What’s TKO Mean? (Guide to Martial Arts Terms)

When a fighter gets knocked down and can’t get back up again, it’s pretty obvious who the winner is. A knockout is a definitive way to end a fight, and is often the result of a lack of consciousness or some serious pain. But not all fights end with a winning blow.

A referee will declare a technical knockout, or TKO, when one fighter is clearly unable to defend themselves correctly. To declare a TKO no one has to be knocked unconscious, but it seems likely the final blow is on the way soon.

What's TKO Mean?

The referee simply steps in when they feel it’s necessary. 

In this guide, we’ll take a look at exactly what a TKO is, and how they differ from other victories. 

What Does TKO Mean?

In combat sports, TKO stands for ‘technical knockout’. A technical knockout occurs when a referee deems a fighter no longer able to defend themselves, even if they haven’t lost consciousness. 

Different forms of combat sports use different criteria to determine when something is a technical knockout. For example, a knockout in boxing can be determined by a ten-second count.

However, in a sport like MMA, where there is no count, this would be a technical knockout. 

In some sports, a TKO is declared when a fighter has been knocked down three times in a single round. The referee would then award a technical knockout to the fighter that delivered the blows.

Sometimes this happens because of a knockout in a previous round, or as the result of an earlier injury.

A technical knockout might also be declared when a fighter is unable to defend themselves properly. For example, when they’re taking a lot of hits, and not fighting back in an intelligent way.

The referee would recognize this as a fighter that can no longer defend themselves, and declare a TKO.

It isn’t always the referee that declares a TKO. In some cases, the attending physician might be able to stop the fight, although this is generally only found in boxing.

What’s The Difference Between A Knockout And A Technical Knockout?

A knockout (KO) occurs when a fighter is knocked unconscious for a significant period of time during a match. For a technical knockout (TKO), the fighter doesn’t have to be unconscious, but they can no longer defend themselves correctly. 

What qualifies as a knockout does vary depending on the combat sport. In boxing and kickboxing, a knockout can be declared through a count. This is when a fighter is knocked down for a certain period of time, and unable to get up.

A fighter might stay down because they lost consciousness, however briefly, but it might also be a result of pain.

Although knockouts are commonly associated with a loss of consciousness, a well aimed body blow can be painful enough to prevent an opponent getting up.

However, not all sports use the count system. In MMA, a knockout is only declared when a fighter has fallen unconscious. If a fighter briefly loses consciousness but gets up again and continues, this is still declared a KO.

Fighters using the ground and pound technique can still win via knockout.

But a technical knockout doesn’t need a fighter to stay down, or even be knocked down in the first place. Instead, a technical knockout is declared when the referee decides a fighter can no longer carry on.

They might be defending themselves poorly, or are simply unable to defend themselves at all. A technical knockout is declared when it seems letting the match continue will result in an obvious knockout. 

Is A Submission A TKO?

A submission is when a fighter is forced to tap out and forfeit the match, because otherwise they risk serious injury. This might also occur when a fighter feels they can’t defend themselves, but the referee has yet to call a technical knockout.

Whether a submission counts as a TKO depends on the sport. In UFC, a fighter tapping out is considered a technical knockout. However, in MMA, they fall into different categories.

Although the results are similar, whether the victory is declared as a TKO or a submission might affect a fighter’s stats (plus, the results of any bets that have been made on the fight). 

But the two terms tend to have a lot of overlap. A referee will often call a technical knockout as the fighter begins to tap out, or just before it occurs.

If the referee was already planning on ending the match when they spot a submission, then it can be declared a TKO anyway. After all, that was where it was heading. 

At other times, a submission might be called a technical submission. This is when a fighter hasn’t tapped out, but the referee calls the match anyway.

A technical submission occurs when an opponent isn’t going for a knockout, but is trying to force a submission. If the fighter won’t tap out (or can’t due to physical restraint), a referee could declare a technical submission.

Although a knockout is unlikely, it’s clear the fighter can’t respond. 

Does MMA Have TKO?

Yes, MMA does have technical knockouts. As there are no counts in MMA, the method for declaring a TKO is slightly different to other combat sports, such as boxing.

A TKO is declared by a referee in MMA when an opponent can clearly no longer defend themselves. This often happens when one fighter has the upper position on the ground, or close to the fence.

Injuries are pretty common in a high contact sport like MMA. Technical knockouts are often declared when one opponent has sustained an injury, but isn’t submitting. A technical knockout might also be declared when an injury looks likely. 

Final Thoughts

A knockout happens when a fighter is knocked unconscious, or is unable to continue the match. A technical knockout stops the fight before it has a chance to get to this point.

Referees will declare a TKO when a fighter is clearly unable to defend, and is likely to get knocked down soon.

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy our article on ‘How To Block A Punch‘.

Christopher Anderson
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