The Parable of the Body Shot

by Shawn O'Donnell: “Kill the body and the head will follow” is the old trainer's credo. Never has there been a more truthful piece of wisdom extolled by trainers. A devastating body shot, when executed flawlessly, leaves little measure for resiliency. It is decisive and cutting as the finest, manicured blade. The destructive potential is obvious,but little is known about how the body punch effects a fighters' ability to perform. In order to understand this, an examination of the anatomy of the body blow itself is necessary. There are four main regions of the torso that are effected significantly by body blows:the liver, the solar plexus, the heart and the high ribs. Some of these regions are well known to the average boxing fan, while other spots are more obscure..

Body blows are most effective when they influence the parasympathetic nervous system.. The parasympathetic nervous system slows down the body through its neural activities. This is the reason why you become sleepy and tired after consuming a meal. In opposition to this, the sympathetic nervous system acts in a manner that causes an excitory reaction.This is what many would call the "fight or flight" response.When a blow is enacted with sufficient stimulatory force, it can cause a "braking or slowing" effect on the bodies nervous system.What also plays a key role in how body punches deteriorate a fighters' constitution is how much adrenaline is present in the body. Boxers that warm up correctly and come into fights psychologically prepared are less apt to suffer from the effects of body punches.Adrenaline, produced by our body, helps to block painful stimuli. Without adrenaline circulating in a fighters' anatomy they are more vulnerable to the detrimental consequences of body shots.The preceeding information explains globally why body punches are so effective;however,most fight fans have a more regional understanding of this fistic art. I have addressed the remainder of the article with this consideration in mind.

The most well-known body punch is the shot to the solar plexus. In 1966, when Jose Torres captured the world light-heavyweight title from Willie Pastrano, he executed a very precise blow to the solar plexus which felled Pastrano, left him out of breath and eventually ended the fight. Why does this body blow effect fighters in this manner?The answer lies in human anatomy and how nerves control our body. The solar plexus is controlled by the phrenic nerve, which originates in the cervical region of the neck; it descends through the trunk of the body and terminates on the diaphragm. The phrenic nerve controls the contractions of the diaphragm, which in turn, administers the processes of taking in and expelling air. When a punch of sufficient force hits the diaphragm,it sends a signal of distress to the phrenic nerve. This impairs the phrenic nerves' ability to function properly. The diaphragm becomes temporarily paralyzed, which suspends breathing and causes the sensation of 'being winded'.It is an effective punch, but because it is executed head on, an opponent can make adjustments to the attack. Because of this it is a very hard punch to execute. However, the opposite is true of the liver shot.

The liver punch is something of legend. It is said that it is a mandatory component of all Mexican fighters' punching arsenal. When performed with accuracy, the liver punch comes out of the blue and ends fights in a conclusive manner. It is as powerful as a knockout blow to the chin. However, there is a delayed reaction which leaves the victim fully cognizant of the punch,but with little recourse to resist the energy draining effects of the blow. It is the punch that unceremoniously ended the Oscar De la Hoya-Bernard Hopkins fight; leaving a helpless De la Hoya writhing in agony and in no position of beating the referee's toll. The liver shot was also the punch that ended the Arturo Gatti-Leonard Dorrin fight. After a brief flurry of punches to Dorrin's head, Gatti quickly redirected his attack at Dorrin's unprotected right midsection. The blow was perfectly timed, it caused the Romanian fighter to collapse to the canvas as if shot by a gun. These two fights are a testament to the power of the liver shot. With a punch that is this potent, it leaves a burning curiosity as to how it can wreak such havoc? Perhaps it is best understood in its kinetic process.

As of recent times, Mickey Ward became an expert marksman in the execution of this punch. For students hungering for knowledge on how to properly enact this punch, Ward gave an extensive demonstration of the liver shot on a ESPN telecast. On that show he emphasized that the punch had to be performed with substantial force on an angle to the right side of the torso.

If we look at the body in a downward cross-section view, the liver occupies a considerable amount of real estate on the right side of the body. When a powerful punch is directed at the liver it pushes the organ inward and stimulates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve which originates in the cranium, descends down the neck and wedges itself between the spinal column and internal organs of the body. The term 'vagus' is Latin for wandering (vagabond also arises from this etymology as well). This system of nerves spreads out into tentacle-like patterns that network with every major internal organ of the body. The nerve is involved in controlling everything from stress to detoxification.When the nerve is subjected to pressure from violent trauma, it creates a short circuit to the brain. The brain, sensing eminent danger to the body, shuts down all peripheral operations and retains brain activity as the paramount function. It is almost like a biological power failure with emergency power supplied only to the brain. This is why fighters are fully alert after being hit in the liver, but cannot muster the strength to continue.

The secret of the liver punch resides in the manipulation of the bodies internal energy reserves;however, the effectiveness of the high rib/arm pit cavity punch is grounded in pure anguish. It is a very rare area of the body which few fighters work to their advantage. When a blow is landed on the upper quadrant of the rib cage it sends a piercing, radiating pain though the chest cavity. It often removes the fighting spirit of many of its' recipients. It is said that Christ's spirit was set free from his body when a lance was thrust into his side, through his upper ribs. This is the approximate location of where this punch is executed.

A fighter that uses this region as a focus of attack is Antonio Margarito; he directs his punches specifically at the upper rib cage. His adversaries unwillingly pitch forward and contort from the pain. Margarito then times the downward movement of the head with upper-cuts and hooks which eventually causes further trauma, resulting in knockout blows. He uses the upper rib/arm pit cavity punch mainly to set up his finishing blows. On occasion, he has ended fights with this punch as well. The best example of this was his knockout of Kermit Cintron in their second fight.

Margarito sent Cintron to the canvas, in the 5th round of that fight, with a wicked punch to the upper ribs. Riddled with pain, and mentally defeated, Cintron would concede to the distress in his body.

Another noteworthy punch that can cause significant agony to fighters is the heart punch. The principle location of the heart punch is one inch below the nipple on the left side of the body. When a punch hits this area a debilitating, radiating pain spreads over the heart, akin to severe heart burn. The heart punch is very similar to the rib/arm pit cavity punch. Both punching locations have a burning radiating pain when enacted upon. These punches also act in subtle ways.

They set in motion a series of chaotic events that often lead to knockout punches There are two primary reactions to these blows; either fighters lean forward in response to the pain, or they drop their guard to protect their body from further abuse. A classic example of this occurred during the unified heavyweight title fight between Mike Tyson and Micheal Spinks. What initially hurt Spinks, during the first round, was a short right hand to the heart. When Spinks moved backwards into the ropes, Tyson slipped a short right hand under Spinks' guard and into his chest. Spinks, reacting to the effect of the punch,leaned forward and fell to the mat. When he got to his feet, his body was occupied with emanating pain. His mind was clouded in a fog of discomfort, and he was not prepared for the assault Tyson would inflict. After being hit by a barrage of punches to the head by Tyson, Spinks would be counted out. It is clear after watching the fight that the knockout's genesis arose from that punch to the heart.

Tyson made a habit of studying old fight films. He probably picked up the punch from watching the bountiful fight archive that his managers owned Fighters like Gene Tunney and Harry Greb often used the heart punch in their arsenal to scientifically break fighters down. Today, those fighting techniques only seem to exist in dusty fight film archives .One of the reasons why the body punch may have become a lost art in recent years, is that fighting styles have been influenced by the amateur scoring system. A scoring point in amateur boxing is strictly constituted as contact with the head, while body blows are often overlooked in scoring. Fighters such as Chavez, Greb, Tunney and Duran largely served their boxing apprenticeships in the professional ranks. They attained their status in fistic folklore through hard miles and were unscathed by the fraudulent scoring that inhabits amateur boxing. These were men forged by the conditions of hardship, and poverty and had little value for symbolic, shiny trinkets.

In essence, fighters from those periods were more complete. They were forced to explore all avenues of their trade to be successful. The most prolific fighters in the game right now are Pacquioa, Pavlik, Margarito, Cotto, and Hatton. They attack with courage, and ferocity and recognize the value of body punching. With the Margarito-Cotto fight surpassing its hype, it leaves us to wonder if there are more of these brilliant fights in the future. Maybe grizzled trainers will no longer recount the legendary performances of days gone by, when bouts from last Saturday will satiate their appetite. It is then that the parable of the body shot has been fully realized.


Kluger, Jeffrey. The Biology of Fistfights ,Discover Magazine.(Summer 2008) pages 23-25.

Dr.Damon Zavala- Physician Nevada State Athletic Commission

Dr.Malcom Rondeua - Physician British Columbia Boxing Association

Article posted on 26.09.2008

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