What Is A Rabbit Punch In Boxing? (And Why It’s So Nasty)

The name is very misleading…A rabbit punch might sound soft and harmless but it’s actually a nasty nasty blow that can cause devastating injuries. So, what is a rabbit punch in boxing? Is it illegal? Why is it so dangerous? And how did it get that strange name?!

A rabbit punch is a strike to the back of the head or neck. It is illegal in boxing and most other combat sports as it can cause serious and irreparable injury to the brain and spinal cord.

What is a rabbit punch in boxing? 🐇

If you’re a fan of combat sports you’ve probably heard of this strangely named punch. It refers to a punch that lands on the back of the head, base of the skull, or back of the neck of the opponent.

This dangerous blow is illegal in most combat sports, as we’ll explain below, and has been responsible for some serious injuries in boxing and elsewhere.

Despite being outlawed, you will often see punches land on the back of an opponent’s head in boxing, accidental or otherwise. Boxers rarely get punished for it though, as it is very hard to prove that it was intentional.

During boxing matches, hooks sometimes curve behind the head and end up striking the back of the neck. In clinches it may occur too. Or it can happen when an opponent has temporarily turned his head away.

Why are rabbit punches dangerous? 🚑

A rabbit punch is one of the most lethal blows in old school boxing. Just a single blow can kill or paralyze someone.

The back of the head and neck is where our spinal cord is exposed and vulnerable. You may remember from junior school biology classes that the spinal cord is a key part of our Central Nervous System, which is responsible for sending messages between our brain and the rest of our body. If the spinal cord is badly damaged, for instance by the impact of a punch, then the brain cannot communicate with the rest of the body, causing paralysis.

Our brains are more vulnerable at the base of the skull due to less protection from the skull, so blows here can also lead to brain damage.

If a blow to the back of the head detaches the victim’s brain from the brain stem then it could be instantly fatal as this part of the body regulates key functions like heart and breathing rate.

In other words, a rabbit punch is very fuckin’ dangerous! Don’t try to hit someone on the back of the head in a ring or outside of it, because the consequences for you both could be devastating.

Is a rabbit punch illegal in boxing? 🛑

As you can probably tell from what you’ve just read, rabbit punches are indeed illegal in boxing.

They are also illegal in MMA and almost all other striking combat sports. No one wants to do irreparable damage to another fighter. And, if they do, they shouldn’t be allowed in a ring! 

What is the punishment for a rabbit punch?

As is the case in boxing, a lot comes down to the discretion of the referee. The ref has to make a decision based on whether he thinks the punch was intentional, how hard it was, and how much damage has been done. The ref will also look to see if it occurs frequently.

The referee could either deduct points from the offender or disqualify him from the fight depending on the severity of the violation.

In reality, rabbit punches occur frequently in boxing but referees seldom take action, usually because it is hard to tell if it is deliberate or not (1:13 in the video below is a particularly egregious case 👇👇👇).

If injury is caused by an unintentional rabbit punch then the fight will be declared a technical draw if less than four rounds have been completed. If it occurs after the fourth round then the fight will be ruled based on the scores on the judges’ scorecards up to that point.

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Cases of rabbit punches in pro boxing 😞

The most famous case is the tragic events of an ugly boxing fight in 2015 between Terrell Williams and undefeated rising star Prichard Colon.

During the fight, Colon was deducted two points for a low blow. Williams landed several heavy blows to the back of Colon’s head and was penalized a point. One of these blows knocked Colon to the floor. This is pictured in the main image of this article. 

Colon got up and the fight continued, with Colon eventually losing after 9 rounds when his corner mistakenly thought the fight had finished and took his gloves off a round early, resulting in disqualification. This embarrassing mistake, however, may have saved Colon’s life. 

Afterwards, in his dressing room, Colon started to feel dizzy and began to vomit. He was rushed to the hospital where it was detected that he’d suffered a brain bleed causing terrible brain damage.

Colon fell into a coma for 221 days and today is paralysis in a vegetative state, requiring constant care. Williams faced no official sanctions for his punches but has to live everyday with knowledge of what his actions did.

George Foreman also sent Smokin Joe Frazier to the canvas with a big blow to the back of his head during their famous Sunshine Showdown in 1973 where Foreman stunningly destroyed Frazier by knocking him down 6 times in 2 rounds. The ref took no action for that punch.

The devastating consequences of a rabbit punch

Why is a rabbit punch called a rabbit punch? 🐰

This punch gets its name from the technique used by hunters to kill rabbits with a quick, sharp strike with a club to the back of the rabbit’s head. This method killed the rabbit without ruining its fur, and therefore keeping it in better condition for sale.

It is also considered the most humane and quick way to kill an injured or trapped rabbit.

What other punches are illegal in boxing? 🥊

  • You cannot strike an opponent with an open glove, backhand, or using a hammer fist.
  • Deliberate blows to an opponent’s back and kidneys are illegal.
  • Low blow: you cannot punch a boxer anywhere below his belt. For obvious reasons!
  • You also cannot throw a punch while holding onto the ropes.
  • And, obviously, things like biting, headbutting, using your knee etc are all highly illegal too!

12th Round 🔔

In a sport that often prides itself on respect for fellow fighters, dangerous rabbit punching has no place. Thankfully harmful cases of rabbit punching in boxing are rare but it is the responsibility of us all to look out for the safety of each other by being careful to avoid hitting our opponents like this. Don’t be a dick, fight clean! 

Happy fighting! 🥊🥊

“Rhythm is everything in boxing. Every move you make starts with your heart, and that’s in rhythm or you’re in trouble.” – Sugar Ray Robinson