If you’ve seen enough boxing or MMA fights, you’ve probably heard referees warn fighters about rabbit punching.
A “rabbit punch” is a blow or chop to the back of the opponent’s head, the bottom part of the skull or to the back of the neck.
Rabbit punches are illegal in pro and amateur boxing and in most (if not all) properly-sanctioned mixed martial arts venues.
Why is Rabbit Punching Illegal?
The back of the neck is a vulnerable area because its where the brain stem connects the brain with the spinal cord. As a result, a blow there has the potential to damage the spinal cord and/or the brain resulting in relatively minor ailments such as momentary dizziness and temporary unconsciousness to more serious conditions such as motor sensory impairment, brain damage, and paralysis, or even death.
What’s the Penalty for Rabbit Punching?
The penalty for this illegal punch is based on the referee’s discretion and depends on
a) the perceived intent of the violator
b) the severity of the blow(s) and
c) repeat offenses following one or more warnings
Sometimes a referee will give a fighter one or two warnings before deducting a point. However, if the punch lands hard enough and/or was thrown with “obvious” maliciousness, many referees will penalize the guilty fighter a point – and occasionally two – without warning.
In addition, if the blow is deemed deliberate and the violated fighter can’t continue, the guilty fighter will likely get disqualified. But in most cases, a fighter will get warned once or twice before a point is deducted. However, the referee has full discretion and each circumstance is different.
If a fighter is injured by an “unintentional” rabbit punch and cannot continue fighting, the situation is supposed to be treated in a similar fashion to a stoppage for an unintentional headbutt.
If the stoppage occurs prior to the end of the fourth round, the bout is ruled a technical draw. But if the stoppage occurs in Rounds 5-12, the bout is ruled a technical decision, and the outcome is determined by the judges’ scorecards at the time the fight ended, including action in the partial round (if the fight was stopped during live action).
Are All Punches Behind the Head Illegal (or Fouls)?
If a fighter is hit behind the head because he/she turned their back to the opponent while the punch was in motion, it’s not considered a foul because the blow, despite landing on the back of the head, was targeted at the face. This is one reason why a fighter should never, ever turn their back when his/ her opponent is unleashing shots because a blow to the back of the head can be more dangerous than the facial blows the fighter is attempting to avoid.
If a fighter is under a barrage of punches and can’t escape, he/she should cover up and take a knee. At that moment, the floored fighter should receive a standing 8 count, giving him/her precious time to attempt to recover.
Rabbit Punch | The Term’s Origin
Allegedly, the term “rabbit punch” is derived from a quick, sharp blow to the back of the head used by hunters to kill trapped or injured rabbits.
The technique is usually performed with a small, hard object or simply by executing something similar to a karate chop with one’s hand.
See the examples below.