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Why is rabbit punch illegal?

What Is A Rabbit Punch?

You may have heard boxers complaining about ‘rabbit punches’ after certain fights. If you are unfamiliar with what a rabbit punch is, then you’re in the right place. In this post, I’m going to discuss what a rabbit punch is, and why it is so dangerous. So what is a rabbit punch?

In short, a rabbit punch is a punch that lands on the back of the head or neck. It is an illegal strike in most combat sports due to its proximity to the brainstem, which makes it dangerous and potentially lethal. The name comes from the way hunters kill rabbits with a quick strike to the back of the head.

Let’s take a look at the rabbit punch itself and why it is so dangerous.

What Is Considered A Rabbit Punch?

So as mentioned, the name comes from what is considered the most humane way to kill a rabbit. This is done by placing the thumb on the base of the rabbit’s skull, with the fingers wrapping around the chin. When the head is snapped back, the rabbit immediately goes unconscious.

Professional boxer Prichard Colon, just after getting dropped by rabbit punches against Terrel Williams.

In Boxing and MMA, a rabbit punch is any punch that lands to the back of the head, which is commonly referred to as the mohawk. This is typically the area behind the ears, and ending at the point where the neck meets the shoulders.

Rabbit punches are very common in boxing due to the amount of head movement. It usually occurs when one boxer slips a punch, and is hit by their opponent to the back of the head while they were leaning down. It also occurs very commonly in the clinch.

In MMA and kickboxing, it is less common because the head movement is more subtle, due to the danger of kicks and knees. The danger in MMA is when a fighter has mounted his opponent on the ground, and they are striking from mount. Rabbit punches can be very dangerous from this position due to how vulnerable the mounted fighter is to their opponents attacks.

When the mounted fighter turns their back, they are extremely vulnerable to rabbit punches, such as seen here.

Why Are Rabbit Punches Dangerous?

Let’s talk about the dynamics of the rabbit punch and why exactly it is so dangerous. Firstly, the back of the head is a very sensitive area for several reasons. One reason is the proximity to the spinal cord, which is a major part of the Central Nervous System. Damage to the spinal cord can cause paralysis and other life-changing injuries.

However the biggest reason as to why rabbit punches are dangerous is how much damage this punch can cause to the brain stem. The brain stem is located at the base of the skull, and consists of three parts, the midbrain, pons, and medulla.

The brainstem is located at the base of the skull.

The brain stem is a critical component of motor and sensory systems, due to the fact that nerves controlling these functions pass through the brainstem. Damage to this area can cause life-changing impairment and fatal injury.

There are several cases of rabbit punches causing severe injury. The prime example is Prichard Colón during his final match, against Terrel Williams.

Throughout the fight, Terrel Williams repeatedly landed rabbit punches on Prichard Colón, something which Prichard complained about to the referee. After the fight, many fans criticized the referee for ignoring deliberate rabbit punches that Williams was hitting Prichard with.

Terrel Williams threw rabbit punches all throughout his fight with Prichard Colón.

This continued up until the end of the 9th round of the fight, after which Prichard’s corner removed his gloves, mistakenly thinking the fight was over. Shortly after, Prichard started vomiting and became incoherent.

He was taken to a nearby hospital where it was discovered that he had brain bleeding. He was put into a coma in an effort to save his life. After spending 221 days comatose, he emerged in a persistent vegetative state, which he remains in today.

Injuries to the back of the head can cause loss of consciousness that may have more noticeable symptoms later in life. For example, basketball player Jaylen Brown fell onto the back of his head after making a dunk. He immediately lost consciousness, and his body stiffened in what is known as the Fencing Response.

Jaylen Brown landed on the back of his head, causing his body to react in the fencing response, which is a trait of severe brain injury.

Aside from receiving a concussion, the fencing response notes that he received damage to the midbrain, a part of the brainstem. Just because the injury was to the back of the head, the traumatic brain injury he received was considered mild to severe, instead of a lighter, moderate injury.


In summary, a rabbit punch is a punch to the back of the head that can cause severe injury and in some cases, death. This is why it is an illegal strike in almost all combat sports. A rabbit punch can cause damage to the brainstem, which can impair motor and sensory functions of the body.

If you want to learn more about rules and history of combat sports, check out the Martial Arts History page. Thanks for reading!

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What is a Rabbit Punch in Boxing/MMA? Easily Explained

MMA Channel

No matter if you are into combat sports or not, you have likely heard about the infamous rabbit punches. We can hear fighters and referees complaining about them in just about every boxing or MMA event. But in case you are not familiar with what is the rabbit punch, stay with us as I will explain it to you in a very simple way.

A rabbit punch is a blow that lands on the back of the head or top of the neck. It is illegal because back of the head is a place where our key motoric and brain functions are located. A single rabbit punch can cause serious spinal cord and brain injury that could be fatal in some cases.

Keep reading this article to find out more about Rabbit punches, and what makes them dangerous.

What is a Rabbit Punch in Boxing or MMA?

A rabbit punch is a strike that lands right on the back of the head, base of the skull or top of the neck. In this day and age, this type of punches are illegal in just about every fighting sport due to the danger it poses.

But despite being illegal, rabbit punches are a common thing and you can see them in every boxing or MMA event. In most cases, rabbit punches land without intention and by accident due to the nature of the sport.

For instance, head movement plays a big role in boxing. Boxers move their head up and down, left and right all the time to slip and dodge punches. But by doing so, they are exposing the back of their head, which they can’t protect the same as the face or side of the head. So even if the opponent is aiming for the face, the punch might land behind the ears on the back of the head. In most cases, this happens during the clinch or other close-range exchanges.

In MMA, on the other side, there are fewer rabbit punches since it is a more versatile sport than boxing. Fighters can strike using punches, kicks, elbows, knees, and also fight on the ground. Ground fighting is, in fact, a place where most rabbit punches land in MMA, notably when one fighter is in a mount position.

Once they pass the guard and get the full mount, MMA fighters would start raining down punches to score a finish. The danger of rabbit punches increases when the fighter on the bottom turns their back and exposes the back of their head to the barrage of punches coming from the top. The bottom fighter has to do this as a part of the procedure to escape. They will stop protecting the back of the head and start using their hands to escape from a position, which is the moment when most rabbit punches land.

Why it’s called Rabbit Punch?

The name “Rabbit punch” comes from hunting where it is a method hunters use to end a rabbit’s life without ruining the rabbit’s fur. They do this by striking the back of the rabbit’s skull with a club to break its spinal cord. Or they grab the rabbit by the neck with one hand, put the palm of your other hand right below the chin, and press it straight back until the neck breaks. It is often seen as the quickest and most human way you can end a rabbit’s life.

We are not sure about who was the first person to use this term in combat sports, but, it has been around for many years. It is mostly used by boxing commentators and other experts while the world of MMA stills hasn’t adopted this term in total.

Why is Rabbit Punch illegal in MMA and Boxing?

Rabbit punch is illegal in most fighting sports because it can lead to serious spine and brain injuries. Back of the head is a place where our spinal cord is located, which is an integral part of the human Central Nervous System. Being hit hard can damage the spinal cord and cause paralysis or other spinal injuries. Just a single strike to this area can cause disability. That’s how sensitive this area is.

And it’s not just the spine injuries, rabbit punch leads to brain injuries as well. The brain stem, located at the base of the skull, is a key part of motor and sensory systems. It also regulates our cardiac functions like heart and breathing rate. This part of the brain is so sensitive that a punch to this area can cause fatal injuries.

Back of the head is more sensitive than other parts like face or side of the head. This is the main reason why rabbit punches are dangerous and illegal in fighting sports. In a match, the referee is responsible to warn fighters to avoid striking this area, or even disqualify them from a match if needed.

What are the penalties for throwing Rabbit Punches in Boxing and MMA?

Rabbit punches are illegal and it’s up to the referee to take the action. How the referee is going to deal with it depends on various factors like:

  • Was the punch intentional or not?
  • How hard the rabbit punch was?
  • Can a hurt fighter continue or not?
  • Damage done

In most cases, the referee would issue a serious warning by yelling “watch the back of the head!” They might even pause the fight to make it clear to a fighter that he/she needs to stop striking back of the head.

If the fighter repeats the foul, the referee would deduct a point. In some cases, the referee might even deduct up to two points without issuing a single warning. This happens when the blow was clearly intentional and aimed to hurt the fighter. If the opponent can’t continue after a rabbit punch, the referee will disqualify the fighter who threw the punch.

Are all Rabbit Punches illegal?

No, there are cases, notably in boxing, where landing rabbit punches won’t get you in trouble. Here is one scenario where rabbit punches are not illegal.

Let’s say a boxer starts throwing a barrage of punches, trying to knock the opponent out. If at that moment, the opponent turns their back and receives a strike to the back of the head, it would not be a foul. A fighter who is striking is not at fault because he/she is clearly aiming for the face. It is the opponent’s fault for turning their back and exposing the back of the head to the barrage of punches.

This is why boxers should never turn their back to the opponent, no matter what happens. In the end, punches to the face are far less dangerous than the ones to the back of the head.

Has Anyone Died due to Rabbit Punches?

There is no evidence or report suggesting that a fighter has died due to rabbit punches in a boxing or MMA match. But there were fights, notably in boxing, in which strikes to the back of the head might have contributed to the loss of lives or serious injuries. One such fight was a boxing match between Terrell Williams and Prichard Colon that took place in 2015.

During the fight, Williams landed repeated rabbit punches. In the 7th round, he blasted Colon with a hard rabbit punch that sent him down to the canvas. The referee deducted the point from Williams since the blow was intentional and aimed to hurt Colon. The fight continued and two rounds later, Williams would knock Colon down with another rabbit punch. But this time, the referee took no action. In the end, Colon got disqualified after the ninth round due to the bizarre incident when the members of his corner took his gloves off thinking the match was over.

Shortly after the fight, Colon started to feel dizzy and weak in the dressing room. He started vomiting and was soon rushed to the “Fairfax Inova Hospital” where he underwent surgery due to the bleeding on the left side of his brain. Colon spent 221 days in a coma and now is in a vegetative state.

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