What’s the difference between a KO and a TKO in MMA?

Jorge Masvidal (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)
Jorge Masvidal (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC) /

KOs and TKOs are sometimes grouped together in terms of a fighter’s victory method, but yes, there are differences between the two.

While most fighters will tell you they don’t care how they win a fight, it’s without question that most fighters who enter the cage look to finish their opponent — leaving the match result out of the judges’ hands. Two of the ways to win an MMA bout is knockout (KO) or technical knockout (TKO), with fighters looking for a highlight-reel shot that ends a fight instantaneously and sends a crowd roaring or beats and pummels their opponent into being unable to continue.

The two results are sometimes paired together in determining a fighter’s victory method (i.e. “Fighter A has X KO/TKOs” or “I predict Fighter A defeats Fighter B via third-round KO/TKO”). Sometimes audiences will wonder why one resulted is called a KO and not a TKO, or the other way around.

Let’s map out the differences here.

Knockout (KO)

The term knockout has a simple meaning: any strike (whether it be a punch, kick, elbow, knee, or even a slam) or a combination of strikes from one fighter that leaves his/her opponent unable to continue.

Unlike boxing and kickboxing KOs, there is no such thing as counting out a downed opponent in MMA, since fighters can take the fight to the ground. And, in fact, knockouts can occur on the ground, whether it be a fight-ending elbow or punch from the top fighter or the always crazy upkick from the bottom fighter.

KOs often are associated with strikes that put a fighter into a state of unconsciousness, even if only for a second or two. But as veteran referee Big John McCarthy, who helped create the Unified Rules of MMA, explained, separation of consciousness isn’t as necessary for KOs as much as it is a fighter being unable to physically defend himself or herself.

Technical Knockout (TKO)

A technical knockout refers to a fighter being overwhelmed by the attack of his opponent and is deemed to be “unintelligently defending himself or herself.” In this case, a third party (usually a referee) must intervene to stop the match and prevent any further damage to the defeated fighter.

There are different types of TKOs in MMA.

  • Referee stoppage: The referee steps in and stops a fight when a fighter is not defending himself or herself from the opponent’s striking, preventing further damage.
  • Corner stoppage: Also referred to as “throwing in the towel,” a fighter’s cornerman stops the fight for his/her own fighter’s sake. Alternatively, a fighter quits the fight between rounds.
  • Doctor’s stoppage: The ringside physician elects to stop the fight due to excessive bleeding from a cut or another physical injury
  • Submission due to strikes (UFC only): A fighter submits while being overwhelmed with strikes. While most MMA promotions consider this a submission, it is ruled a TKO in the UFC.

Next. Top 30 MMA knockouts of all time. dark