can actually provide them with a competitive edge in the ring.
These fighters aren’t concerned with how they will look on the cover of a magazine or whether they can up their odds at landing the gorgeous woman sitting at the end of the bar. Instead, these fighters are turning to plastic surgery to help them endure more hits without having their face turn into Swiss cheese.
A Stitching that Takes a Licking and Keeps on Ticking
For many boxers and MMA fighters, a face predisposed to skin lacerations is somewhat of an Achilles heel. Once your face gets busted open, it can be difficult to see, often costing superior fighters defeat at the hands of lesser talented adversaries who are simply better human punching bags. Several years ago, one plastic surgeon from Las Vegas decided he might be able to do something to help these fighters reduce the bleeding.
It is rare that a fighter will have cuts sustained in the ring treated by a plastic surgeon. Instead, these wounds are attended to by medical professionals who do not possess the refined skill in scar tissue management and suturing. Instead of closing these wounds in layers, many fight doctors simply stitch up the outermost layer of skin. The next time the fighter gets hit in that region, these poorly closed wounds are easily sliced through. This new cut is then stitched up in the same shoddy manner, starting an endless cycle that leaves the skin about as durable as a piece of tissue paper.
Dr. Frank Stile figured that if he were to replace this ground up skin with more stable tissue, it might reverse the damage caused by layer upon layer of poor post-fight stitching. His first guinea pig was MMA fighter Nick Diaz. Dr. Stile used sterilized donor tissue from a cadaver to replace the weak scar tissue causing Diaz to bleed profusely at every fight. He also smoothed the sharp edges of Diaz’s facial bones, making them less likely to cause additional cuts when sustaining blows to the face in the future. Unlike the superficial suturing Diaz received after fights, Dr. Stile sewed the incision wounds from this procedure properly, providing additional strength that previously never existed.
The procedure was a huge success, and Nick Diaz rarely develops serious cuts during fights anymore. This has helped him earn the welterweight title in Strikeforce, the second largest MMA league (UFC is the largest).
Dr. Stile has performed similar facial plastic surgery procedures on several other MMA fighters, achieving excellent results. He has begun experimenting with other procedures as well. Recently, Dr. Stile performed a nose job on UFC fighter Phil Baroni to correct a deviated septum caused by several broken noses. This procedure has helped Baroni breathe more easily and as a result, he no longer needs to keep his jaw hanging wide open in order to get sufficient amounts of air. Dr. Stile expects nose reconstruction to become big for many fighters in the near future.
Does this Go Too Far?
There are obvious ethical questions associated with the use of surgical procedures to create a competitive edge. What if plastic surgeons began placing jaw implants in fighters to make it harder for an opponent to deliver a knock-out blow? Would this be crossing a line? Clearly, the fighter than can withstand a severe beating experiences a tremendous advantage over those who are predisposed to cutting and bleeding.
Currently, it seems that the use of plastic surgery among fighters is not being questioned by the MMA organizations they fight for. However, it will be interesting to see if regulations get imposed as these surgeries become a more prominent part of the sport.