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What Is The Difference Between a KO & TKO in Boxing/MMA?

As a new fan to a sport such as MMA or Boxing, it may be confusing when people speak in terminology that you are unfamiliar with. I remember being there once, and if you’re in that same boat, I’m here for you. In this post, I’m going to clearly distinguish differences while answering the question: What is the difference between a KO and a TKO?

The difference is that a KO (Knockout) occurs when the fighter is knocked unconscious, while a TKO (Technical Knockout) occurs when the fighter is still conscious but is deemed unable to intelligently defend themselves by the referee. A KO can occur from a hard punch or from a knockdown, and a TKO can occur due to an injury, or from repeatedly getting hit without hitting back.

There are some differences between what can be considered a KO in boxing and MMA, as sometimes a boxing KO does not mean full loss of consciousness, just enough to end the fight.

What Is Considered A Knockout? (KO)

As mentioned, KO stands for knockout, and is called by the referee when a fighter has been knocked completely unconscious by his opponent. However, there are also other ways in which a fight can be declared a knockout.

Knockout In Boxing

In boxing, referees use what is called a ten-count. This means that when a fighter is knocked down, they have ten seconds to get back up on their feet. If the fighter is not able to get up, or the referee sees the fighter having trouble getting up, then the fight is stopped and is officially a KO.

Although Victor Ortiz was still conscious after getting knocked down by Floyd Mayweather, he was not able to get up, making it a KO win for Mayweather.
Although Victor Ortiz was still conscious after getting knocked down by Floyd Mayweather, he was not able to get up, making it a KO win for Mayweather.

This means that a fighter does not have to be completely unconscious for the fight to be ruled a KO. In fact, there are also cases of a fighter being completely conscious but being KO’d. This was the case when Gervonta Davis knocked out Hugo Ruiz in the first round.

Davis hit Ruiz with a hard right hand, which caused Ruiz to take a knee, which you can see in the image below. Ruiz was able to get up to his feet in the allotted time, and was seemingly in his senses (as in, still able to fight).

Despite being conscious and aware, Hugo Ruiz (left) did not continue after a knockdown, making it a KO for Davis.

However, when the referee asked him if he wanted to continue, Hugo Ruiz did not respond, prompting the referee to wave off the fight and rule it a KO win for Gervonta Davis.

To sum it up, in boxing, a fight is ruled a KO if a fighter is knocked completely unconscious, or if the fighter cannot get up or continue after a knockdown within the allotted time.

Knockout In MMA

In MMA, knockouts also occur from losing consciousness, and is pretty much the same as in boxing.

However, MMA does make the distinction on how the loss of consciousness occurred, as going unconscious due to a choke is ruled a submission, not a knockout.

In MMA, a KO can occur from strikes, whether it be punches, kicks, knees, or elbows. Aside from losing consciousness, it is not unheard of for MMA fights to end in a KO due to body shots. This was the case when Anthony Pettis KO’d Donald Cerrone in their fight.

Anthony Pettis (right) lands a hard kick to the liver of Donald Cerrone, causing Cerrone to drop to the ground, ending the fight.
Anthony Pettis (right) lands a hard kick to the liver of Donald Cerrone, causing Cerrone to drop to the ground, ending the fight.

Despite still being fully conscious and aware that he had to defend himself, Cerrone’s loss to Anthony Pettis was ruled a knockout. Pettis hit Cerrone with a kick to the liver which caused Cerrone to drop to the ground and turtle up. After taking two more shots from Pettis, the referee stopped the fight, ruling it a KO.

Another thing to note is that there is no count in MMA if a fighter goes down, as the fight continues on the ground. Because of this, many fights end in TKO instead of KO. The explanation is that a fighter usually stops defending himself before he gets completely knocked out.

In order to keep the fighter safe, the referee stops the fight and rules it a TKO before it eventually turns into a KO.

To sum it up, an MMA fight is ruled a KO when the fighter is knocked completely unconscious, or when a strike renders them unable to fight, such as a liver shot.

What Is Considered A Technical Knockout? (TKO)

A TKO is a Technical Knockout which occurs in both MMA and Boxing. A TKO usually means the fighter is still conscious and aware, but is not able to fight for whatever reason. Let’s look at some differences between TKO’s in MMA and Boxing.

TKO In Boxing

In boxing, a TKO occurs when a referee sees a fighter taking a lot of damage without defending himself, prompting the ref to jump in and stop the fight. This means that the fighter was fully conscious and aware while fighting, but simply wasn’t fighting back against his/her opponent.

An example of this was when Richard Commey beat Isa Chaniev for the IBF Title. Isa Chaniev was on unsteady legs after getting knocked down in the first round. However, the referee decided he could continue, and let him fight.

Richard Commey (left) knocked down Isa Chaniev in the first round, which left Chaniev on unsteady legs.
Richard Commey (left) knocked down Isa Chaniev in the first round, which left Chaniev on unsteady legs.

In the second round, Chaniev still looked wobbled. When Commey started landing some shots that caused Chaniev to stumble, the referee jumped in and waved off the fight, ruling it a TKO.

Because Isa Chaniev was still conscious, it was ruled a TKO and not a KO. If the referee had stopped the fight when Chaniev was knocked down in the first round, then it would have been ruled a KO.

A TKO can also be called due to an injury. If either the referee or the ringside physician declare that the fighter is unable to continue due to an injury, the fight is declared a TKO win for the other fighter.

Both KOs and TKOs result in an immediate end to the bout. If you want to know exactly how KOs and TKOs affect boxing match length, check out What Is The Length Of An Average Boxing Match?

TKO In MMA

In MMA, a TKO occurs when a fighter is taking a barrage of punches and is not able to defend himself, despite being fully conscious. In MMA, TKO’s usually occur against the cage or from top position on the ground. TKO’s also occur due to injury.

The TKO in MMA is pretty much the same as in boxing, except that a TKO can also be called on the ground. This was the case when Luke Rockhold finished Chris Weidman at UFC 194.

Luke Rockhold finished Chris Weidman from top position, declared a TKO.
Luke Rockhold finished Chris Weidman from top position, declared a TKO.

Luke Rockhold was able to take Weidman down against the cage, achieving side control. From there, Rockhold continued to punch Weidman for a while, until the referee stepped in to stop the fight.

As in Boxing, TKO’s also occur in MMA, although injuries happen more frequently. It is not uncommon for an MMA fight to stop due to a broken hand, due to the glove size. If you want to learn more about how the gloves protect the fighter’s hands, check out a post I wrote called Why Do Fighters Wear Gloves? where I go into detail about the topic.

The injuries sustained in MMA are more vast, due to the increased number strikes allowed and other different factors. For example, leg kicks are used a lot in MMA. During Anderson Silva’s second fight with Chris Weidman, Silva threw a leg kick, that Weidman blocked with his knee.

Anderson Silva's shin snapped due to his kick being checked by Chris Weidman, ending the fight.
Anderson Silva’s shin snapped due to his kick being checked by Chris Weidman, ending the fight.

The force of Silva’s leg on Weidman’s knee caused Silva’s shin to snap in two, rendering him unable to fight.

Conclusion

A KO in boxing is very similar to a KO in MMA, and the same is true for TKO’s. However, I just wanted to note the differences between a KO in MMA and Boxing.

In boxing, a KO can occur from a fighter being knocked unconscious, or by being deemed unable to continue by the ref after a knockdown. In MMA, a KO can also occur from being knocked unconscious, as well as from any strike that renders the fighter unable to continue such as a liver shot.

In both MMA and Boxing, a TKO occurs when the referee determines the fighter is unable to defend themselves, despite being fully conscious. A TKO can also be called if the fighter is unable to continue due to injury.

If you train in Boxing or MMA (or you’re thinking about it), check out the Training Tips page, as it is dedicated to helping people progress in their martial arts journey by answering questions they might have. Thanks for reading!

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