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Key Differences Between TKO and KO in MMA – Simply Explained

Photo by Matthew Walsh

There are two common ways of winning an MMA match. You can either get a TKO or a KO. But what do these terms mean and what is the difference between them?  

A TKO or Technical Knockout is when a fighter is unable to competently defend themselves. Sometimes, a TKO will occur when doctors or medical staff will decide that it is no longer safe for a fighter to continue the match. On the other hand, a KO or Knockout occurs when a blow renders a fighter unconscious. 

While this can seem like an easy distinction, there are a few rules that referees need to follow before declaring a TKO. Keep reading to find out more about each of these finishes. 

What is the Difference Between KO and TKO

Let’s take a closer look at each of these options, to get a better understanding of the way that they are declared. 

What is KO in UFC/MMA?

The knockout is one of the easiest finishes to identify. One fighter will receive a blow. Then, they will temporarily lose consciousness. Even if they only lose consciousness for a few seconds, the fight is over. Unlike in boxing, there is no ten-count.

It should be noted that there is a range of blows that can cause loss of consciousness. The most common is a hit to the head. However, it’s also possible that a KO can also come from a well-timed body shot to the liver. 

After the KO has been declared, the fighter will need to go see the ringside doctor, where they will be medically accessed. Often, they will be given a medical suspension. This means that they won’t be able to compete for 30 days, to give their bodies some time to recover. Sometimes, a fighter can lose consciousness because of a chokehold. This isn’t declared a KO. It will be a submission. 

What is a TKO in UFC/MMA?

The technical knockout is more subjective. It occurs when a fighter can’t defend themselves. This will often mean that they have lost the ability to block blows. In this case, the referee will step in to put an end to the match, protecting the health of the athletes. However, the fighter won’t have lost consciousness. 

Often, a TKO will occur on the ground, with the dominant fighter able to get into a superior position. However, there are some instances of a TKO occurring while a fighter is still standing. While they might not have lost consciousness, they might no longer be able to hit back. Often, they will only be able to stay on their feet by hanging onto the cage. This is commonly referred to as being “out on their feet”. 

Another example is a position known as “The Turtle”. In this case, a fighter will be pinned on their back and unable to get up. They will put their hands over their head, to protect themselves. But the opponent will still be able to make good strikes. Though they might still be conscious, they are unable to mount a defense. In this case, the referee will call a TKO.

UFC Derek Brunson wins via TKO

While these are the most common reasons why a TKO will be declared, there are a few other instances where a TKO can be declared;

  • One fighter has received a severe injury, which makes them unable to continue fighting. 
  • Some cuts might cause so much bleeding that they reduce visibility. 
  • When the trainer or coach throws in the towel. 

Each of these is related to medical problems that have occurred during the match. Between rounds, the cutman will come into the ring and stem bleeding

If the cut occurs during the match, and the fighter starts bleeding, the referee will decide what to do. If it is a minor cut, they will allow it to continue. However, if it a serious cut, they might decide to pause the match. This allows them to consult with the ringside doctor, to see if it is safe to continue. If it is, the bout resumes. 

If it isn’t, the match will be ended. At this point, it will be called a TKO. After this, there will procedures. The most common is the fighter getting a medical suspension. In this case, they will be unable to enter another bout within 30 days. This ensures that they have enough time to recover. 

Is Tapping to Strikes a Submission or TKO?

In MMA, fighters have the opportunity to tap out during a match. This often happens when they are placed into a submission move. Once they have tapped out, the fight is immediately stopped by the referee. 

How this is treated will depend on the circumstances in which the tap out occurred. For example, imagine the fight goes to the matt and a chokehold is applied. Then, the fighter taps out. In this case, it counts as a submission, because they were put into a hold. 

On the other hand, some people will tap out after receiving strikes. In the absence of a chokehold, it will be deemed a TKO. 

Is Throwing in the Towel a TKO?

Some trainers will opt to stop a fight. The main reason they do this is that they want to prevent their fighter from taking any more damage. Most coaches will be reluctant to stop a fight, making this a rare sight. To decide whether to throw in the towel, they will consider a lot of factors;

  • The severity of the injury
  • The fighter. Some people will expect the coach to pull them out, others will want to finish the fight no matter what. 
  • How long the match has to go
  • The importance of the fight. Most coaches are very reluctant to call off a title match. 
  • The odds that they will be able to win the match
  • The personality of the training team

Once the coach throws in the towel, the match is stopped. This is a TKO. 

Other Ways of Finishing an MMA Fight

While TKO and KO are the most common finishes, they aren’t the only way to conclude a fight. Some of the other potential finishes will include;

  • Submission. This is when a fighter taps out, this often happens after they have been put into a hold. 
  • Disqualification. This occurs when one person uses an illegal move. 
  • Forfeit. This needs to happen before the fighting starts. It’s most common when one of the participants is injured. 
  • No Contest. This happens when both people violate the rules of the fight. 
  • Decision. The fight finishes and heads to the judges who then score the bout to decide who won.  

Is TKO or KO Better?

Both a TKO and a KO will result in the end of the fight. As soon as a fighter scores a TKO or a KO, they are declared the winner. Both reflect strongly on the record and will boost their ranking within the sport. 

Getting a lot of strong KOs or TKOs is needed to build a strong reputation within the MMA. This will help them advance their careers, earning their way to more title bouts. Some athletes have a prefer KO. This is the most unambiguous. They clearly bested the opponent. 

While a TKO finish can sometimes get messy, as it relies on the judgment of the referee. This has led to a lot of controversial moments, with fans at odds with the decision of the referees. 

Final Thoughts

Two of the most popular ways of finishing a match are with a KO or TKO. While these are similar, there is a key difference. The fighters’ ability to defend themselves. In a KO, they have lost consciousness. In a TKO, they are still conscious but are unable to fight back. Both forms of victory are highly prized in competition and can help a fighter build their reputation.