Imagine the inside of your head: a soft, mushy organ bathed in some blood and connected to your skull by some connective tissues such as arteries, nerves and veins. The brain itself is mostly blood vessels and nerves. Yes, unfortunately, it’s that simple. So, what happens to this fragile part of your body when you get knocked out?
I’m not a doctor, so I’ll give you the laymen’s explanation: Although there is currently no hard science on the matter, most doctors believe a knockout is typically caused by the brain bouncing around in the inside of the skull. It doesn’t necessarily have to be one really hard hit, but a series of hits that continuously cause your head to snap in all different directions with your brain rattling in the inside of your skull like a shake weight. So remember when I said your brain is just a soft, mushy organ with some connective tissue? Imagine that soft, mushy organ smacking against the inside of your cranium and those thin connective tissues being stretched and torn; that is what causes your brain to shutdown.
When fighters get knocked out by a series of strikes in a fight, it’s not uncommon that they describe sensations of disorientation: blurred vision, lack of foot coordination, disrupted balance, numbness, etc. As they continue getting hit, these sensations intensify until the knockout hit is delivered and they finally lose consciousness.
That feeling of disorientation and lack of control in the legs that they experience when they get hit is a result of neurological functions being disrupted when the brain smacks the inside of the skull. It’s like a game console: If you were to drop your Xbox while playing Call of Duty, it would probably freeze. That’s because the circuits in the Xbox are like your brain, and the wires are your connective tissue; they’re fragile and protected by the exterior of the Xbox (your skull). The act of dropping your Xbox would result in those circuits and wires shaking in ways they weren’t meant to. In return, this would cause a disruption in their regular functions. When your Xbox freezes, you need to reboot it. Similarly, your brain reboots itself when you wake up from a knockout.
It doesn’t necessarily take an Igor Vovchanchyn power punch to cause a knockout. A knockout strike has more to do with how the skull rotates in response to the strike rather than the power behind it. You can punch someone on the top of the head fairly hard, but chances are they won’t lose consciousness, because hitting someone on the top of the head won’t cause significant skull rotation. You need to hit them on the right spot.
Arguably, the most vulnerable point to hit someone and achieve a knockout is the chin and jaw area (no wonder boxing teaches to tuck in the chin and keep your hands up). It’s often called the “button” by many boxers and fighters. The reason is simple anatomy: The chin is a knockout button because it’s a leverage point that causes the most head movement when hit hard enough. A good whack on the chin causes the bobble-head effect more so than a strike on any other area on the head/face.
The runner-up would definitely be the side of the head. Once again, it comes down to anatomy. Hitting someone on the side of the head will cause a decent amount of sudden head movement that will shake your brain around. Also, the temple is very soft compared to other areas on your skull, so it’s definitely a less shielded area of the head.
So how do fighters avoid getting knocked out? Well it helps to keep your chin tucked in and your hands up to protect the sides of your jaw, but unfortunately, lots of it is just genetics. Some people are more prone to being knocked out than others and there is nothing you can really do to change it. Some boxing experts have said that having a thick neck and strong traps helps keep your head from shaking too much when it gets hit, but there have been many fighters that don’t have abnormally thick necks and traps that can still take a pretty good punch (Nogueira in his prime was a great example).
The lesson: In the meantime, try to avoid getting punched in the face.