When two men square off in a cage or ring, one of the most coveted endings imagined and hoped for by both fighters is a knock out; nothing else really speaks to the realization of imposing one's will upon another like rendering them unconscious with a single blow.
But how does a fighter accomplish this? After all, if it was as simple as connecting a fist to the face, there would be many more knockouts in the combative sports.
Some argue that it is the virtue of superior technique while others offhandedly declare it is a matter of size—which may be the reason why so many fans believe that nearly all heavyweights are knockout punchers and lighter weight fighters are not.
As it turns out, the answers can be found on both sides of the bridge: cause and effect.
There are two ways a fighter can deliver a knockout: with many punches or a single, well-placed blow.
When addressing the former, it appears that a knockout is the result of many concussions that simply overwhelm the brain's ability to keep the level of electrolytes balanced, as noted by popularmechanics.com.
As the brain struggles to maintain the balance, eventually the amount of damage caused by repeated blows to the head outweighs the brain's ability to sustain those levels and repair the damage.
When this happens, the brain shuts down to save up the needed energy to restore the chemical balance and heal the damage, leaving the fighter to tumble to the mat, unconscious.
But while this addresses the issue on a chemical level, there is still a great deal more to it than that.
When punches are thrown by a fighter who has been trained on how to do so properly, each blow utilizes a kind of kinetic chain of energy that starts at his feet and runs up through many major muscle groups: such as the calves, thighs, back muscles, pectorals, triceps and others, ending in his fist.
Often times, the result of such impact is the acceleration of the facial bones and cranium directly into the frontal lobes and back of the brain, causing different degrees of damage, thus stunning the brain, as popularmechanics.com notes.
And if the blow is of significant force, the damage can be instantly overwhelming, shutting the brain down immediately.
When watching a “delayed knockdown”—when a fighter takes a blow or blows, moves away and then drops—what we are seeing is nothing more than a race inside the brain to cope with the damage and maintain appropriate chemical levels of sodium, potassium and calcium (the balance of which make up electrolytes), which in turn causes the man to “take a knee” and recoup his senses, if at all possible.
What is interesting is that when considering the man throwing the punch, while size (weight) helps, it is really more a matter of technique: making sure that all the muscles are properly aligned when throwing the punch, thus creating as strong a chain of kinetic energy as possible.
In a video segment with a young Mike Tyson, Larry Merchant asks the question at hand, and Tyson gives an answer that makes a great deal of sense.
“Being a big man really doesn’t matter; it has no significance. The main point is the quickness in which you throw punches and that leverage that you have in the shoulder-snap. The object of really knocking out an individual is throwing punches where he can’t see.”
Tyson goes on to show that the knockout punch is the one you don’t see coming, via distracting the opponent with shots to different parts of the body before attacking the head.
This would go a long way in explaining why the uppercut has long been a weapon that does significant damage while traveling only half the distance between elbow and knuckle.
Of course, in the end, this is a drastic simplification of the many components of a knockout punch and doesn’t explain why some men, like Mark Hunt, can take several full-force kicks to the head from a prime Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic as if nothing happened at all.
But then again, Hunt was starched by a single blow from the smaller Melvin Manhoef; a feat that many would mistakenly call luck or a fluke.
Odds are Hunt simply didn’t see it coming. God knows he wasn’t alone.