What Is The Difference Between A TKO Vs KO? (MMA & Boxing)

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If you’re a fight fan, then you’ve probably enjoyed watching combat sports across different disciplines like MMA and boxing.

Whatever the combat sport, they all feature the potential for a knockout (KO) and a technical knockout (TKO).

A TKO (technical knockout) is when the match is stopped by the referee because one fighter is unable to intelligently defend themselves or is close to being unconscious. A KO (knockout) is when one fighter is hit into being unconscious immediately. In boxing, the KO can also be when a fighter doesn’t recover past the referee’s 10-count.

To learn more about the unique TKO vs KO differences between MMA and boxing, keep reading.

What is a TKO in UFC?

Clay Guida fighting in the octagon for UFC 74
Lee Brimelow, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

TKO means technical knockout. In UFC and MMA, it’s usually called by the referee when a fighter appears to be losing the fight and close to taking dangerous strikes.

The fighter could be struggling to defend themselves and taking too many strikes either on the feet or on the ground.

Many fights end with a TKO in the UFC and MMA because fighters are often given as much time as possible to continue defending themselves before the referee will step in.

It’s also because fighters are programmed to keep defending themselves by often trying to grapple or evade even while being close to unconsciousness.

It’s not uncommon for UFC fighters to get knocked down to end up on their back, but either win from the grappling position with submissions or recover to their feet and get a knockout themselves after recovery.

What is a KO in UFC?

The referee usually calls a knockout (KO) in the UFC and MMA as soon as one fighter appears to have lost consciousness from a big immediate strike, often to the head.

You will see the referee moving between the fighters and waving both hands to signal the stoppage.

Knockouts in the UFC & MMA generally work differently than boxing because of ground fighting in mixed martial arts.

Being knocked down to the octagon canvas doesn’t necessarily end your ability to fight.

It puts pressure on the attacker to finish the encounter yet gives the knocked down fighter more options to defend themselves, particularly using their legs to push the attacker away.

What is a TKO in boxing?

The referee calls a technical knockout (TKO) in boxing when one fighter is still conscious but unable to defend themselves intelligently or safely.

It could be combined with a knockdown where the fighter can’t recover (like wobbly legs) or up against the ropes when taking too many hits.

If the referee sees one boxer looking incredibly wobbly against the ropes and suffering an onslaught, they’ll step in and call the TKO before they take too much damage.

What is a KO in boxing?

U.S. Navy Aviation Machinist Mate Tyron Hunter is knocked out on the canvas
U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A knockout (KO) in boxing is when one fighter gets hit, usually falls down, and goes unconscious immediately.

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The referee will often perform a 10-count before declaring them as knocked out, but sometimes they could do it immediately when it’s obvious they won’t recover.

Knockouts can also be declared in boxing in a few different scenarios that’s different from MMA:

  1. Full knockout
  2. Knocked down but not recovered
  3. Knocked down but not out

I’ll explain each in a bit more detail.

Full knockout

One Boxer is hit with enough force or skill that they fall straight to the floor, often like a wooden board because they go unconscious and the brain stops sending signals to the rest of the body.

They hit the mat, and are visibly unconscious, then the referee immediately calls the end of the fight and a KO.

Knocked down but not recovered

With a knocked down but not recovered, a boxer is knocked down to the floor and it might appear they are close to unconscious.

The referee will start a 10-count.

The boxer will try to get back to his feet and the referee will assess their consciousness.

If the boxer looks too wobbly in the legs, or are unable to answer the referees questions or tasks (like “walk over there and back to me”) then they might be declared KO.

Knocked down but not out

A boxer is knocked down to their knees and forced into a 10-count, it could result in them being declared KO if they don’t get back up by the 10-count.

More on the knockdown below.

What is a knockdown in boxing?

A knockdown in boxing is when a fighter takes a big hit that forces them to touch the mat of the ring with a body part other than the soles of their feet.

This often looks like kneeling to rest or sometimes when forced into the lower ropes of the ring.

Being knocked down forces the boxer into a 10-count from the referee.

It gives them time to recover but is likely to give them negative points on the judge’s scorecards for suffering the knockdown.

If the boxer cannot continue by the end of the 10-count, then the referee could declare it as a knockout (KO).

On a rare occasion, boxers have even knocked each other down in what’s called a double knockdown.

When two boxers are of the same fighting stance, it’s common for them to hit each other at the same time when they both throw the same punch (e.g. southpaw).

A jab or left hook or cross can all connect for both fighters simultaneously, and it’s pretty entertaining when it lands!

If both boxers are knocked down, then the referee has the tricky job of giving the 10-count to both fighters independently.

If one of the fighters gets up, but one doesn’t before the end of the count, then they’ve just suffered a knockout!

Is the TKO or KO considered better?

A KO is sometimes considered better than a TKO in boxing and MMA because it’s more exciting for the audience.

Whatever is most exciting to watch often translates to better success and revenue for the fighter in future matchups, so going for a KO is worthwhile.

Having a certain number of clean knockouts on your fighting record is sure to get a lot of attention coming to you as a fighter.

Especially in boxing, where your record is often stated in this order: Wins, Wins By Knockout, Losses, Draws (e.g. 40-38-1-0).

You’ll see their record alongside their name card when watching on the TV.

It seems a bit too far-fetched, though, as most of those “knockouts” in boxing aren’t true one-hit knockouts as compared to MMA.

They’re usually count-outs by the referees. Still, it’s a badge of honor to have a lot of KOs with your record.

And that’s not the only thing. Keep reading the next section.

How TKO counts as a KO on a boxer’s record

A TKO counts as a KO on a boxing fighters’ record, which is different from MMA.

Both TKOs and KOs are combined because their opponent was knocked out of the fight that they couldn’t continue—so it’s considered a win by knockout.

When their wins are read out, they usually come paired with the number of knockouts.

Let’s take Tyson Fury (the “Gypsy King”) as an example.

He (currently) has a 33-24-0-1 record (33 wins, 24 by knockout, 0 draws, 1 loss).

This means that those 24 KOs were his opponents “being knocked out of the fight.” This includes TKOs, unconscious KOs, and count-out KOs altogether.

How a fighter gets knocked out and lose consciousness

Being knocked out means losing consciousness, which can happen from a sudden and traumatic strike to the head around the jaw or temples.

These strikes can cause a cerebral concussion, making the brain shut off the lights to protect itself.

If fighters experience too many blows to the head over their career, then it has been known for it to cause some severe long-term damage in terms of memory loss and depression.

There have even been studies about how a punch can knock you out, in which they make several hypotheses without being able to come to clear conclusions.

The study notes that most knockouts come from a hook to the side of the jaw, causing a sudden horizontal twist to the receiver’s head.

Uppercuts were moderately effective at producing knockouts, while straight punches to the face were sporadic in landing knockouts.

Much more is yet to be learned about how unconsciousness occurs from strikes to the head.

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