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I just watched this compilation https://youtu.be/p4aRkLSgNGY. I've been sparring for a few months now, and even though I've never been knocked out, I can see how one would get knocked out. In this video though, the fighters are just eating the hits with their chins.

So my question is: Why, and how are they able to do that? Just take uppercuts that would send most people flying, and still be ok with it? I'm sure they're concussed like crazy after that, but how are they still up? Weak hits from their opponents? Drugs? Natural resiliency? Something that can be trained?

  • It's the strikes you don't see that knock you out, not the ones you see coming. – Mike P May 20 '18 at 17:36
  • So if you're ready for it you can just "prepare" and take them? Like tense some muscles and resist them? – Alex Ironside May 20 '18 at 18:56
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    I don't know the exact mechanism (hence I wrote a comment not an answer!), but as I understand it, the preparation is what 'saves' you. – Mike P May 21 '18 at 9:27
  • Ok makes sense. – Alex Ironside May 21 '18 at 9:28
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Boxers, kickboxers, and MMA fighters train to be able to minimize the damage caused by a hit to the head. It's actually pretty hard to knock anyone out who has trained for any length of time in these arts.

One thing to realize is that you have a natural instinct to flinch whenever you see something coming towards your face. You might still get hit, but the fact that you saw it ahead of time means you began to get your hands up and your head out of the way. This diminishes the impact.

Another thing to realize is that tucking the chin can mitigate a lot of the impact force. Instead of it shocking your brain, it gets reinforced by your body and prevents the sudden recoil of the head. Boxers, kickboxers, and MMA people are taught this on day one.

And then there's conditioning. Getting hit in sparring by guys that aren't necessarily trying to knock you out but are still hitting hard will toughen you up and get you ready to take hits. Your body will adapt to it.

Conditioning also means strength and stamina. Having a strong body that doesn't get fatigued during a fight is vital. If you gas half-way into the first round, your odds of getting knocked out go up a lot. It means your defense becomes weak. You stop being able to move to avoid hits. You'll go down quickly.

There's age and previous knock-out history as well. The more you've been KO'd, the more likely you'll be KO'd. I think it's just that the body wears as you get older and have been subjected to more damage.

Having a history of being KO’d before also means you’re less likely to continue fighting. The people left in the game are, therefore, people who either have little experience or who have lots of experience. Those who stay as fighters a long time are people who don’t get KO’d easily. So it’s kind of a selection bias. These aren’t typical people. These are exceptional people.

Lastly, there's genetics. That probably counts for a lot. How your body is put together, whether or not you're able to grow muscle in all the right places, your brain's response to low/high blood pressure and adrenaline, etc. Genetics plays a role. How big? I don't think anyone knows.

Hope that helps!

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    As a caveat, there's some evidence that the techniques that fighters use to avoid getting knocked out are a strong factor behind their more long-term damage, although it's confounded by the fact that someone who doesn't get knocked out with one blow is going to be getting hit by more of them. – Sean Duggan May 21 '18 at 11:54
  • Yeah, I think that's the main factor. The more time spent getting hit, the more long-term damage you'll accumulate, particular brain damage. So it's a double-edged sword. Yes, you're skilled at fighting, but you're also hurting yourself more and more as time goes on. Someone who's not as good a fighter might quit competing altogether, thereby saving their brain from cumulative, long-term damage. Ironic. – Steve Weigand May 21 '18 at 14:03
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In the case of boxing, it's mostly "natural resiliency", combined with strong neck muscles from training. For the higher weight classes in boxing, it's a process of elimination: the boxers that get knocked out (repeatedly) don't advance and usually leave the sport, a form of "natural selection", that results in the top ranked boxers in the higher weight classes having a "natural resiliency" to getting knocked out.

One example from the past is Muhammad Ali, who was able to take punches that would KO most of the other heavyweights at the time. This doesn't mean there isn't brain damage, and most of the higher weight class boxers, especially ones with longer careers, ended up with fairly severe brain damage.

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