June 26, 2022

What’s a Rabbit Punch and Why is it Illegal?

Boxing is an ever-evolving game and a major sport. It involves a lot of capital and great attention to detail. The competitors are under a lot of pressure, getting into a match. There is not much room for complacency.

In such pressure conditions, if they have a move or two up their sleeves, then it gives a massive advantage to them. But sometimes, intentionally or intentionally, Boxers execute some moves which are considered illegal by the association.

Any combat sport incorporates risks of injuries. For the protection of the practitioners, a set of guidelines are laid down, and according to the nature of the combat sports, some moves are deemed illegal. One such illicit move in Boxing is the “Rabbit Punch.”

1. What is a rabbit punch?

A rabbit punch refers to blow that a fighter delivers to the back of the opponent’s head. It lands at the base where the neck joins the head. It can be intentional or unintentional.

An unintentional rabbit punch occasionally happens as fighters engage in swift moves. It also happens when a fighter loses balances and gives a blow to a part of the body unknowingly.


Why is it called ‘Rabbit Punch’?

The term “rabbit punch” is derived from a quick and sharp blow to the back of the head used by the hunters to kill the rabbits. The move is executed with a small, hard object or simply by striking with one’s hand similar to a karate chop.

Why is it illegal?

The back of the neck is the area where the brain stem is connected to the brain through the spinal cord, that is why that region is vulnerable to life-threatening injuries.

A strike or blow there has the possibility of injuring the spinal cord and/or the brain. The victim may also get unconscious or dizzy momentarily. In some fatal incidents, the Boxer was paralysed for the rest of his/her life. 

Thus, fighters are prohibited from using Rabbit Punch, and it has been pronounced illegal.


Penalty for Using Rabbit Punch

The penalty for this move is based on the referee’s discretion and is affected by the below-mentioned points:

  • The perceived intent of the fighter
  • The severity of the punch
  • The number of offense

The penalties include :

  • Deduction of points
  • Disqualification 
  • Temporary ban 

Referees usually give one and two warnings before deducting points and taking strict actions. But if the referee’s sense maliciousness in the blow they may deduct a point or two without any notice. 

  • If the blow is deemed delicate and intentional, then the violator will likely be disqualified. Generally, warnings are issued, but the referees have full discretion in these situations. 
  • If a fighter is injured by an “unintentional” rabbit punch and is unable to continue the match, then the situation is treated in a similar fashion to 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 bottleneck occurs in Rounds 5-12, the bout is ruled a technical decision and the winner is determined by the judges’ scorecards at the time the fight stopped.

Examples of the Use of Rabbit Punch

Rabbit Punch has been used in many bouts by Boxers and people alike to cause severe injuries to the opposite side. It has been deemed the dirtiest and the most fatal trick ever since:

Prichard Colón and Terrel Williams – October 17, 2015

One of the prime examples of rabbit punch which is often cited as almost a fatal case is the match between Terrel Williams and Prichard Colón. In the October of 20215, when these two boxers met in the ring, Colon throughout the match complained of Williams deliberately using rabbit punch. The referee did not give any heed to these complaints. 

After the 9th round, Colon started vomiting and soon lost consciousness. He was taken to the hospital and remained in a coma for 221 days due to the injuries to his head. After that, he remained in a vegetative state till 2017. In 2018, his mother shared a video showing how Colon was learning to communicate using the computer.

Luis Lazarte and Johnriel Casimero – February 12, 2012

Probably one of the dirtiest fights in the history of Boxing was between Luis Lazarte and Johnriel Casimero when Rabbit Punches was rampantly used. In February of 2012 at the Mar Del Plata in Argentina, Lazarte almost caused a riot and police had to be called in to calm down the situation and also save Casimero. At the very start of the fight, Lazarte used a rabbit punch against Casimero and again bit him twice. The situation went haywire when the referee declared Casimero the winner and the notorious Lazarte threatened him with repercussions.

Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner – March 24, 1975

Chuck Wepner always had a reputation for “dirty and foul tactics” aside from his stamina and courage. In March of 1975, when he faced the legend, Muhammad Ali in the ring, the latter often complained and expressed his displeasure on how Wepner was using “rabbit punches.” The referee didn’t intervene and incorrectly declared Ali’s fall in the ninth round as a knockdown. After that, Ali launched a flurry of attacks on Wepner and knocked him out for the first time in his career.

Some More Illegal Moves in Boxing 

Boxing is a sport which encompasses many techniques and styles. There are a wide variety of strikes or punches – some are legal, and some are deemed illegal. Various rules have been laid down regarding what a Boxer can use and what, if used, can lead to him being penalized.

Boxers have to maintain the dignity of the beltline and are strictly prohibited from landing a blow below the belt. Punches with an open glove, holding and hitting the opponent at the same time, or spitting out the mouthpiece is strictly prohibited. Having said that, here is a list of some punches which if employed by the Boxers, will come in the ambit of wrong-doing and foul play:

Back Hand

When a Boxer uses the back of the glove targeting the opponent’s temple, it is called the back hand. This can lead to a blind spot and point deduction from the referee’s side. The reason for this is somewhat clouded.

Some say it goes back to the early England where hitting in such a way wasn’t considered a “gentleman” approach and was declared inappropriate. Nevertheless, Back hand is an illegal move in Boxing.


Headbutts is in the list of illegal techniques in Boxing as it can cause severe head trauma and injuries leading to dementia, paralysis, etc. While head butting, the opponent’s head is targeted, and if the referee finds it to be intentional, the Boxer can be disqualified for flagrantly breaking the rules.

In a match between Itagaki Manabu and Makino Fumito, the former was caught off and headbutted followed by a punch which led to knockdown.

Kidney Punch

Under formal practice and competition, Kidney Punch is entirely illegal in Boxing and is seen mostly while clinching. It is apparent that energy and adrenaline rush is high during a match and it is expected that a person may indulge in foul shots in the heat of the moment, unintentionally.

In such a case, the referee makes a decision for or against the one who used it. The reason why kidney punch is illegal is that the force and sharpness with which a punch is delivered may cause irreversible damage to one of the most vital parts of the human body.

12-6 Elbow Strikes

A 12-6 elbow strike basically points downward targeting the throat, jaw, back of the head, stomach, groin etc, and is considered illegal in Boxing. The elbow strikes have been a concern over the years because it can be life-threatening.

The main danger with the elbows is that since it does not have any padding, it can lead to cuts and sores. In a fight between Jon Jones and Matt Hamill, Jones was disqualified for using a 12-6 elbow strike.

Eugene Hardy

Eugene is a professional Muay Thai fighter, with several years of experience. Also, a black belt holder. He actively participates in tournaments and provides training to his students. Eugene started this blog to share his experiences with Martial Arts.

View all posts by Eugene Hardy →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *