Are you wondering why UFC fighters do cupping?
In this article, we’ll look at what cupping in the UFC is, why UFC fighters do cupping, the UFC cupping curse, and which UFC fighters get regular cupping treatment.
Before we get into why UFC fighters do cupping, we first need to understand what cupping in the UFC is.
What Is Cupping in the UFC?
Cupping in the UFC is a form of traditional Chinese therapy using cups on the skin to create suction. This suction causes the colored circles on athletes and UFC fighters, which is a collection of blood brought to the surface and removal of toxins from the area.
Others believe the cupping marks are blood accumulation caused by damage to the capillaries and blood vessels under the skin.
The cupping marks vary in color from red/dark red (toxins accumulation), to brown, and pink, and signify whether an area of the skin has many toxins accumulated, stagnation of blood flow, or qi deficiency (energy). The colors vary wildly and are mostly affected by skin tone.
The cupping marks can stay on a UFC fighter from several hours up to 3 days, depending on the length of treatment and type of blood accumulation or toxins removed from the skin.
Evidence of cupping dates back to 3,550 B.C. in Ancient Egypt (5,500 years ago) and was traditionally used to treat painful conditions, chronic diseases (skin diseases), and inflammatory/cardiovascular disorders.
Why Do UFC Fighters Do Cupping?
The purpose of cupping for UFC fighters is to decompress muscle tissue to aid and speed up muscle recovery, improve blood circulation, and reduce muscle pain, stiffness, and inflammation – all in the hope of improving overall health and their performance on fight night.
Other benefits of cupping for UFC fighters include relaxation (it feels good) to reduce stress and the loosening of tight fascia (connective tissue) and muscles which improves their range of motion. These benefits from cupping are similar to the benefits of a deep-tissue massage.
While there are several types of cupping therapy, the three main types used by UFC fighters are:
- Dry cupping – cups are placed and left on the skin to create a suction for three minutes. Dry cupping leaves the cupping marks seen on UFC fighters and athletes.
- Moving cupping – a lighter suction is created with cups, and oil is applied to the skin so the cup can be moved around for a massage-like effect. Moving cupping doesn’t leave cupping marks.
- Wet cupping – cups are applied and a suction is created. A scalpel is then used to make a tiny cut on the suctioned skin. The cups are then reapplied, the suction is resumed, and blood is sucked into the cups. Wet cupping also leaves cupping marks.
Of the three, wet cupping is rarely used by UFC fighters, while dry and moving cupping (a variation of dry cupping) is most commonly used. And while the different types of cupping have most of the same benefits, they each have slightly different advantages.
Dry cupping’s main benefit is how it targets specific points for the longest duration of time to relieve muscular tension and pain, and speed up muscular recovery.
Moving cupping’s main benefit is increased blood circulation, loosening of tight fascia, and massage-like effects (relaxation). With moving cupping, UFC fighters can also move their body part up and down which further increases blood flow to the muscle and to the surface.
Wet cupping’s main benefit is the removal of toxins, increased range of motion, and faster recovery.
UFC fighters are often seen with cupping marks on the backside of their body as it’s taxed heavily while training and fighting in MMA – since a lot of their movements are forward rather than backward and this can cause an imbalance.
Does Cupping in the UFC Work?
Many UFC fighters swear by the benefits of cupping, but there’s very little legitimate scientific evidence supporting cupping benefits for athletes or UFC fighters in their recovery. Because of this, many believe the benefits of cupping to be purely placebo.
One of the most recent literature reviews (looking at all previous studies) in 2020 of cupping therapy in pain management concluded, ‘The current evidence is suggesting that cupping therapy may be effective in treating common chronic painful conditions for a short period.
Yet, most of the available studies have major limitations like small sample sizes, different outcome assessment tools, duration of treatment, and treatment regimens. Publication bias is another important drawback, as most of the available studies were conducted in a single country. Future good quality, multicenter clinical trials utilizing standardized protocols are needed.’
On the other hand, even if the benefits of cupping for UFC fighters are purely placebo, combined with how it can relax them, it’s likely to increase their performance levels come fight night, if only slightly.
It’s also a fast procedure, around 20-30 minutes, which saves them time as opposed to an hour or two-hour-long massage.
So, the actual benefits of cupping for UFC fighters may be:
- Boost in physical and mental performance because of the placebo effect
- It can be a time of relaxation and stress relief
- Cupping feels good
- Quicker than a massage and therefore saves time
- Less painful than a massage – especially on sore muscles
Conversely, cupping therapy may actually be a detriment to UFC fighters, taking time away from the necessary hard work and making them believe it will help their performance in a fight – when it’s just a distraction and a way to take their money.
Also, although deemed to be a safe practice when operated on by a trained therapist, it’s possible for cupping to cause burns, scar formation, skin infection, and more. As UFC fighters mostly get cupping therapy just before a fight, if something went wrong they’d likely miss their fight.
It’s also possible UFC fighters and professional athletes are paid by a business to get cupping therapy and market the service. Cupping therapy also represents how UFC fighters look to get any possible advantage or help they can.
Overall, cupping therapy for UFC fighters comes down to personal experience. If they feel it helps them make a fight, bag a 50k bonus, or earn their win pay, they’ll continue to use it as a cheap boost every once in a while.
What Is the UFC Cupping Curse?
The UFC cupping curse is a fighter losing a fight when fighting with visible cupping marks. The UFC cupping curse was first noticed after every fighter who had cupping marks at UFC 271 (February 12, 2022) lost. The fighters with cupping marks were:
- Alexander Hernandez (cupped) lost to Renato Moicano
- Derrick Lewis (cupped) lost to Tai Tuivasa
- Nasrat Haqparast (cupped) lost to Bobby Green
- Jared Vanderaa (cupped) lost to Andrei Arlovski
Even since then, the majority of fighters going into a fight with cupping marks have lost.
However, rather than it being a UFC cupping curse or showing cupping therapy doesn’t work or have any benefits, their losses represent how they likely have an injury going into the fight or didn’t recover from their training routine in time, and the cupping marks show how they’ve tried to recover or ease the pain.
Which UFC Fighters Often Have Cupping Marks?
As the benefits of cupping therapy for UFC fighters and athletes are dubious at best, some UFC fighters believe in it more than others. Some UFC fighters are also notoriously injury prone and are looking for any way to recover.
UFC fighters who often have cupping therapy are:
- Conor McGregor
- Khabib Nurmagomedov
- Vitor Belfort
- Charles Oliveira
- Paulo Costa
The Bottom Line
So, ‘why do UFC fighters do cupping?’
UFC fighters have cupping therapy as they believe it aids muscle recovery, improves blood circulation and range of motion, and reduces muscle pain, stiffness, and inflammation. However, these benefits lack scientific research.
So, UFC fighters get cupping therapy for the placebo effect and because it’s relaxing, feels good, and is faster than a typical massage. All in all, UFC fighters do cupping as a way to improve their performance come fight night.