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What Is A TKO In MMA? (With Examples)

Let’s say you’re watching a UFC fight, and one fighter gets beat via TKO. As a new fan of combat sports, you might be left wondering what this means. You likely know what a KO is (knockout), but even as a boxing fan, you may not know what a TKO means in MMA rules. What is a TKO in MMA?

In short, a TKO is a Technical Knock Out, which happens when the referee ends the match without a fighter being knocked unconscious. This often happens when a fighter is repeatedly getting hit while downed, after which they are no longer intelligently defending themselves.

There are several cases in which a fight may be declared a TKO. In the rest of this post, I’m going to highlight those different cases, and some examples of each one.

Common TKO Stoppages

As I already stated, TKO stoppages are declared by the ref when they wave off the fight. If you see that a fight ended, and there was no knockout or submission, then chances are it was a TKO.

The TKO stoppage is decided by the referee, and so the decision to stop a fight via TKO can sometimes be controversial and undecisive. However, many can agree on the following examples as good stoppages via TKO.

Ground And Pound

This is probably the most common form of TKO stoppage. In this scenario, one fighter is on the ground, covering up, while the other fighter is continuously landing strikes on them.

If a fight gets into this position, the fighter on the bottom is usually unable to defend themselves, resulting in a TKO.
If a fight gets into this position, the fighter on the bottom is usually unable to defend themselves, resulting in a TKO.

The image above is a perfect example of a scenario in which ground and pound results in a TKO. In the moment the image was taken, the fighter on the bottom is fully conscious, and has an opportunity to improve his position.

However, the fighter must improve his position quickly, as if he takes several unanswered strikes, the referee will see that he is not defending himself, and end the fight.

This is why sometimes, TKO’s can be controversial. If the fight is waved off while the disadvantaged fighter is working to improve their position, it can result in outrage from the fans.

An example of this happened in early 2019 at UFC Brooklyn, during the Flyweight title fight between defending champion Henry Cejudo, and Bantamweight champ TJ Dillashaw.

TJ Dillashaw (blue) tries to get up after Henry Cejudo (black) drops him.
TJ Dillashaw (blue) tries to get up after Henry Cejudo (black) drops him.

Just 15 seconds into the fight, Cejudo pushed Dillashaw to the ground. After Dillashaw got up, he tried ducking under a punch from Cejudo, but got knocked down.

Cejudo then pounced on Dillashaw, landing 8 strikes with his left hand while Dillashaw was down. Dillashaw managed to spin and get up, but as he did, Cejudo landed three short hooks that dropped him again.

Once Dillashaw was on the ground for the second time, referee Kevin MacDonald stopped the fight. You can watch the full 32-second fight here.

This is the moment before Cejudo lands three hooks on Dillashaw, who is clearly not defending himself.
This is the moment before Cejudo lands three hooks on Dillashaw, who is clearly not defending himself.

As Dillashaw was still conscious, the fight was declared a TKO. However, the fans seemed split on the decision, with many calling it a bad stoppage, while others thought it was good.

If you watch the fight, it’s easy to understand the controversy, as Dillashaw was still squirming around when the fight was stopped. However, I personally think the stoppage was a good one, as Dillashaw did not land a single strike during the whole exchange.

Many, including Dillashaw himself and UFC President Dana White, called the fight an early stoppage.

Body Strikes

Another way in which a fight can end via TKO is through strikes to the body. If you’ve ever taken a hard punch or kick to the liver, you’ll know that it is enough to keep you down for good.

Despite not being unconscious, a fighter is sometimes unable to move normally after a hard body shot, meaning the fight ends in a TKO.

"Cowboy" Cerrone (left) takes a hard kick to the liver, which ends the fight.
“Cowboy” Cerrone (left) takes a hard kick to the liver, which ends the fight.

The above image shows a fight between Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Anthony Pettis, and is a perfect example of a TKO resulting from a body shot.

Midway into the first round of the fight, Pettis landed the kick seen above, straight to the liver of Cerrone. As soon as the kick lands, Cerrone drops to his knees and curls up, as he is unable to control his body as normal.

Pettis lands a couple of unanswered strikes, and the ref ends the fight.

Watching the fight, it is clear that Cerrone is fully aware and conscious of his surroundings, as he was not confused or dazed by a shot.

He was simply unable to use his body normally after the kick, and so the fight was declared a TKO win for Pettis.

Leg Kicks

This is an interesting one. Similarly to the body shots just described, a fight can end via TKO when a leg kick renders a fighter unable to continue.

A great example of this is the fight between Edson Barboza and Rafaello Oliveira.

Edosn Barboza (right) lands a hard leg kick on Rafaello Oliveira.
Edosn Barboza (right) lands a hard leg kick on Rafaello Oliveira.

Edson Barboza is well-known in the UFC for his kicking ability. During his fight with Oliveira, Barboza repeatedly struck the left leg of Oliveira with kicks.

During the second round of the fight, Barboza landed a leg kick that caused Oliveira to fall onto his back. Referee Herb Dean allowed Oliveira to get back up, and continue fighting.

When the fight restarted, Barboza landed two more leg kicks, the second of which again dropped the limping Oliveira. Herb Dean realized that Oliveira was not able to defend himself, and stopped the fight, a TKO win for Barboza via leg kicks.

Sudden Injury

In rare cases, a fight may be declared a TKO if there is an injury during the match that renders the fighter unable to continue. The most famous case of this happening, was when Chris Weidman defeated Anderson Silva in their rematch at UFC 168.

Anderson Silva is known for throwing a variety of kicks, including leg kicks. However, these kicks can be blocked with a technique known as a “check”.

In MMA, checking a kick is when the person receiving the leg kick lifts their knee so that the opponents kick strikes against bone, hurting the kicker.

Anderson Silva lost via TKO after his shin broke when Weidman checked a kick.
Anderson Silva lost via TKO, after his shin broke when Weidman checked a kick.

Leg kicks are usually aimed at the meaty part of the thigh or the inside of the knee, areas which are tender. But when the kick is checked, the kicker is instead striking the knee bone, which is significantly harder.

Checking a kick is such an effective defense, that it caused Anderson Silva’s leg to break at UFC 168.

Chris Weidman checked two kicks that were thrown by Anderson Silva. Apparently, the first check cracked Silva’s shin bone. The second one however, completely broke Silvas shin bone in two.

The kick that caused the injury is too greusome to show here, but you can easily find it on Google Images by looking up “UFC 168”. The fight was quickly declared a TKO.

Corner/Doctor Stoppage

Lastly, fights may be declared a TKO if the stoppage comes from orders of the ringside doctor or the fighter’s corner.

This usually happens in between rounds, when a doctor evaluates a fighter’s injury and declares it too dangerous for them to compete, leading to the referee waving off the fight as a TKO.

A fighter’s corner may also decide that their fighter has taken too much damage during a fight, and will concede victory in order to minimize the fighter’s damage.

Is A Submission A TKO In MMA?

In short, a Submission is not considered a TKO, unless the fighter submits (taps out) to strikes, which is ruled a TKO. If the fighter is choked unconscious or sutains an injury without tapping out, the fight is stopped by the referee and is ruled a Technical Submission.

That’s pretty much all the information you need to know about TKOs in MMA. If you enjoyed the post, check out the Training Tips page, where I answer similar questions. Thanks for reading!