Why Do UFC Fighters Paint Their Nails? (4 Reasons Explained)

Several well-known UFC fighters, including Israel Adesanya and Andrei Arlovski, have been spotted with painted nails during fights. 

This trend isn’t new, as fighters like Frank Trigg, Jeff Monson, Ramsey Nijem, Chris Leben, Yoel Romero, and Chuck Liddell have painted their nails, some as early as 2004.

Let’s explore the reasons behind this practice.

Why Do UFC Fighters Paint Their Nails?

UFC fighters paint their nails primarily for protection against physical damage and infections. Additionally, this practice holds spiritual significance for some, echoing historical warrior traditions, and serves as a means of personal style and expression for others.

Let’s take a closer look at the 4 reasons why UFC fighters paint their nails.

1. Protection Against Cracking and Splitting

A primary reason UFC fighters paint their nails, especially toenails, is to prevent cracking and splitting.

In the high-impact environment of UFC, where powerful kicks and foot stomps are common, toenail damage is a real concern.

Cracked or split nails can be extremely painful and potentially impair performance by limiting mobility and effectiveness in the ring.

Additionally, damaged nails are more susceptible to infections, which can lead to further health complications and training interruptions.

A durable, chip-resistant nail polish provides a protective coating, reinforcing the nail’s structure and helping to maintain its integrity under the impact of fighting.

2. Fungi and Bacteria Protection

UFC fighters also paint their nails as a defense against fungi and bacteria. In the demanding world of MMA, maintaining nail health is crucial, and nail polish serves as an effective protective layer.

This is particularly important when nails are cracked or split, as such damage can increase susceptibility to infections. The polish acts as a sealant, guarding against the entry of pathogens.

The risk of fungal and bacterial infections is heightened in UFC as gyms can be hotbeds for these microorganisms, with sweaty, often less-than-sterile conditions.

Additionally, prolonged wearing of shoes and protective gear during training creates a moist environment conducive to bacterial growth.

An infection in the foot or toenail not only causes discomfort and health issues but can also significantly disrupt a fighter’s training regime and potentially prevent them from competing.

Therefore, using nail polish as a barrier against these risks is a practical measure for UFC fighters.

3. Spiritual Significance and Focus

The practice of painting nails in the UFC also carries a deeper, more symbolic meaning for some fighters.

Drawing inspiration from ancient warrior traditions, such as those of Ancient Babylon where warriors painted their nails before combat to look more intimidating, this act can be seen as a ritualistic preparation for battle.

It symbolizes readiness, bravery, and possibly a call for divine protection.

In broader ancient cultural practices, body decoration including nail painting often held spiritual or symbolic meanings, signifying status or spiritual protection.

For UFC fighters, painting nails might serve as a personal ritual, aiding in mental preparation and focus.

This aligns with martial arts philosophy, integrating physical preparation with mental and spiritual readiness. 

It’s a contemporary adaptation of ancient warrior rituals, embodying principles of focus, discipline, and the warrior spirit.

4. Personal Style and Expression

Just like in any other sport or public arena, UFC fighters use their appearance to express their style.

Painting their nails can be a way to stand out, make a fashion statement, annoy people, or simply express their personality.

When asked about getting his nails done before UFC 293, Israel Adesanya said, “That’s my favorite, drip tips. Because it’d be disrespectful to knock him out with these ugly things. So, yeah, I’ll do my toes as well in case I kick him in the face, which I will.”

So, essentially, Israel Adesanya paints his nails because he thinks they look better painted, he generally wants to annoy his opponents, and he wants to make noise for attention.

Here’s another time that he explained his reasons:

Similarly, Chuck Liddell began painting his nails in 2004 after his girlfriend painted them as a joke. 

He continued the practice because he enjoyed the reactions it provoked, particularly how people reacted in disgust upon seeing his toenails. 

This choice reflects a unique blend of humor, personal enjoyment, and a desire to draw reactions from others and be different.

The Bottom Line

The main reason UFC fighters paint their nails is because nail polish protects against physical damage and infections. 

Other reasons include spiritual significance, drawing from historical and cultural traditions of warriors preparing for battle, and others for personal style and expression.

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