Dealing with the worst situation ever in boxing—GETTING KNOCKED OUT!
I think it’s the worst case scenario in life. Imagine getting knocked out by another man in front of your girlfriend, friends, family, and a loud screaming crowd of strangers. OH, HOW EMBARRASSING! Multiply that feeling times a hundred if your opponent’s a cocky jerk.
If losing your pride wasn’t enough, you’ll also have to deal with the hardest parts of getting knocked down:
- staying calm
- getting back up
- fighting back
- AND regaining your confidence!
The good news is that getting knocked out really isn’t that bad. It doesn’t hurt. It won’t change who you are, and you only grow from it anyway. It’s very common in boxing and happens to even the best fighters in the world.
Here’s how they overcome it:
DISClAIMER: I’ve never been knocked down in my life.
There was one time when a very powerful friend went berserk and I voluntarily took a knee to calm him down rather than fire back. There was another time when I was still a beginner and my trainer jumped into the ring to stop an experienced opponent from landing a billion more punches on me. Those two moments were pretty much the closest I’ve ever been put down so I can’t speak too much from personal experience. Anything that I share in this article comes from observing my friends!
1. GET UP, but not so quick!
This is going to be the hardest part. I used to think getting knocked down was something like getting pushed down; you fall to the ground and simply get back up. After seeing a handful of friends get knocked down, I realized it’s more like a blink. Imagine if you were to be upright—YOU BLINK—and then you find yourself on the canvas. It’s like the falling down part never happened. You simply teleported from standing up to laying down. Kind of like when you fall asleep while driving and nod yourself awake wondering where you are.
The first thing that’ll happen is you’ll look around with a *HUH?* feeling? You’ll wonder how you got there and may even find yourself confused by all the screaming fans and noise. Everybody will be screaming at you…the ref, your trainer, all of the audience. If you’re totally out, just try to get up. If you’re somewhat cognizant, WAIT till the count of 8, THEN get up. The reason is because while your head and body may FEEL fine, your neural system is still re-coordinating and your legs might not function properly. It’s like when you feel fine sitting down while drinking, but immediately start stumbling around when you get up.
If you’re somewhat cognizant, WAIT till the count of 8.
Some folks will even forget the ENTIRE knockdown sequence. They don’t even remember the round. They don’t remember getting knocked down. They don’t remember getting up. It’s like they went auto-pilot. BODY SHOT knockdowns are a totally different story. These are painful as hell and you’re 100% conscious when it happens.
2. Regain BALANCE!
Some guys will try to bounce up and down or jog around the ring. Others will try to plant their feet and not give away their shaky legs. I’ve never been here before but I would say try not to sit still, move a little, BREATHE! The hardest part for many fighters after getting knocked down is that they don’t realize they’re vulnerable. They don’t realize their balance is off. Many of them actually feel fine. No pain at all!
Try to regain your balance even if you feel fine!
Not realizing when you’re vulnerable leaves perceptible to getting knocked down again or even getting knocked out. You might feel OK but you’re not! Be cautious and try to make it out of the round alive. I’ve seen a handful of fighters get up just fine, walk around just fine, and they lift their hands when the ref asks. Everything LOOKS ok…and then they throw a punch and it’s the slowest thing in the world! And they get countered and knocked out.
3. Stay CALM, but counter!
This is gonna be the hardest part…staying cool after you just got put down. It’s hard to do in sparring and especially hard to do in fights. Try keeping your composure when you have a hundred people yelling, “OOOOOOOOOHHHHHHH!” and laughing at you after you get knocked down. If you have a cocky opponent with a big mouth, multiply that feeling times a hundred.
At this point, you’re probably either wanting to: A) go into pure defensive mode, B) cry out of anger/humiliation, C) knock your opponent out, or D) fight everybody in the stands. And I don’t blame you! That’s what I’d be doing, too.
But the best decision is actually: E) set traps while regaining your balance.
Trying to go purely defensive or purely offensive is most likely only going to get you knocked out. I will admit, I absolutely love it when the knocked down fighter comes back with a vengeance. Some of the best fights happened this way. Somebody gets knocked down, their inner beast is awakened, and they go terrorize the other fighter.
However, staying calm while looking for countering opportunities is your best chance of getting revenge. There’s a good chance he’ll be extra aggressive in trying to finish you off and leave himself open. There’s also a chance he might tire himself out. Unless you have a fantastic chin or great defense (probably not since you just went down), you’ll have to fire back a little to keep him off you. (Fights can get stopped prematurely if you don’t throw anything back.)
If you’re so hurt that you absolutely need to go into pure defensive mode, I suggest you do it by clinching rather than by running (unless you have amazing legs and height/reach advantage). Those getting up from body shot knockdowns, I feel for you. Those are painful as hell, absolutely crippling. All you can do is pin your arms down and be very careful when you lift an arm to counter.
How to Recover from a Knockout (physically)
If you feel headaches or dizziness, go to the HOSPITAL!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard of fighters going into a coma (or even dying) after getting headaches from sparring or a fight. It’s not that it happens so often but it’s that it always happens in that order. Some kid down the street got into a brutal sparring match against someone beyond his level, was trying to be tough and wouldn’t quit. He made it through all three rounds without getting knocked down, then complained of headaches, then lost conscious immediately or hours later. Was rushed to the hospital and died. If you feel like you might have any concussion systems, go get it checked out.
Boxing is a serious sport. The best route is honestly prevention. And you can prevent it by understanding that boxing is dangerous and should be trained with utmost respect to the sport. Be tough in training, be tough in fights, but if you feel something is off—speak up and tell someone. Don’t let time pass.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but no hard sparring. Maybe not even light sparring. Give yourself a month or so. It also depends on how long you were out for. If you were just buzzed, maybe a good week should be safe. If you were totally out for 5 minutes, I would honestly recommend 3-6 months. You can still train and work the mitts and all but really take the extra time needed to give your brain a chance to recover. Feeling like you’re 100% and actually being 100% are two totally different things. Your body has a way of giving its greatest effort before it snaps.
If you get headaches or feel weird, please don’t spar until you’ve felt perfect for a whole month. If you went to the hospital with bleeding in the brain, STOP FIGHTING and do another sport! Seriously. I don’t mean to scare you but at least this can make you take the sport more seriously and especially take your defense seriously. You also need to train within your limits. None of that “tough guy” shit that can get you seriously hurt.
I don’t believe in punch-absorption exercises, to be honest. I’ve heard of things like working out your neck and chin and what not but I don’t believe in it. Strengthening your neck and jaw muscles might help somewhat but most of your ability to take a hard shot is going to come from your reflexes and defensive skills. You’ll have to work on those things so that you can feel absolutely comfortable and know how to respond.
It might also be that you’re blind to certain shots and the shots you don’t see will always be the ones that hurt you the most. It’s never only about the power but the way you fight. Be smart!
Recovering after a Knockout Loss (mentally)
It’s the most embarrassing thing in the world. One of the few things I know that can make a grown man cry. That’s how bad it is. And it’s never about the physical pain (that’s easily forgotten) but the emotional scars that seem to last forever. It’s psychological torment if you get knocked out by a guy you hate, too. You respect yourself less as a man, maybe feel even inferior to another man. Feel like a total loser. Or that you’re not the great champion you thought you were. And all your friends and family saw you get knocked out—AGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!
If it’s even worse when it’s your first pro fight. All your dreams of an undefeated record are OVER! And still even worse if you DO have an undefeated record but then get stopped. Sometimes undefeated fighters get stopped by a lucky punch against even a non-threatening opponent with many losses. You feel so incredibly angry at yourself for letting it happen.
EVERYONE gets knocked down
Before you let your mind spin out of control with self-defeating thoughts, you should know that knockdowns are common in boxing. It’s a regular occurrence! Common, routine, regular, NORMAL! It happens a lot in fighting. Even the top pros, even the top amateurs, even Mike Tyson has been knocked down and knocked out in fights (and also sparring). Even the guys with the best chins can get knocked out. It can happen to any fighter on an given night. And it happens A LOT to first time fighters in sparring and again for first time amateur fights.
Getting knocked down or knocked out happens to even the best boxers!
One little moment doesn’t represent the entirety of your fighting identity. Just as knocking out one opponent doesn’t make you the best fighter in the world, getting yourself knocked out once doesn’t make you the worst fighter in the world. Take the good with the bad, the wins with the losses, the triumphs with the lessons, and keep moving along. Moving through adversity will get you very far in life!
Training to prevent future knockdowns or knockouts
Go back to working your defense. Doing tons of defense drills is great but it’s better to study your sparring footage and see when your hands drop. Also pay attention to how you trade punches. Some guys trade punches in a way that make them especially vulnerable to knockout counters. It also helps to spar with more different styles of opponents to get accustomed to all the tricky punches out there.
Lots of mitt drills, sparring, and video review. Building your reflexes and coordination will help more than anything else. Keep getting more comfortable in the ring and you’ll find it’s almost impossible to ever get knocked out again. The fear goes away eventually and you might even forget that you ever got knocked out.
Regaining confidence after a knockout loss
This will probably be the hardest one. I think the worst mentality you can have is to walk around thinking you’re damaged goods or that you’re not as invincible as you were before. You’re not broken, not damaged, no less of a person. Remember, you DON’T KNOW what you really are. You don’t know what’s really inside of you. You’re still growing, developing, and building up to your ultimate self. You’re still a work in progress, not the finished product! Nobody—not even yourself—can judge you until everything is over.
Another false mentality is to believe that, “Oh, it was just a mistake.” or “oh, my opponent got lucky” or “oh, it was an off-night for me” or “that wasn’t really me in there”. Knockouts should be taken seriously. Now that you know it can happen, you have to accept it as a learning opportunity. Go back to the drawing board and assess yourself honestly. Are you still dropping your hands? Do you have a lazy jab? Do you have any bad habits or predictable pattern somewhere? Are you too eager in certain moments? You may be relieved to find the problem has more to do with your technique or strategy rather than your toughness as a fighter or who you are as a person.
What’s the absolute worst case scenario? That you have a weak chin. That’s pretty much it, nothing else. It doesn’t mean you suck as a fighter. Also doesn’t mean you can’t be champion anymore. Nothing is lost. If you have a weak chin, you work through it. If you don’t have a weak chin, that’s even better. Either way, you STILL have to grow no matter what. As you keep training and developing yourself more, you come to realize the knockout loss was just a FUN experience to be had along your journey. A good story to tell your grand kids one day. It never changed who you were as a person. It never took anything from you. It probably made you tougher and you’re all the better for it.
Knockouts define you by what you do afterwards.
CREDIT to Ayrton for suggesting the post idea. Anybody else got tips or stories of their own? Please share below!
I liked most of the article but I don’t agree with what you say about not training your chin, I do think having more strong neck muscles help your head to get a shoot.
Thanks for commenting here, Daniel. I do think having strong neck muscles will help absorb punches but without good punch awareness, you won’t know when to brace those muscles. And for that reason, I think your time is better spent doing defensive drills and reflex training. It’s like having strong arms versus having good punch timing….who hits harder?–a guy lifting weights everyday or a guy hitting the double-end bag every day? You could always make the case that somebody should do both, but for beginners I’d rather fast track them to technique work right away as that makes a far bigger difference in the beginning.
Every boxer should know basic concussion protocols and the different stages of brain bleeds. Plenty of info available from good sources like the Mayo clinic. Also you can bruise your brain from sparring and should take note of how many shots you take and take a break from your next planned session if needed, especially leading up to a match when you may be sparring upwards of three times a week. Great long overdue article Johnny!
Absolutely, Joshua! I was thinking of putting that info here as well but it’s way too technical and should probably be reserved for its own article.
Sigh. I wish there was some way to protect against a sucker punch on the street, going down like a tree getting chopped down, hitting your head and either brain damage or die. We just had an Australian tourist here in SF who got sucker punched a late night altercation and died.
That’s very unfortunate, Randy. 🙁
Yup. I see it all the time in the news. Sucker punched, the punch doesn’t hurt them but the fall and hitting head does.
After posting that comment I did remember as boxers our skills and instincts will help a lot to at least minimize that possibility as we understand range, inside defense and such.
Thanks for answering all my questions with this post. I might sound like a groupie here but I felt quite special when I opened up onto your site to see that you’ve posted something on the topic hahaha. I’m especially thankful for the credit at the end.
This post was truly insightful. I’m definitely going to train harder to find balance between offence and defense. I unfortunately don’t have a strong chin- just a light tap and I can already feel the ache in my ears. When this happens I instinctively go into a clinching position. I’ve been knocked down because of this before and Ironically it wasn’t the connecting shot that got me down but the following punches around my clinch afterwards that aggravated the trauma further, thus forcing me to drop. So I’ll need to work more offensively next time.
You really hit home with the neural recovery thing. It makes absolute sense. I figured I will have to devise a strategic “getting up and recovering” routine to re-coordinate my neural system. Throw a couple of shadow punches, do squats, shake the body, before the ref allows me to continue with the fight. A proper routine. Hell, I might even turn it into a dance. I might just become synonymous for it.
The most important thing that I’ve gained from this post, or rather lost, is that fear of getting knocked out. I think everyone knows that a knockout is a common occurrence in boxing, but like relating to anything else you read, you just need someone to confirm it to you. Thanks for reminding me that even the great Tyson has been knocked out. I’ve only had two amateur fights and have yet to be knocked out but I think it’s that fear of being knocked out in the ring that could do me the most harm. Fearing an outcome might manifest it.
Overall, very great advice. Always appreciate the insight here on Expert Boxing.
Thank you very much.
I’m glad you like the post, Ayrton. It’s a great topic for everyone, not only yourself. Very often the question nobody asks is the one everyone wants to know.
I was set up in the streets and got sucker punched not only that after hitting me the guy had broken my nose and my eye socket and then would run away and run back in but never stood toe to toe. Stick and move tactics in a way. My girlfriend dumped me said i didnt protect myself. Its been a year and an half now it still taking a toll on me? Do you have any advice? Also tips on how to make sure this never happens again? Also boxing for self defense and speed tips so they cant get away with those tactics? side note police and attorneys refused to prosecute or charge the guy and said had i struck back i wouldve been arrested despite all the witnesses were on my side. Hey got in my face i said i dont want no problems extended my hand in friendship he acted like he was walking away then sucker punched me. Its still got me messed up. The time off work to recover got me terminated as well. Any advice from anyone helps.
side note despite the injuries i remained on my toes the whole time.
Hey Johnny, What are some ways you can work through having a weak chin? any feedback you can give would be much appreciated.
If you have a weak chin, I highly recommend becoming an in-rhythm fighter as opposed to an off-rhythm fighter. Learn how to shoulder roll as that always keeps you in rhythm with the punches and everything they throw will roll off of you.
Thanks for the feedback Johnny, what would be some good drills to train to develop, these skills?
Im look like everything you say
I have a sparring
I said i want slowsparring
But the guy fighting hard, im a beginer i dont know how to do
And i dont quit so i take milion punch
Now my head is not good
But no one told me what my fail
I want to be a fighter
But now i dont know what to do
Sorry to hear this, Dan! You’ll have to find coaches and sparring partners who will go slower so you can learn.
I went down half way through the first round of my second amateur fight after taking a hard right to the head. I was out for about a second or so on my feet, but I clearly remember the fall. Got up well enough but the referee wisely ended the fight. I felt no shame or embarrassment at all. It’s just what can happen in this sport when you compete against a better opponent. Tennis players smash big aces, basketballers do massive dunks or blocks, batsmen hit balls out of the field, etc… and boxers knock down their opponents. If you experience it, then acknowledge it, learn from it, and move forward. Frazier put down Ali and Ali didn’t give it all up. He just dealt with it and got on with his career. In my opinion, there’s too much manly bunkum in boxing around things like knock downs/outs. The best go down, the average go down, the worst go down. Everyone goes down.
Very well put out.
Reading this 1 day after my first knock out was the best thing that happened.