The Kidney Punch

If you’ve ever been hit in the kidneys, you’ll know that the kidney punch is a brutally effective technique capable of instantly incapacitating your opponent.  It’s also an illegal strike in boxing and one that can be punished by disqualification.  Despite this, some boxers still target this area of the body on their opponent.

What are the kidneys?

Most people have two kidneys, which are shaped like kidney beans and sit either side of the spine, between the pelvis and the lower ribs.  They’re each about 10-15 cms in length and their main function is to filter the blood and remove impurities.

These toxins are the waste products from when the body uses the food we eat to both create energy and to repair any damage to the body.

These waste products are filtered out by the kidneys and  converted into urine.  Together, the two kidneys filter 200 litres of fluid every 24 hours. 

What is a kidney punch?

The kidneys sit close to the surface of the back of the body and are only partially protected by the rib cage.

This makes them highly vulnerable.  

The kidneys are very sensitive organs and even a light blow can have crippling consequences.

A kidney punch is any punch that is directed to the opponents back and targets the underlying kidneys.

It’s important to note that kidney punches are banned in professional boxing.

Why is the kidney punch illegal in boxing?

In boxing, it’s illegal to punch your opponent’s back, including the back of the head (otherwise known as a rabbit punch).  

The main reason for this is so that the kidneys don’t become a primary target during the boxing match.  As I’ve mentioned the kidneys are highly sensitive and a series of blows over time or one powerful punch is enough to cause permanent damage.

The rules of boxing are designed to help preserve the boxer’s health over the course of their career.

However, just because it’s illegal to attack the back of your opponent, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen during a boxing match.

Indeed, some boxers do target the kidneys if there’s an opportunity to do so.  Take the example below in which George Foreman fights Ladislao Mijangos (25/08/1988).

George experty guides Ladislao to the corner and out of sight of the referee, and then delivers a powerful downward punch right to his kidneys.  Ladislao literally collapses to the floor in pain. 

Amazingly, this wasn’t the end of fight and Ladislao managed to last a further round before the referee stepped in to end the fight.

George Foreman only got a warning from the referee on this occasion during the break at the end of the round.  No points were deducted but undoubtedly this punch had a debilitating effect on his opponent.


Given that a fighter can inflict a seriously painful blow to an opponent and only risk a warning from the referee, makes me wonder why more kidney punches aren’t thrown

When are most kidney punches thrown

You need to be very close to your opponent in order to land a successful kidney punch.  As a result, these types of strikes usually occur just after fighters break up from a clinch.

Typically, a boxer will take a side step to  move round  to the side of their opponent and launch a hook body shot to the kidney; obviously doing their best not to be spotted by the referee.

On other occasions, one fighter will muscle the other into a corner and wait for an opportune moment when their opponent’s side is exposed before trying to land a kidney punch.  This is exactly what George Foreman did in the fight above. 

Consequences of a kidney punch

The immediate result of a shot to the kidneys is a sharp stabbing pain which can literally bring you to your knees. 

If the kidneys are physically damaged then the following symptoms may be experienced:

  • blood in your urine
  • fever and chills
  • frequent urination
  • sickness and vomiting

Why do kidney punches hurt so much?

The kidney is a highly complex organ and consequently has a highly number of nerve fibres permeating its structure to control its functioning. These nerve centres all act as pain receptors and “fire” whenever a significant external force acts on them.  The signal is sent to the brain and is experienced as a sharp, shooting pain. It’s this high density of nerve fibre which makes them so sensitive to any form of violent assault.

Can a kidney punch cause permanent damage?

The initial pain caused by a kidney punch should go away in 2-3 days.   However, where  extreme damage has been caused, it may result in kidney failure which  may eventually require treatment with dialysis or a kidney transplant.  A powerful punch to the kidneys can therefore cause permanent damage.

How to Avoid a Kidney Punch

It sounds obvious but one of the key defensive techniques to use to avoid this punch is not to expose your back to your opponent.

You will note in the fight between George Foreman and Ladislao Mijangos, that Ladislao adopted a very strange side-on stance.   It’s likely that this was a defensive posture designed not to expose his front.  However, in adopting this stance it exposed his entire flank to attack.

This is where good footwork comes into play helping you to continue to orientate yourself so that you are always facing your opponent.

In Summary…

The kidneys are a key organ within the human body and perform the crucial role of filtering the blood. They are highly complicated and have a high volume of nerve fibres running through them to control their operation.  These nerve fibres also act as pain receptors which makes them highly sensitive.

Unfortunately, the kidneys are that well protected and are only partially covered by the rib cage.  They are also relatively near the surface of the skin.  This makes them a target for attack for an aggressor.

Fortunately, kidney punches are banned in both amateur and professional boxing but, nevertheless, these strikes are still thrown in this sport often with devastating consequences.


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