What Is Rabbit Punch? (All You Need To Know About It!)

Last Updated on October 16, 2023 by Alex PT

A rabbit punch is an illegal and dangerous blow to the back of the head or neck in combat sports, such as boxing and MMA. It can cause severe injury, including damage to the spinal cord or brain, and is strictly prohibited.

What Is Considered A Rabbit Punch?

What Is Considered A Rabbit Punch

The term “rabbit punch” originated from the traditional method invented by rabbit gamekeepers to kill rabbits without spoiling their pelt. Rabbits are sent unconscious when the head snaps back and the thumb is placed on the base of its skull while the fingers wrap around the chin. In the world of boxing, a rabbit punch targets the back of the head which is sometimes known as the mohawk, an area behind the ears, where the shoulders and neck connect. Boxing is a combat sport that has to do with a lot of head movement, and that’s why rabbit punches are common in the game. Rabbit punches, sometimes, happen when a fighter tries to dodge a punch and then gets hit by a punch to the back of his head while leaning down. Due to the subtle occurrences of head movements, rabbit punches are less common in other combat sports like kickboxing and MMA because of the danger of getting caught by knees and kicks. But that’s not to say that it doesn’t happen at all. In a fighting situation where a fighter is on top of his opponent from the mount, accidental rabbit punches might happen. 

Why Are Rabbit Punches Dangerous?

The rabbit punch is quite a dangerous blow that increases the risk of developing life-threatening injuries. It targets the back of the head which is considered a very sensitive area. The area that is targeted is really close to the spinal cord which is a substantial part of the central nervous system of the body. Fighters can get life-threatening injuries like paralysis and other spiral injuries if the spinal cord is damaged by a severe hit from a rabbit punch. The amount of damage and injury that this blow can cause to the brainstem is why it is considered dangerous in combat sports. Don’t forget that the most sensitive parts of the brainstem include the midbrain, pons, and medulla, and they are all located at the base of the skull. A severe hit from a rabbit punch on any of these sensitive parts will lead to life-changing injuries.  

What Are The Penalties Of A Rabbit Punch? 

Penalties Of A Rabbit Punch

The penalties for a rabbit punch can vary depending on the severity of the offense, the combat sport in question, and the governing body that is overseeing the event. However, in general, the penalties for a rabbit punch can include:

  • Disqualification: The fighter who throws the rabbit punch is typically disqualified from the match. This means that they lose the match and are awarded no points.
  • Suspension: The fighter who throws the rabbit punch may also be suspended from competing for a period of time. This suspension can be as short as a few weeks or as long as several years, depending on the severity of the offense.
  • Fine: The fighter who throws the rabbit punch may also be fined by the governing body that is overseeing the event. The amount of the fine can vary depending on the severity of the offense and the fighter’s past disciplinary record.

In addition to the above penalties, the fighter who throws the rabbit punch may also face legal consequences. In some cases, the fighter may be charged with assault or battery.

Here are some specific examples of penalties that have been imposed for rabbit punches in different combat sports:

  • In boxing, former world champion Gennady Golovkin was suspended for six months in 2013 after he hit opponent Matthew Macklin with a rabbit punch.
  • In mixed martial arts (MMA), fighter Mike Whitehead was banned for life by the Nevada State Athletic Commission in 2007 after he threw a rabbit punch that killed opponent Sam Vasquez.
  • In kickboxing, fighter Giorgio Petrosyan was disqualified from a match in 2017 after he threw a rabbit punch that knocked out opponent Robin van Roosmalen.

Is a Rabbit Punch Legal in Any Combat Sports?

A rabbit punch, which is a blow to the back of the head or neck, is illegal in all major combat sports, including boxing, mixed martial arts (MMA), kickboxing, and Muay Thai.

There are two main reasons why rabbit punches are illegal:

  • Safety: Rabbit punches can be very dangerous, and can even lead to death. The back of the head and neck are particularly vulnerable to injuries, and a blow to these areas can cause serious damage to the cervical spine and spinal cord.
  • Sportsmanship: Rabbit punches are considered to be unsporting and unfair. They are often used as a way to catch an opponent off guard and score a cheap knockout.

In addition to the general dangers of rabbit punches, there are some specific risks associated with their use in different combat sports. For example, in boxing, rabbit punches can be particularly dangerous because they can be thrown with a great deal of force. In MMA, rabbit punches are more likely to occur in grappling situations, where fighters may have difficulty defending themselves.

There have been a number of high-profile incidents of rabbit punches in combat sports over the years. In 2007, MMA fighter Sam Vasquez died after being hit by a rabbit punch from opponent Mike Whitehead. In 2013, boxer Gennady Golovkin was suspended for six months after he hit opponent Matthew Macklin with a rabbit punch.

The illegality of rabbit punches is strictly enforced in all major combat sports. Fighters who are caught throwing rabbit punches are typically disqualified from the match, and may also be suspended or fined.


Is A Punch Behind The Ear illegal In Boxing?

Yes! You’ll be penalized for making an intentional hit behind the ear in boxing and MMA. The referee will give the first warning when he notices a fighter makes a punch behind the ear. There might be a point deduction or a complete disqualification if the fighter repeats the illegal strike. 

Are All Rabbit Punches Completely Illegal?

No! There are some notable instances in boxing and MMA where you won’t get penalized or disqualified for making rabbit punches. Let’s show you a perfect scenario where a rabbit punch might not be considered illegal during a fight. If a fighter gets a strike at the back of the head as he turns his back to the attack from his opponents who unknowingly is throwing a barrage of punches to achieve a knockout, then he can’t be penalized for making a rabbit punch as it wasn’t intentional. Such a fighter would be pardoned because he was only trying to aim for the face and the opponent turned his back to receive the hit at the back of the back. 

What Are The Risks Of Rabbit Punch? 

The same deadly effect that rabbit punching has on rabbits can be replicated on fighters. A well-targeted rabbit punch can be used to render an opponent unconscious which exposes him to serious injuries to the brain, neck, and spine. It is one of the punching techniques in boxing that have received backlash from sport associations for its deadly effect on fighters.  


A rabbit punch is illegal in boxing and it is considered dangerous as it targets the back of the head leading to severe injuries. Not just in boxing alone, rabbit punches are illegal in almost all combat sports. Its danger to the brainstem which can cause motor impairment makes it unacceptable in all combat sports. As a boxer, you can get penalized or even disqualified for making an intentional rabbit punch. We’ve come to the closing chapter of this informative article. We hope you were able to find good and reliable resources in your quest to know what rabbit punch means in boxing. If you have any questions or comments about the article topic, don’t hesitate to contact us. Thanks!



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