By Jeremy Patton
Many fight fans wonder why fighters smear Vaseline on their faces. They often ask “isn’t that cheating?”
Most combat sports such as boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts permit the application of a small amount of petroleum jelly to the face. Gloves, laces and tape can act as cutting tools when flying at high speed (not to mention shins, knees and elbows). Slippery skin helps prevent abrasions and cuts by deflecting blows.
No one likes to see a good fight end due to a cut and Vaseline can be credited with helping more than a few matches go the distance.
Officials check to make sure that lubricants are smeared evenly, appear translucent and there are no hanging clumps that can be transmitted, accidentally or intentionally, to the gloves, body or an opponent’s eyes.
A recent controversy erupted after the second fight between Georges St. Pierre and B.J. Penn at UFC 94. Penn accused St. Pierre’s corner of greasing between rounds, making it harder for Penn to hold him or apply submissions. The validity of Penn’s claim may never be determined, but it’s a good illustration of how lubricants can be used to cheat (for the record, it’s doubtful that any amount of Vaseline would have played a significant part in St. Pierre’s total domination of Penn).
Some corner-men and physicians mix coagulants with petroleum jelly to stop bleeding. This is practiced in professional matches because they are usually permitted to continue unless lacerations become severe. Amateur matches, on the other hand, are often stopped as soon as a cut develops. There’s no point in damaging an amateur fighter’s face with scare tissue before he begins his professional career. Old cuts can reopen and increase the likelihood that future fights will be stopped prematurely. UFC veteran Forrest Griffin is a perfect example of this. His war-torn face bleeds profusely during nearly every contest. The bleeding doesn’t seem to affect his performance, but one must always worry about a doctor’s stoppage.
Fighters also apply Vaseline when sparring. Though training sessions are rarely full-contact, a little dab of petroleum jelly can repel an inadvertent cut that could disqualify a fighter from an upcoming payday. One such accident occurred when Ken Shamrock was back stage warming up for his battle with Kimbo Slice at an Elite XC event in 2008. It was a small laceration, but enough to prompt a doctor to bar him from participating. A last minute replacement, Seth Petruzelli, capitalized on the opportunity and knocked out Kimbo Slice early in the first round.
Vaseline is used in fights because it helps prevent unnecessary abrasions and cuts. However, it’s also used for cheating. As more incidents of abuse occur, officials will keep a closer watch on the practice and place tighter restrictions where necessary.