Rafael Natal of Brazil punches Kevin Casey

Have you ever watched a fight get stopped and wondered why your friends were cheering or booing? Were you curious as to why it was stopped even though the fighter was conscious? Worry no more, we’re here to talk about TKO’s!

TKO (noun, acronym) – Technical Knockout

A technical knockout is a nice way of saying the fighter was conscious, but there was no point in continuing. The referee makes the call most of the time, but a ringside physician may do so as well.

Referee stoppage TKO

There is a bevy of reasons a fight could be stopped early.

The most common one is that the fighter isn’t “intelligently defending themselves.” This means they’re conscious but hurt badly enough that the opponent can unload strikes without any response. Most of the time this occurs on the ground; Fighter A gets knocked down and Fighter B doesn’t let them recover. But standing TKO’s, while rare, do happen. This is what we call being “out on your feet”; the fighter is barely conscious but is (usually with the aid of the fence) able to stand while offering no defense.

Doctor stoppage TKO

If the ringside physician calls the fight, it means there’s been an injury that prevents them from defending themselves. This leads to some weird if understandable calls. For example, we’d consider broken bones far more severe than cuts or swelling. In the fight world, the exact opposite is true.

A broken hand, ribs, or jaw is painful bordering on debilitating, but it doesn’t prevent a fighter from continuing. After all, they have another hand to punch with, and a jaw or ribs can be guarded. If a broken bone is bad enough, the fight will usually end before the physician has a chance to intervene (a la Anderson Silva).

Cuts and swelling on the face are of extreme concern though.

If blood is streaming into a fighter’s eye and won’t stop, the fight is over no questions asked. This is because having half your vision obscured is a virtual death sentence in a fight. It affects depth perception and prevents the fighter from seeing strikes coming from the blind side. Same goes for an eye that has swollen shut.

Rarer but not uncommon are the cuts that are so deep and wide that allowing any more trauma would risk permanent, life-altering damage.

Problems with the TKO

You’d think that fighters would be even angrier than other athletes when a match gets called early, but they’re mostly understanding. It’s standing TKO’s that cause the most issues.

Certain fighters can absorb a tremendous beating and remain conscious. But let’s say a fighter is stunned badly enough that they can’t return fire but can stay on their feet. They stagger along the fence, eating the occasional power shot and never quite recover. What does a referee do?

Conscious or not, an athlete getting their brain repeatedly rattled without mounting a defense is in danger. But barbaric as it may seem, it is a combat sport; some of the greatest moments in MMA have involved comebacks from the brink of oblivion. Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard II and III wouldn’t etch themselves into the annals of history if the fights were stopped in the first round.

The weird

There is an extraordinary, outlier case that happened during the bout between Chris Weidman and Gegard Mousasi.

After weathering an initial barrage, Mousasi made a comeback and an exhausted Chris Weidman shot in for a takedown. Mousasi stuffed it and, while Weidman seemingly had both hands on the ground, kneed him twice in the head. The referee, believing it to be a foul, stopped the fight and evaluated Weidman. He couldn’t tell what month it was, and the fight was called in his favor… until the replay.

It showed that Mousasi had wrenched Weidman off the ground so that his hands left the canvas as the knees connected. Technically speaking, Mousasi had hurt Weidman badly enough that he was concussed. So the result was changed to a TKO victory for Mousasi. Weidman was hurt, but perhaps he could have gutted it out and made a show of it. Had the false foul not been called by the referee, he would’ve never been medically evaluated and been allowed to continue.

The easiest way to remember TKO is that it’s not a knockout, but technically it is. So the next time a fight gets stopped, evaluate it for yourself. Half the fun of watching a sport is knowing you could most definitely do better.

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