What are Illegal Punches in Boxing? [May Be Surprising]

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illegal punches in boxing.

Let’s look at the illegal punches in boxing.

These are the punches deemed too dangerous. And can cause severe and lasting injuries to a fighter. Executing any of these punches can result in a warning, point deduction, or disqualification. 

And in this article, we’ll discuss these illegal punches and deep dive into everything you need to know.

Kidney Punch: Illegal Punches in Boxing 101

Let’s start with the kidney punch. 

The kidney punch is performed by striking the opponent’s back or side.

The kidneys are located on the right and left sides of the abdomen or spine, just below the rib cage.

And when they’re hit – it hurts…

Why are Kidney Punches Not Allowed in Boxing?

The kidney is an illegal target in boxing and kickboxing because it’s difficult to heal.

It is a vital organ. They are responsible for filtering blood and removing toxins from the body. And impacts to it can cause a lot of damage to your overall quality of life and in some cases, even a fatal injury.

Interestingly though, the liver shot is legal. And to put it into context, the liver is also a vital organ, but unlike the kidney, we only have one.

Body Shot vs Kidney Shot

Kidney punches are an illegal move but body shots to the liver are legal. So the presumed intention of the shot is what matters. 

If a looping hook is thrown with bad intentions aimed at the kidneys, that is illegal. If a body shot accidentally hits your opponent’s kidney, the referee will likely give you the benefit of the doubt and maybe a warning. 

A second shot to the kidney will likely result in a 1 or 2-point deduction. And another will lead to disqualification and probably some serious pain for your opponent.  

Is it Illegal to Punch the Back in Professional Boxing?

You’re not allowed to punch the back in professional boxing matches in the USA. 

But let me caveat – no universally unified boxing rules are agreed upon across countries.

The legality of punching the back in boxing varies from country to country. In the United States, punching the back in boxing is illegal but not in other countries.

You can punch the back in countries like Canada and Australia if it is not intentional. But as you can imagine, this can get muddy quickly.

What Does a Kidney Punch Feel Like?

Being hit with a kidney shot is like having a sudden, unexpected system error pop up on your computer when you’re in the middle of an important task.

The abrupt disruption throws off your focus and rhythm, causing immediate distress.

Just as your computer might freeze or lag, your body responds with sharp pain and an overwhelming urge to protect and recover from the unexpected jolt.

The pain is usually localized to one side of your lower back or abdomen. But it can also radiate into your groin or legs, and it is common for fighters to drop when hit there. 

And it’s also not uncommon for a kidney punch to result in the victim peeing blood. 

What Can Result From a Kidney Punch?

Here are just some of the side effects of a hard shot to the kidneys.

  • Hematoma: This is a localized collection of blood outside of blood vessels, often in liquid form within a tissue or organ. A strong blow can cause blood vessels in or around the kidney to rupture, leading to a hematoma.
  • Kidney Contusion: This is essentially a bruise of the kidney. The kidney tissue gets damaged but not enough to cause a major internal injury. It can be painful and may result in blood in the urine.
  • Kidney Laceration: In more severe cases, the kidney can get cut or torn. This is a more serious injury and can lead to significant internal bleeding.
  • Hematuria: Blood in the urine. After a kidney punch, it’s not uncommon to see blood in the urine, either visible (gross hematuria) or microscopic (can only be seen under a microscope).
  • Hydrophobia: This is a defensive response by the body after a kidney injury. The body might retain more water than usual because the kidneys could temporarily reduce their urine output. This happens due to the release of stress hormones like adrenaline.
  • Reflexive Responses: A significant blow can cause nausea, dizziness, or even fainting. This is partly because of the pain and partly due to the body’s reflexive responses.
  • Potential for Long-Term Damage: While many kidney injuries heal with time and appropriate care, there’s always a risk of longer-term damage, which might affect kidney function.

How Long Should a Kidney Punch Hurt?

A kidney punch is illegal largely because it can cause lasting damage. 

And depending on the severity of the injury, the victim of a kidney punch can suffer from a bruised kidney for 2 weeks or so. Or worse, it can cause internal bleeding, and you can potentially die. 

Where do you Punch to Hit the Kidney?

A kidney punch is a strike to the kidneys.

The kidneys are located on either side of the spine, just below the rib cage. So a kidney punch usually targets the lower back on either side of the body. And with the size of boxing gloves, any shot hard enough landed in that area will likely be felt throughout the area. 

Anyways, here’s a compilation of George Foreman punching kidneys.

Are Kidney Shots Permitted in the UFC?

Professional MMA and UFC fighters can strike the kidney unlike boxing and kickboxing. Or at least there’s no mention of it in the unified rules on the UFC site.

It’s also allowed in Muay thai.

But it is considered an illegal strike for amateur MMA fighters

Rabbit punch

Don’t let the name fool you. This cutesy-named illegal punch can cause severe damage to an opponent.

Why It’s Called a Rabbit Punch?

A rabbit punch is a type of punch delivered to the back of the head or neck. And if, god forbid, somehow a punch managed to separate the brain stem from the spine, immediate death follows. 

And this separation of the spine and brain stem is one of the ways hunters kill rabbits. 

Why are Punches to the Back of the Head (Rabbit Punches) Illegal in Boxing?

Rabbit punch is an illegal technique in combat sports because it can lead to serious spine and severe brain injury.

Rabbit punches attack a fighter bending down. And so it’s when the opponent throws a series of short ‘rabbit punches’ to the back of their head. 

Direct punches to the back of the head are illegal in all fighting sports since this is where the spinal cord is located. Being hit hard in this area can damage the spinal cord and the effects of rabbit punches can cause paralysis or other spinal injuries.

Just a single strike to this area can cause disability. That’s how sensitive this area is.

But besides the spine, it can also cause injuries to the brain. Compared to the forehead, the back of the skull is relatively vulnerable. 

Since it’s where the brain stem is located, serious damage to the area can cause issues in everything from motor function and sensory system to your cardiac systems that control the heart and breathing. 

Has Anyone Ever Died from Rabbit Punches in Boxing?

While there are no deaths with ‘rabbit punches’ named as the cause, at least that we could find, there have been boxing fights stopped due to illegal blows where the fighter slipped into a coma and passed away. 

It’s not uncommon for boxers to either die after a fight or suffer immense long-term damage due to a fight.

Since 2000, there have been 33 professional boxers die fighting in a boxing match. 

And even if someone doesn’t die from a fight, tons of legendary fights most likely took years off the fighters’ lives.

One famous example was the incredible ‘Thrilla in Manila’ fight – the third and final match between legendary rivals Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. 

Neither fighter died after the match nor threw illegal blows. But neither fighter was ever the same after such an intense war of attrition. 

Learn more about this epic rivalry in our guide to boxing styles.

Serious Injuries from Rabbit Punches

But specifically about rabbit punches, in 2015, a fight between Terrel Williams and undefeated Prichard Colon resulted in catastrophe. 

Terrell Williams repeatedly punched Prichard Colon in the back of the head. And even though Colon complained to the referee about the illegal shot, the genius (sarcasm) referee told him to take care of himself. The fight was eventually called off, and Colon was disqualified on a technicality of his corner taking off their gloves. 

Even before the match ended, Colon experienced dizziness in between rounds. The ringside physician let it continue, and shortly after the match, Colon was rushed to the hospital, where it was found he had brain bleeding and slipped into a coma for 221 days. 

And while he’s out of the coma, he remains in a less-than-ideal state with severe brain damage and will never be the same. 

This is a tragic case but shows the dangers of terrible reffing and ‘rabbit punches’, which in my opinion, is a dumb name for a type of strike this dangerous. 

Are Punches Behind the Ear Illegal in Boxing?

A deliberate punch behind the ear is illegal. 

The reality is that many TKOs and KOs come from hitting this area.

And the size of boxing gloves means that a punch directed at the temple of a moving target will often hit the back of the ear/back of the head and likely result in a knockdown. This usually counts if it wasn’t intentionally directed at the back of the head.

Usually, as long as there is impact to the ear, it will be considered a legal blow. 

Is it Illegal to Punch the Neck in Boxing?

You can punch the neck in boxing. Not the back of the neck, of course, but the core rules and regulations of boxing allow punches to the neck with some limitations.

Those limitations are mostly from the nature of boxing, though. It’s hard to hit the front of the neck of a facing fighter due to their boxing stance.

Why is the ‘Back Fist’ Illegal in Boxing Matches?

Modern boxing only permits punches with a forward-facing closed fist (the forefist). 

Boxing gloves are thus designed for this, and there is little padding on the top parts of the boxing glove. 

This makes striking with the back fist both illegal and dangerous for both competitors in a fight.  

Low Blows: The ‘Dirtiest’ Illegal Punches in Boxing

Low blows, specifically a punch to the groin area below the belt, are illegal in boxing for several reasons.

One obvious reason is that it’s a highly sensitive and important area.

And a forceful punch can cause significant pain, bruising, or more severe injuries to the testicles or surrounding areas in males.

Such an injury can have both immediate and long-term health implications.

Another reason is that boxing is a sport with a long history of rules, guidelines, and traditions to ensure that fighters engage in a controlled and fair manner.

Low blows would diverge from this spirit of sportsmanship and could turn fights into unregulated brawls.

Plus, a low blow stops the action and gives an unfair advantage to the ‘nut hunter’.

If someone is hit below the belt, they need time to recover, which they may not even be able to. And so multiple stoppages in this regard not only harm the momentum of the fight and its combatants but also the viewers.

What is Considered Below the Belt in Boxing?

Below the belt is a boxing term that refers to punches below the belt line, typically to the groin area. This is the genital area, legs, and crotch.

And again, groin shots are both unsportsmanlike and illegal for obvious reasons. Gotta protect the boys.

And to send this article off with a bang, here’s a nut punch combo.

Key Takeaways

  • Punches to the back of the head are illegal in boxing because this is where the spine and skull connect, and thus is a vulnerable and extremely dangerous area to damage.
  • Rabbit punches are illegal in boxing because they’re typically punches to the back of the head and thus can have the same devastating effects.
  • Kidney punches are also illegal strikes in boxing because they can cause severe injury and maybe even death.
  • The referee is responsible for stopping a fight if a fighter is hit with an illegal punch.

Illegal Punches in Boxing Summed Up

There you have it. We’ve listed off some of the most common illegal punches in boxing. However, be sure to read up on boxing rules to get a complete picture of what you can and can’t do in the combat sport of boxing.

And as always, be safe out there folks! 

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We're a team of fight fans and martial arts practitioners. Many of us have been involved in martial arts our entire lives.