The Anatomy of a One-Punch Knockout

It's the moment every fight fan waits for, and every fighter dreads -- the one-punch knockout. It's an impressive and gasp-inducing sight, but what really happens during a knockout? Physicians call it a severe concussion, but for the layperson, the physiology of a knockout is a mysterious and lightning-fast series of decisions made by a fighter's body and mind.

Types of Knockouts

A one-punch knockout is what's referred to in fight circles as a clean knockout. This means that the fist connects with the head and the fighter is immediately knocked unconscious. There are also other types of knockouts, such as the flash knockout, in which the fighter experiences a momentary flash of darkness in his vision and then returns to full consciousness, often with no memory of the damaging hit. A third type is the stunned knockout, which fight announcers refer to as being "rocked." The fighter does not lose consciousness but may briefly fall to his knees or stagger, slurring his speech and then regaining equilibrium.

Your Brain on a Punch

How Does a Punch to the Jaw Cause a Knockout?

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The physiology of a one-punch knockout can be explained quite simply. The blow to the skull jostles the brain in its lake of cerebral-spinal fluid. Depending on the power of the punch, the brain is slammed back and forth against the front and back or sides of the skull. In response to this brain trauma, the central nervous system does a "re-boot" of the body systems to remove the body from the line of fire and restore blood flow and proper brain chemistry. This period of unconsciousness can last a few seconds to several minutes.

How Much Damage?

Though most spectators are of the impression that the power of a knockout punch comes from the fist, a true knockout punch begins at the feet. Boxers begin a punch by pivoting on one foot. The momentum travels up the leg, through the hips and continues through the torso, shoulder and arm to the hand. Depending on the size of the fighter throwing the punch, this kinetic linking multiplies the force of the blow. One knockout punch may not cause permanent damage to the brain, but over the course of a career, repeated blows can result in chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which may contribute to brain dysfunction like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.


The Disadvantages of Boxing

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A fighter who has been knocked out must always be cleared by a physician before he can return to the ring. If the fighter is disoriented, has slurred speech or vision disturbance, the fight will be ended. Afterward, the fighter's trainer will ice the head and have him rest in a flat position to encourage the restoration of proper blood flow.