The conditions for a KO and a TKO are the same for boxing and MMA, despite being different sports. Still, regardless of their popularity, casual fans often can’t distinguish a KO from a TKO. So, what is the difference between KO and TKO in MMA and Boxing?

A knockout happens when one combatant lands a debilitating blow on the other, causing them to lose consciousness. A technical knockout happens when a fighter is injured and can’t actively defend themselves.

Technical knockouts and knockouts are similar. However, one major difference can help you identify between them. Follow along if you want to learn how to differentiate between the two terms when watching the next bout.

The Differences Between Knockouts (KOs) in Boxing and MMA

Knockouts are common in many full-contact fight sports and martial arts. It’s a legal strike or a combination of legal blows that incapacitate the opponent. A KO causes loss of consciousness, thus effectively ending a match. The winning criterion was popular with the retired boxer Mike Tyson.

The term refers to sudden loss of consciousness caused by trauma resulting from a physical blow to the head. A powerful blow to the skull creates excessive pressure in one direction, leading to brain injury. 

It can also cause an exaggerated change in pressure in the carotid sinus. This leads to immediate dramatic effects like losing balance that end the fight. 

Body blows, especially to the liver, can affect blood pressure and heart rate. The combination of intense pain and low blood pressure can cause unconsciousness, so the fighter can’t continue the match.

This physiological response is the body’s way of protecting a person from experiencing the worst types of physical pain. It’s also a means of rebalancing blood flow throughout the body. 

The gravitational pull helps the heart pump more blood to all body parts when a person is lying flat.

But what is the difference between KO and TKO in MMA and boxing?

Knockouts in Boxing

If a fighter receives a blow to the head or the body, falls, and loses consciousness, that’s a knockout. The referee will start a 10-second count, and the grounded fighter should get up before the time is over. 

This shows that they are in a position to continue the match normally. If they can’t get up or show sufficient signs that they can’t fight, the referee calls out a knockout.

Falling unconscious isn’t the sole criterion of calling a KO, with pugilism prioritizing loss of consciousness over other actions. The fighter will still lose the match even if they lose consciousness or control only momentarily. If you hit the canvas with no visible signs of movement, your opponent wins the bout through a KO.

What if the fighter goes down then immediately comes back up? The fighter must show that they are well enough to continue fighting by correctly responding to the referee’s instructions. 

Another potential scenario is when a fighter receives a blow and goes down to one knee three times. However, this rule isn’t universal and may not apply in some countries.

Knockouts in MMA

The same scenarios above qualify as KOs in MMA, albeit with slight changes. Loss of consciousness is an automatic knockout, but referees are also interested in how it occurred. Did the fighter remain on their feet? What kind of legal strike caused the trauma?

Loss of control is a priority in MMA. Even if a fighter remained conscious after a heavy blow but couldn’t defend themselves, that’s a knockout. A similar case applies when one receives a strong blow to the liver. They become weak and wobbly despite remaining on their feet.

Another difference is the absence of a 10-second count out in MMA. The fight continues even when the two fighters hit the ground. 

You’ve probably seen one fighter mounting the other and continuously landing effective strikes to the head, body, or grappling. The fight continues until one fighter taps out, or the referee intervenes to prevent further harm.

What if the fighter in the dominant position chokes the other until they pass out? Does it count as a knockout?

It doesn’t. Remember we said that the referee looks at how it happened. We call unconsciousness due to grappling or choking a submission. So, what is the difference between KO and TKO in MMA and boxing?

Difference Between Technical Knockouts (TKOs) in Boxing and MMA

A technical knockout, often abbreviated as a TKO, is similar to a knockout but is on the extreme end. It means that the opponent is landing constant clean punches. 

The fighter on the receiving end is doing nothing to defend themselves or strike back. If you hear someone is TKO, just know that the opponent was nearly finishing them. The referee had to intervene to prevent further harm.

Referees must interrupt the match in such scenarios to prevent severe injuries or possibly even death. That would spell doom to both the referees and the fighter’s careers.

Now then, what is the difference between KO and TKO in MMA and boxing?

Below are several scenarios that count as TKOs.

Technical Knockout in Boxing

A TKO happens when the referee and the ringside medics decide that the fighter can’t finish the match. It’s much safer if the bout ends. 

It can often result from a typical KO neutralizing the fighter’s defense or leaving the fighter wobbly. The referee will assess the effects of punches. They may decide not to wait for a possible physical knockout because it’d cause additional injuries.

A boxer may also lose through a TKO when they willingly opt-out. Alternatively, their coach/ trainer pulls them out for safety reasons. 

However, this rarely happens because everyone hopes they may win at some point. “It’s not over until it’s over.”

Note that three KOs in the same round equals an automatic technical knockout. Consciousness doesn’t count much here. The victim will still lose if they’re doing next to nothing to defend themselves actively.

What Is a TKO in MMA?

A technical knockout in MMA means that one fighter can’t fend off strikes and block blows. The referee has to stop the match even if the fighter is still conscious to protect their health.

While it’s possible, a TKO rarely happens when the combatants are still standing. The fight usually continues after a successful takedown. When it happens, we say they are “out on their feet.” Often, the loser ends up in between the ropes or on the fence.

A technical knockout happens on the ground in different positions. A typical scenario is when the dominant fighter is in an advantageous position or is on top. They can grapple and land direct hits to the head or body.

“The Turtle” 

Another position called “The Turtle” is relatively common. The winning fighter pins the loser to their back. Their defense is feeble against the barrage of good strikes raining from all directions.

TKO in MMA is different from boxing in that an injury can count as a technical knockout. Injuries, lacerations, and fractures are pretty common in MMA. The ringside medic and the referee will decide when to call off the match due to injury.

A cutman will attend to the fighter between rounds to ease the pain and stem bleeding. If the injury happens during a round, the match continues unless the injury is severe. 

For example, severe bleeding may interfere with visibility. The ringside doctor will assess the wound and stop the match if the injury is severe. The opponent becomes the winner at this point through a TKO.

After a KO or TKO, the fighter will undergo a medical assessment before the doctor gives further directions. Often, the medic hands them a 30 days suspension for a KO and 60 days for a TKO. This is to allocate enough time towards recovery.

Other Types of Knockouts People Often Confuse With KOs and TKOs

When someone receives a blow and falls on the canvas, it doesn’t automatically qualify as a KO. Besides the two knockouts we have listed above, here are three more:

  • A double knockout
  • A flash knockout
  • A knockdown
  • A flash knockdown

Let’s explore these types of knockouts to understand how they differ from KOs and TKOs.

A Double Knockout

This one is pretty simple to understand. The two fighters land clean head strikes or body shots on each other simultaneously. This causes both of them to lose consciousness or the ability to fight. If this happens, the match ends in a draw.

One of the most infamous instances of a double knockout comes from 2007. It happened during an episode of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) featuring Gray Maynard and Rob Emerson. Maynard grabbed his opponent (Emerson), lifting him high into the air before slamming him against the ring floor.

In dropping him onto the floor, Maynard banged his skull against Emerson’s ribcage, causing immediate decapacitation for both fighters. The referee called a double TKO, a ruling that Maynard hotly contested. You can watch a recap and breakdown of the takedown now:

Of course, this is a pretty extreme example of a double knockout. Be sure to check out this compilation video to see other examples showing double knockouts in several MMA matches:

A Flash Knockout

Referees call a technical knockout when an opponent is too injured to continue fighting. But what happens when a boxer or fighter briefly loses consciousness?

A strong punch or kick can cause a few seconds of unconsciousness, causing an opponent to drop. People use the term “flash knockout” to describe a brief loss of consciousness. 

Unlike the long-lasting unconsciousness that follows some TKOs, a flash knockout won’t cause a significant amount of brain damage. That’s because less energy (force) transfers to the brain.

When a boxer immediately regains consciousness and can get up before the referee starts their count, the match continues. However, a flash knockout can also refer to a one-strike TKO.  

Some of the shortest matches feature jaw-dropping flash knockouts. For example, the Josh Burns vs. Chris Sarro fight during the 2020 BKFC resulted in a flash knockout TKO. 

Sarro briefly loses consciousness after two rapid punches to the face, courtesy of Burns. You can watch this astounding flash knockout here:

A Knockdown

A knockdown happens when one fighter touches the ring floor with a body part except for the feet. So, falling to a knee or getting knocked flat on your back would both count as a knockdown.

When a knockdown occurs, the boxer who hits the ring floor loses a point. Notably, a double knockdown cancels itself out, resulting in no lost points for the fighters. For some excellent examples of double knockdowns, be sure to check out this video:

The term also applies when the fighter hangs onto the ring ropes for support. In this instance, the boxer can’t fall or actively defend themselves. But they can’t support their weight without the help of the ropes, either.

A referee will count to ten in boxing before registering a knockdown as a KO. If the boxer or fighter remains on the ring floor or cannot disengage themselves from the ropes, they’ll lose the match.

A Flash Knockdown

A flash knockdown refers to a situation where your opponent knocks you down on the canvas, but you get up very quickly. You can then continue the match as if nothing ever happened. 

That said, the fighter who gets knocked down will lose a point, regardless of how quickly they get back onto their feet. But so long as the fighter gets up before the referee starts the countdown, it won’t count as a knockout.

During a flash knockdown, both fighters retain consciousness. This differentiates it from a flash knockout.

Final Thoughts

Both MMA and boxing imply similar rules for knockouts and technical knockouts. One of the key differences is that MMA prioritizes loss of control when calling out a KO, regardless of the fighter’s consciousness. In boxing, loss of consciousness qualifies as a KO.

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