Why Do Fighters Shave Their Legs? 🪒🦵🏽

If you’ve heard that fighters shave their legs, it’s true. But why? Are they required to? 

Fighters shave their legs because they claim it decreases friction, making it easier to escape holds. The lack of hair makes wounds heal faster, helps deep-tissue massages be less painful, and shows off their muscles. Although typical, shaving is not a requirement to play the game. 

This article will explain each of these claims in more detail. We will also look at whether these are legitimate reasons and if it matters if there is a scientific basis behind them. Read on to discover the truth.

The Reasons Fighters Shave Their Legs

Fighters have numerous reasons to shave their legs, including decreased friction, helping wounds heal faster, and to make deep tissue massages less painful.  

They also like the look of a clean-shaved body and feel it helps them intimidate the opponent.

Let’s look at each of them in more detail.

Decrease Friction

Shaving their legs is one thing fighters do to decrease friction. Hairless legs are slicker, which makes it easier to avoid a submission. Also, as they try to pull out of a hold, having their hair pulled hurts; it’s easier to lock an opponent into submission if they have hairy legs.

It might seem like a minor advantage to have shaved legs, but fighters who make it to the UFC are the best MMA fighters in the country, and every advantage—even a small one—can make a difference.

Along with shaving their legs, fighters also get good and sweaty before a fight to add to their slickness.

To Help Wounds Heal Faster

We all know the twinge of pain of pulling a bandage off. The pain is mainly caused by the band-aid pulling the hair (removal of skin cells is barely felt. If there isn’t any hair, it makes the removal of bandages less painful.  

Hairs that surround the wound often stick to the wound, making the area more difficult to clean and slowing recovery time. Cleaning injuries is easier if there is no surrounding hair and recovery time is reduced.   

MMA fighters must deal with a lot of pain, but adrenaline allows them to ignore it during a fight. After the fight, the adrenaline is gone, but the pain is still there.

Deep-Tissue Massages

After a serious workout, there’s nothing like a deep-tissue massage to reduce the fighter’s muscles’ built-up tension. Unlike a typical massage, the deep-tissue massage is applied with slow, deep strokes to stimulate the inner muscles.  

The therapist uses deep kneading and applies intense pressure. Many athletes prefer to avoid the sting of hair being pulled during this massage.  

It’s not the only reason they shave their legs, but it’s a plus.

Do Only MMA Fighters Shave Their Legs?

Many athletes also shave their legs, and they often give similar reasons as MMA fighters.

  • Soccer players shave due to massages, injuries and because it makes their legs look more muscular.
  • Professional wrestlers shave to avoid having hairs pulled but mostly because they want to show off their physique.  
  • Football players shave their legs to speed recovery from injuries. 
  • Both swimmers and cyclists shave their legs for improved aerodynamics.
  • Weightlifters do so mainly to show off their sculpted muscles.
  • Those basketball players who shave their legs do so for appearance, especially if they sport tattoos.

Most athletes get deep tissue massages as well, which is another reason to shave their legs.

Do All Fighters Shave Their Legs?

Not all fighters shave their legs, and not all trainers think the reasons athletes give for shaving make a lot of sense. Dr. Garrett Rock, an adviser to premier athletes, points out:

  • A wound will get infected if it is not cleaned out, hair or no hair.
  • Hair follicles won’t get infected from deep-tissue massages.
  • There is little research showing that the benefits athletes claim work.

He claims that any perceived benefits are that athletes think they work.

Do MMA Fighters Only Shave Their Legs?

No. The vast majority of fighters also shave their arms, chest, and back—if needed.  

This is true in sports in which most of an athlete’s body is exposed—such as wrestling, boxing, swimming, and weightlifting. In sports like football, soccer, and basketball, it’s purely a personal decision.

There’s one other reason they shave—to show off.

To Show Off Their Muscles

A martial artist doesn’t just show up one day, walk into the Octagon, and fight. They have thousands of hours of practice under their belt, and the workouts can be brutal. For example, here’s a routine used by Quinton “Rampage” Jackson to prepare for a 2018 match-up with Wanderlei Silva.

  • Jump Squats—3 sets of 10 to 30 reps
  • Pushups—100 to 200 reps
  • Jump Ropes—3 to 10 rounds of five minutes each
  • Incline Treadmill—45 minutes at 15% incline
  • Barbell Ab Roller—25 reps of 135 pounds
  • Hanging Knee Raise—75 reps total

Silva’s routine includes many of the same exercises, but he adds crunches, back squats, and neck-ups. Fighters like Jackson and Silva personalize their routines for their strengths and weaknesses.

After all that work, fighters want to show off the cut and contour of the muscles they built up. Shaving their arms, chest, and back does that. Plus, they hope it will intimidate the opponent.

Do Pre-Game Rituals Help Fighters?

Sports psychologists have proven numerous times that pregame rituals help athletes. Some of them are superstitions. There may not be scientific evidence that the superstitions work, but many athletes rely on them. The rituals are part of the athlete’s self-talk.

Other rituals do prepare fighters for the contest. Earlier, you read about MMA fighters getting sweaty before a fight. Some shave the day of the game, shower, and then engage in exercise to get them sweating. Another fighter will shave the day before, skip the shower, and spar a round or two.  

Each fighter has their way of getting prepared. Beginning athletes of any sport focus their routines on drills. Elite athletes don’t need to think about technique due to muscle memory. But mental preparation is still essential for even the best MMA fighters.

Rituals Inside the Ring

We don’t see the preparation rituals, but we see other rituals designed to intimidate the opponent. These rituals are the ones right before a fight:

  • Quinton “Rampage” Jackson howls like a werewolf before fights.
  • Rashad Evans would crawl into the ring alligator-like.
  • Josh Thomson doesn’t shower for several days before a fight.

And my favorite:

  • Clay Guida lets his older brother Jason slap him around.

Although these aren’t the same kind of rituals that MMA fighters do in the dressing room, they are entertaining routines that are part of their brand.

Some Myths About Shaving

You might hear that shaving is a way to cut weight. Hair does not weigh enough to make a difference. MMA fighters sweat weight off, use diuretics or laxatives, and drink less water.

Unfortunately, extreme weight cutting has led to at least two deaths. In 2013, Leandro Souza lost his life from the overuse of diuretics. And in 2015, Yang Jian Bing died from complications of severe dehydration.

Athletes can get their leg and body hair waxed instead of shaving. Many fighters shave as part of their pregame ritual.  

Bottom Line

Most MMA fighters shave not only their legs but all visible body hair. They have many reasons for doing so, but the most important is reduced friction so they can more easily escape a hold. Showing off the cut of their muscles can intimidate an opponent. Finally, the athletes do it because they like the look.