TKO and KO

Difference Between TKO and KO (MMA, Boxing, Muay Thai, Kickboxing)

KO and TKO are two terminologies people often use in the martial arts domain. The abbreviation KO signifies “knockout,” while TKO stands for “technical knockout.” Both terms refer to fighting criteria pro fighters use to secure their victory in games. However, they’re somewhat distinct, as you may have guessed from their names.

This piece extensively differentiates between knockout and technical knockout in various combat sports. After flipping through the article, you’ll appreciate what makes KO and TKO spectacular in the martial arts world.

A Recap of Knockout (KO)

A knockout (KO) is a fight-winning standard involving disorienting or destabilizing the opponent till they lose coordination or consciousness. Suppose you legally knock down your opponent to a point where they can’t get back on their feet within a countdown of ten. In that case, you’ve won the fight by KO.

The KO criterion of winning a match applies to several full-contact combat sports, including boxing, mixed martial arts, Muay Thai, and kickboxing.

A Recap of Technical Knockout (TKO)

A technical knockout (TKO) isn’t exactly equivalent to a conventional knockout. Still, both criteria have the same implications — deciding the fight’s winner. A TKO refers to a situation where the referee decides during a fighting round that a fighter can’t safely go on with the game for any reason. Occasionally, the official attending physicians are allowed to discontinue the fight to deter critical injuries or other harm to the fighter at the receiving end.

A match is usually declared a TKO if a combatant is knocked down thrice in one round. Another term for a technical knockout is “stoppage.”

Read More: What Is TKO in Boxing? (Ultimate Guide)

What Causes a KO?

A knockout mostly involves the fighter losing consciousness during the match. This lack of consciousness may occur due to a cerebral concussion or a syncope-associated carotid sinus reflex sustained from an impactful blow to the jawline or temples (head blows).

Similarly, severe body blows—especially a liver punch—can result in progressive, weakening pain that may lead to a knockout. Other factors that could contribute to a knockout include exhaustion and disorientation.

What Causes a TKO?

A technical knockout doesn’t necessarily require loss of consciousness. Severe debilitating pain, disorientation, and exhaustion can result in a TKO.

Some Combat Sports Where KO and TKO Are Applicable

Various full-contact combat sports employ knockout (KO) and technical knockout (TKO) as game-winning measures.

Some relatable examples include:

  • Boxing
  • Mixed martial arts (MMA)
  • Muay Thai
  • Kickboxing

Although the idea of KO and TKO are largely similar in martial arts, the standards and rules for defining both fight-deciding criteria vary with the sport in question.

Accordingly, we’ll discuss the grounds for KO and TKO in the combat sports mentioned above.

Knockout (KO) in Boxing

Generally, in boxing, a fighter is said to have won a match by KO when their opponent collapses or falls on the canvas and is unable to regain their footing within the count of ten (10 seconds).

This countdown rule applies when the opponent is knocked down but isn’t unconscious yet. So, the knocked-down fighter needs to get back on their feet and prove to the referee that they can continue the match. The referee will conclude the match and declare a KO if they can’t achieve this aim.

The most incontestable KO criterion in boxing entails a boxer knocking their opponent unconscious. In this case, the match is instantly interrupted, and the winner is immediately decided. On the other hand, if you’re knocked down on the ground, you must stand up before the referee stops counting and sufficiently signifies you can go on with the fight.

You must also answer the referee’s questions once you’re on your feet, as failure to respond may suggest you’re disoriented. This situation will make the referee declare a KO to your opponent’s advantage.

Hence, surviving the 10 seconds count, standing up, and appearing well isn’t enough to evade a KO. Your response is highly important if you’re knocked down in boxing.

Knockout (KO) in Mixed Martial Arts

Knockouts in mixed martial arts (MMA) are quite similar to those in boxing. Like in boxing, the referee immediately declares a KO if a fighter slips out of consciousness in MMA. Still, KOs in MMA have their peculiarities.

MMA considers how a fighter lost consciousness before affirming a KO. For instance, if an MMA fighter becomes unconscious due to choking, the game isn’t recorded as a KO. Rather, it’ll be registered as a submission.

So, what counts as a KO in MMA?

A KO is awarded in MMA when a combatant loses consciousness after being punched or kicked. However, a fighter can also win a game by KO in MMA even if they don’t knock their opponent unconscious. This scenario may involve a situation where the opponent can’t intelligently defend themselves when being repeatedly hit or receiving a severe shot to critical regions or organs, such as the liver.

In the just cited illustration, the losing fighter typically falls on the mat and can’t continue the match despite being conscious. As such, the match official must intervene and end the fight to forestall further harm.

Furthermore, another dissimilarity between knockout in MMA and KO in boxing is that a countdown isn’t used to judge a KO in MMA. Since MMA permits ground and pound and submission grappling, a fighter can keep hitting a knocked-down opponent until they lose consciousness or submit. The opponent’s submission can force the referee to interfere and declare the match a KO.

Knockout (KO) in Muay Thai

In Muay Thai, a fighter may win a match by KO if their opponent loses consciousness or fails a count of ten after being knocked down like in boxing. However, the KO countdown in Muay Thai takes a unique turn.

Suppose a knocked-down Muay Thai fighter manages to get on their feet and is ready to resume the fight before the referee counts to eight. In that case, the referee must keep counting until they order “fight!”

Also, let’s consider a knocked-down fighter is willing to continue the fight before the countdown elapses but falls again without any further blow. In such a situation, the referee continues to count from the number they stopped. The fighter on the floor is announced to have lost the round by “knockout” if the referee completes the count to ten.

Knockout (KO) in Kickboxing

Knockouts in kickboxing are identical to the KOs awarded in conventional boxing. If a kickboxer falls to the ground and can’t endure a ten-second count due to pain, fatigue, or disorientation, their opponent is declared the winner by KO. It’s even easier to confer a KO if a participant is knocked unconscious.

Technical Knockout (TKO) in Boxing

A TKO is granted in boxing when the referee feels one of the participants can’t properly and successfully defend themselves in the middle of a bout.

For instance, suppose a boxer is continuously punching their opponent, and the fighter on the receiving end keeps taking the blows without any form of resistance. In that case, the referee will meddle, terminate the game, and announce a TKO. The reason for the referee’s decision is that although the opponent is still conscious, they’re evidently unable to go on with the match.

An earlier knockdown may also motivate the referee to stop the fight.

Injury is another motive for a stoppage in boxing. If the referee or ringside physician notices a participant can’t continue the fight due to an injury, the game ends as a TKO.

Therefore, the major difference between a KO and a TKO in boxing is that a KO occurs when the fighter can’t continue the fight because they’re unconscious. On the other hand, in TKO, the ground for the stoppage is that the losing fighter is conscious but can’t proceed with the combat.

Technical Knockout (TKO) in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

Technical knockouts in MMA are quite parallel to their boxing counterparts.

Here, a TKO is recorded when one of the fighters is repeatedly struck and can’t shield themselves from the battery. So, the referee interferes and ends the game to avert severe harm. This event usually occurs near the railing or when a participant has the upper position on the canvas.

Like in boxing, an injury may also trigger a TKO in MMA. This spur is more frequent in mixed martial arts since fractures and critical injuries occur more often in the octagon than in the boxing ring.

Technical Knockout (TKO) in Muay Thai

In the Muay Thai tenets, Rule 14.3 concerns technical knockout decisions.

According to the rules of Muay Thai, a Muay Thai boxer may win a contest by TKO if:

  • they clearly outclassed their opponent or one-sidedly outpointed them so that the opponent was severely injured,
  • their opponent can’t go on with the match immediately after the round’s resting period,
  • their opponent is so critically injured that they can’t continue the fight,
  • the referee has counted for the other participant more than twice in one round or more than four times generally since the first round,
  • the other fighter has fallen out of the ring and can’t re-enter the ring after the match official has counted “ยี่สิบ” (YISIP) or twenty,
  • their opponent voluntarily withdraws from the match due to injury or another reason.

Technical Knockout (TKO) in Kickboxing

In kickboxing, a referee declares a TKO when they decide a fighter can’t safely go on with the game for any reason.

Differences Between KO and TKO in Brief

Loss of Consciousness A KO is awarded when a fighter is knocked unconscious Loss of consciousness isn’t necessary
Count The referee performs a count of ten, except in MMA TKO doesn’t require a count
Cause of Stoppage Unconsciousness, disorientation, exhaustion, or severe injuries The referee deems the losing fighter can’t continue with the match due to injury or harm
Aftermath A KO decides a game; the knocked-out fighter loses the match A TKO decides a game; the TKOed fighter loses the match

Other Types of Knockout

Technical knockout is considered a type of knockout in combat sports, and a TKO counts as a KO in a fighter’s record. Still, other variants of knockout exist.

Other types of KO apart from TKO include:

Double Knockout

A double knockout occurs when the two fighters simultaneously exchange blows and knock each other out. The scenario also renders both fighters unable to proceed with the match. In such a situation, the game is declared a draw.


A knockdown involves a fighter touching the floor with any body part besides the feet after a hit. The condition is offset if the combatant regains a standing position and resumes the fight.

Similarly, the term applies to situations where a fighter is caught between the ropes or hanging on the ropes. They may also be suspended over the ropes so they can’t fall to the canvas and defend themselves.

A knockdown provokes a count (typically to ten) by the referee, and the knockdown graduates to a knockout if the fighter on the ground fails the count.

Flash Knockdown

Technically, a flash knockdown isn’t a knockout. However, its inclusion in this piece is relevant.

A flash knockdown refers to a condition where the prizefighter hits the ground but quickly recovers and gets on their feet before the referee starts counting.


Does a TKO count as a KO?

Yes, a technical knockout is counted as a knockout in boxing and other combat sports. A boxer’s KO record includes the number of TKOs they’ve been awarded.

What’s the difference between a KO in boxing and MMA?

The major difference between a knockout in boxing and a knockout in MMA is that the latter doesn’t involve a count like in boxing.

Bottom Line

Knockout (KO) and technical knockout (TKO) are two commendable ways to win a fight in various full-contact combat sports. In a conventional KO, a fighter renders their opponent unconscious, destabilized, or disoriented. On the other hand, the referee intervenes and ends the match to save the losing fighter further harm and damage in a TKO.

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