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What’s the Difference Between TKO and KO in Boxing (FAQ Inside)

If you’ve ever wondered what the similarities and differences are between tko vs ko in boxing then this is the post for you.

As a boxing fan, I’m sure you’ve heard both KO (Knockout) and TKO (Technical Knockout) used frequently. There are actually some details that go into the distinctions between the two.

What’s the Difference Between TKO and KO in Boxing – Key Takeaways

  • A KO (knockout) in boxing is when a fighter cannot defend himself due to the blows received or when a boxer cannot get to his feet by the count of 10. It’s still a KO even if the fighter isn’t knocked unconscious.
    • It’s worth noting that losing consciousness isn’t the sole criteria for a KO.
  • A TKO (Technical Knock Out) happens when the fight is stopped by referee or ringside doctor to prevent possible serious injury to a fighter who is not adequately protecting themselves or when they have the capacity to defend himself but don’t due to being overwhelmed by the opponent

TKO and KO are acronyms that stand for Technical Knockout and Knockout, respectively. These terms are heavily used in combat sports like boxing to describe the end of a bout – some of which can happen very unexpectedly.


A Knockout, abbreviated as KO, is declared when one fighter lands a powerful and legal strike that causes the other fighter to be unable to continue the match.

  • This could be due to the fighter losing consciousness
  • becoming disoriented
  • simply unable to defend themselves effectively

The key characteristic of a KO is that the fighter physically cannot continue the boxing bout.

A Technical Knockout, on the other hand, abbreviated as TKO, is called by the referee when it’s clear that one fighter is taking immense punishment and isn’t retaliating or defending themselves effectively.

Even if the fighter is still conscious and physically capable of battling on, if the referee deems that the fighter is in danger without the ability to rightly defend themselves, the match would be halted – hence marking a TKO.

Essentially, a TKO serves as a preemptive move for the safety of the fighters, preventing severe injuries.

Are TKO and KO the Same Thing?

While both TKOs and KOs result in a fighter losing a match, they’re not the same.

The key difference lies in who makes the call and under what conditions.

When a KO happens, it’s because one fighter has done such a massive amount of damage to their opponent that the opponent can’t physically continue.

  • This could be due to a single powerful punch (check out some of the hardest hitters in boxing history here)
  • or a series of blows that renders the opponent unable to get up

It’s worth noting that losing consciousness isn’t the sole criteria for a KO. If a fighter is disoriented to the point of not being able to defend themselves effectively, a KO can still be declared.

Conversely, in a TKO, it’s up to the referee or the fighter’s corner to call an early end to the match for safety reasons.

This usually happens when a fighter fails to return punches or defend adequately, though still conscious.

It’s the referee’s judgment of a fighter’s capacity to protect themselves and continue safely that determines a TKO – hence the term ‘Technical’.

Essentially, a KO is enforced by the actions of the fighters themselves, whereas a TKO is implemented via the referee’s assessment.

When Can a KO or TKO be Awarded in Boxing?

A KO is usually enforced if a fighter is knocked down by a legitimate punch and fails to regain their footing and recompose themselves within a count of ten.

A TKO, however, has multiple scenarios in which it could be called:

  • The most common is when a boxer is taking ongoing punishment without retaliating or defending himself.
  • Other potential circumstances for a TKO being awarded include when a boxer is cut or injured, and the ringside doctor advises that continuing could put the athlete’s health at serious risk.

Is TKO or KO better?

Now that we’ve broken down the differences between a tko and ko – which one is better?

Both are definitive ways of a fighter winning a bout.

A TKO is when the referee, ringside doctor, or fighter’s corner call an early end to the match – the losing fighter is physically able to defend themselves, but has likely taken too much damage or is too overwhelmed to continue.

A KO is when a fighter physicall cannont continue the fight due to being unable to adequetly defend themselves or fails to regain composure within a 10-count or being knocked unconscious. If I had to choose one being better, I would choose a KO since the opposing fighter is physically unable to defend themselves.

Boxing KO Explained

A knockout punch typically targets the head, and more specifically, the jaw area.

Striking this area prompts a rapid rotational movement of the head that disrupts the vestibular system of the inner ear – this system is responsible for maintaining our sense of balance.

Once disrupted, the fighter loses consciousness almost instantly.

Again, an important clarification here is that a KO can occur without the fighter losing consciousness. If a competitor is knocked down and fails to regain his footing within a ten-count, the referee will declare a KO, regardless of the fighter’s consciousness.

Additionally, something I wasn’t aware of previously is that the rules of boxing also stipulate safety measures post-KO for the wounded fighter. After getting knocked down, a fighter can only resume the bout after the referee has completed an eight-count.

Boxing KO Statistics

For instance, noted boxing statistician and historian, Patrick Connor, affirmed that heavyweight boxers have a relatively higher KO ratio of approximately 75% due to their inherent power, while welterweights record a lower KO ratio, nearly 50%, commonly employing a strategic style.

Knockouts in boxing are undoubtedly more common in the heavier weight classes.

When comes to invidual boxer statistics, George Foreman holds a striking 83.9% career knockout rate, while the star-studded Floyd Mayweather Jr. unsurprisingly (since he is in a lower weight class) has a lower KO rate of 54.5% despite his undisputed boxing prowess.

Is a KO an Automatic Win?

In simple terms, yes, a KO usually translates to an automatic win for the boxer who lands the knockout punch.

It symbolizes a concrete victory (probably slightly moreso than a TKO and definitely moreso than a judge’s decision), demonstrating distinct dominance over the opponent and is considered one of the most decisive ways to end a match in combat sports.

As a result, when a knockout is called by the referee, it signals the end of the match, establishing the delivering party as the undisputed winner.

What if Somone Just Gets Knocked Down?

For anyone who gets knocked down, they are given a chance to pick themselves up and continue the fight with the referee’s approval. This is often known as the “standing eight count”.

The fighter has to be up on their feet and ready within these eight seconds, or the referee might stop the fight, declaring it a knockout.

In boxing, a knockdown doesn’t automatically translate to a loss for the downded fighter.

How Does the Knockout Count Work?

The knockout count is heavily based on the referee’s discretion.

When seeing a fall, the referee has to first confirm if this is a genuine knockdown or if it’s a slip.

After confirmation, he starts the decision on a count with the fighter getting ten seconds to rise. This clear count helps cut through the confusion, reaching the downed guy battling exhaustion, disorientation, or pain.

Boxing Knockdown Rules and Fouls Explained Further

Knockdowns and fouls have their own set of rules in boxing.

For instance, as we mentioned, a knockout isn’t awlays declared after three consecutive knockdowns within one round. See below for some other key points on knockdowns in boxing:

Knockdown Rules:

  • A knockout is not automatically assumed with three knockdowns occurring within one round.
  • An obligatory eight count follows any knockdown, which is defined as any situation where three parts of a boxer’s body touch the canvas.
  • If a boxer is stopped from falling by the ropes, it is considered a knockdown as ruled by the referee.
  • Should a boxer be knocked out of the ring, he is given a maximum of 20 seconds to return to the ring unaided, unless otherwise directed by the referee.
  • A boxer knocked down won’t be saved by the bell ringing in any round.

In addition, the rules concerning fouls are equally important.

Referees hold the right to deduct points at their discretion for serious intentional fouls committed during a match. They will issue warnings and may deduct points for repetitive fouls.

In an unfortunate event of a low blow or an accidental hit after the bells, the affected boxer can be allowed up to five minutes to recover. A fouled boxer can elect not to continue should they decide upon this option. Should such a boxer consequently win on points, then he may receive the official decision by disqualification from the referee guided by the doctor’s advice. Persistent fouls even after several warnings and point deductions could lead to the referee disqualifying the offending boxer. Any boxer can therefore lose by default if incur injuries due to their own action or the actions of their corner men.

Foul Rules:

  • Referees have the right to deduct points at their discretion for severe intentional fouls.
  • For repetitive fouls, referees will issue warnings and may deduct points.
  • In the event of a low blow or accidental hit post-bell, the affected boxer can be allowed up to 5 minutes to recover.
  • If a fouled boxer opts not to continue, he is declared to have lost by default, unless the referee, guided by the doctor’s advice, disqualifies the offending boxer.
  • Persistent fouls, post-warnings and point deductions, can lead to the disqualification of the offending boxer by the referee.
  • A boxer can lose by default if they get injured due to their own action or that of their corner men.

TKO Meaning

Basically, a TKO or Technical Knockout simply means the stoppage of a bout. It does not mean that a fighter was knocked unconciscou – it means that a fighter is deemed incapable of properly defending themselves

As such, the technicality regarding a TKO revolves around a referee’s judgement or physician’s and not solely on the fighter’s physical state alone.

Again, a referee would usually announce a TKO when he feels a boxer to be incapable of shielding against determined and relentless onslaughts from the opponent.

In boxing, a TKO also refers to cases where the ringside physician pronounces a fighter unfit to continue due to a physical injury endured during the fight.

Are TKOs more common than KOs in boxing?

Yes, technical knockouts (TKOs) are more common than knockouts (KOs) in professional boxing. The main reason is probably due to referees and medical staff trying to ensure safety for fighters.

We’ve also seen that most boxers nowadays prefer to dominate opponents using technicality and smart boxing rather than relying on powerful punches to cause knockouts. Boxing seems to have evolved to include more strategic techniques, making TKOs a more regular occurrence as opposed to flashy knockouts (especially in the lighter divisions).

What Is DQ in Boxing?

DQ is a term for disqualification in boxing. It refers to when one competitor breaks the sport’s rules, and is therefor disqualied with victory going to their opponent by default.

Here is a quick table on some of the most common ways disqualifications (DQ) can occur in boxing:

Cause of DisqualificationDetails
Repeated Intentional FoulingMost disqualifications happen for repeated intentional fouling such as headbutting, low blows, rabbit punches, biting etc. A referee usually issues warnings or direct point deductions first before disqualifying a boxer.
Egregious ConductContestants may be disqualified without warning for particularly egregious conduct such as kicking a downed opponent, hair pulling, or using loaded gloves.
Violation by Fighter’s CornerViolation of other rules by a fighter’s corner, such as cornermen entering the ring or striking the opponent can result in disqualification. This is even though such behavior is not strictly under the fighter’s control.
Not Fighting or Excessive HoldingA boxer may also be disqualified if the referee deems that he or she is not fighting, or holding excessively.
Hitting Below the BeltThis is when a fighter hits their opponent below the waistline, which is illegal in boxing.
BitingBiting is a serious offense in boxing, and it can result in immediate disqualification.
Head-buttingThis is when a fighter leads with their head, and it can cause serious injury to the opponent. Head-butting is illegal in boxing, and it can lead to disqualification.
Using Illegal SubstancesUsing illegal substances, such as steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs, is prohibited in boxing. If a fighter is caught using illegal substances, they can be disqualified.
Refusing to Obey the RefereeRefusing to obey the referee’s instructions can result in disqualification. This includes ignoring warnings and continuing to break the rules.
Unsporting BehaviourViolating any boxing rules and regulations will get considered as a foul. Some unsporting behaviour and fighting fouls are more serious than others.
Violating Boxing RulesThere are various rules in boxing like not hitting below the belt, not hitting with an open glove, the inside of the glove, the wrist, the backhand, or the side of the hand, not punching your opponent in the back, on their kidneys (kidney punch), or back of his head or neck (rabbit punch), etc. Violation of these rules can result in disqualification.
Injury Caused by FoulIf a boxing foul results in an injury and causes the fight to end immediately, the boxer who committed the foul can be disqualified.
Disrespecting RefereeDisrespecting a referee or failing to follow his instructions is a foul in boxing and can result in disqualification.
Excessive ShowboatingDisplays of excessive showboating are not tolerated in professional boxing matches. Showboating means using too much talking or gesturing and not enough fighting. This can lead to disqualification.

What Are the Most Common Ways Someone Will Get DQ in Boxing?

The most common ways someone will get DQ in boxing are usually:

  • intentional low blows
  • using the gloved hand’s backside
  • hitting a downed competitor
  • holding the ropes- to name just a few

On top of those another prominent cause for DQ is the refusal to follow the referee’s instructions. Boxers are expected to respect them as authority figures in the ring, if they don’t is not uncommon they will receive a DQ.

An example of this was the rematch between Riddick Bowe and Andrew Golota, which ended in chaos due to repeated low blows by Golota, resulting in his DQ.

How Is a DQ Different From a TKO or a KO?

While a DQ, TKO, and KO can all serve as methods of deciding a match’s outcome, their meanings and implications diverge significantly. As we mentioned:

  • a DQ happens when a fighter blatantly breaks the rules, leading to their competitor’s win.
  • A TKOindicates a situation in which a fighter can no longer defend themselves effectively, prompting the referee to call off the match.
  • A KO occurs when a boxer is knocked down and incapable of rising within a ten-count (and/or knocked unconscious)

What Are Some Famous Matches That Ended With a DQ?

There have been some pretty high-profile fights, ending in disqualification.

  • One such notable matchup was between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield in 1997. The infamous match saw Tyson disqualified for biting Holyfield’s ear which eanred him a DQ.
  • Another memorable “DQ” was the matchup between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Victor Ortiz in 2011. During the fight, Ortiz headbutted Mayweather intentionally, leading to a point deduction. To apologize, Ortiz approached Mayweather to hug him. As Ortiz tried to untangle, Mayweather seized the opportunity to deliver two swift punches, knocking Ortiz out (Many believed a DQ should have been called, but it wasn’t.)

What Does It Mean When You Throw in the Towel in Boxing?

The phrase “throwing in the towel” is an indication from one fighter’s corner that they wish the match to be halted prematurely, meaning that they’ve decided their fighter cannot safely continue.

Throwing in the towel is usually done as a precautionary safety measure.

What’s the Difference Between KO and TKO in MMA and UFC?

When it comes to KO and TKO in MMA they are actually very similar to boxing – the difference arise when it comes to submissions:

A Knock Out (KO) in MMA and UFC is generally declared when a fighter loses consciousness due to the opposing fighter’s legal strike or strikes. The loss of consciousness in this scenario necessitates not the actual physical incapacity but merely the state of unconsciousness induced by a legitimate strike.

A Technical Knock Out (TKO) is declared when a referee intervenes as one fighter, despite being conscious, is no longer defending themselves adequately. This intervention is crucial to safeguard the fighter from unnecessary harm. Thus, the subtle distinctions in KO and TKO rulings between different combat sports are vital in appreciating the sport’s depth and complexity.

Is a Submission a TKO in UFC?

A submission in MMA, and particularly the UFC, stands entirely different than a TKO. A submssion is a completely different for of a decisive win. So a submission is not a TKO.

A TKO signifies a situation in which the referee deems a fighter unfit to proceed with the encounter. Despite the fighter being conscious, he’s unable to combat the ferocious blows of his opponent due to his physical limitations or the overwhelming intensity of the fight.

A submission is when a fighter uses a joint lock or strangulation and forces their opponent to “tap out” to acknowledge that they are unable to defend themselves or prevent serious damage at which point a referee will then intervene to stop the fight.

KO vs TKO in Kickboxing

Kickboxing and Boxing share similarities, but their rules and regulations differ slightly:

Just like in boxing, in kickboxing, a KO is characterized by a fighter being knocked out completely – either losing consciousness or falling to the ground and failing to rise within the referee’s count of ten. The main diffference arises in the type of strikes permitted in kickboxing since kickboxing allows both kicks and punches.

A TKO in kickboxing involves the same intervention of an external player such as the referee, match doctor, or even the fighter’s corner to stop the fight.

What about KO and TKO in Muay Thai?

A KO in Muay Thai is pretty much the same as in boxing – it occurs when a fighter lands a powerful strike – be it a punch, kick, knee, or elbow – rendering his opponent unconscious or failing to get up within the referee’s count.

As in boxing and kickboxing, the fighter needs not to lose consciousness for the bout to be declared a KO.

A TKO, however, is a more intricate concept in Muay Thai. Although a fighter being unable to intelligently defend themselves may provoke a TKO, Muay Thai also recognizes ‘verbal surrenders’ as a form of TKO.

This means that a fighter who declares, either through gesturing to the referee or verbal communication, their unwillingness to continue the match prompts a TKO.

Additionally, numerous strikes landing unanswered or an evident lack of will to fight, even if the competitor does not collapse, can also trigger a TKO, demonstrating a commitment to fighter safety, just as in boxing and kickboxing.

Related Frequently Asked Questions

If you finish a fighter with a liver shot or a body shot, is it considered a TKO or a KO?

This primarily depends on the reactions of the struck fighter and the referee’s decision.

  • If the recipient of the liver shot crumbles and is rendered incapacitated to resume the fight within a specific countdown period, the match could be designated as a KO.
  • Or, if the fighter, while maintaining consciousness, is unable to adequately defend themselves, the referee may halt the bout and subsequently declare it a TKO.

Which Boxers Have the Most Knockout Wins?

George Foreman holds a striking 83.9% career knockout rate with 76 wins (68 by knockout).

Another fight with an extremely high number of knockouts is Billy Bird. He totaled 138 knockouts during his remarkable career that spanned more than two decades. Despite his reign primarily in the lower ranks local boxing scene, Bird’s knockout record remains virtually untouched to this date.


How Does a Referee Determine a Knockout (KO)?

A knockout is primarily declared when a fighter is no longer capable of defending himself effectively, usually due to damaging blows by the opponent leading to loss of consciousness or severe disorientation.

Referees commence a count of up to ten, post which if the boxer does not regain footing or assure the referee of his ability to continue, the fight is declared to be a KO.


What is the Difference Between KO and TKO in Boxing?

Simply put , a KO typically happens when a boxer is knocked down and fails to stand before the referee finishes the ten-count.

A Technical Knockout (TKO) is declared when a boxer, though conscious, is incapacitated to such an extent that continuing the bout would be unsafe. Here, the referee steps in to prevent serious harm, considering factors like a fighter’s ability to defend himself, severe injuries or overwhelming exhaustion.


At What Weight Classes Do the Most Knockouts Occur?

At ~160lbs/70kg (Middleweight) it’s not uncommon to see knockouts while weight classes lower than middleweight its a bit more uncommon to see knockouts.

Majority of knockouts occur Light Heavyweight and above (175+) and based on figures from Patrick Connor, a boxing statistician and historian, confirmed that heavyweight boxers have a relatively higher KO ratio of approximately 75% due to their inherent size and power, while welterweights record a lower KO ratio, nearly 50%.