Seattle's very own Ivan Salaverry:
I have been working body hooks with my boxing coach lately, and subsequently I have been reviewing it with my striking students. I must admit a strange fetish with body shots. Outside of choking a fool out, there is nothing quite as gratifying as hitting someone to the body, and watching them consciously quit! Though often referred to as a body knock out, the victim of a brutal body shot is fully awake, yet the body will not allow you to continue. Mentally you want to stand up and fight, but the pain and the spasm that is caused causes an exuberant amount of pain and leaves a unique taste in ones mouth!
My boy Crocop back in the Pride days.
Here is a great breakdown from MMA Junkie of what is happening physiologically:
Q. Dr. Benjamin: I have a question for you that's driving me nuts. I've been fighting and sparring for a long time, and over the years I've had all kinds of injuries -- separated shoulders, deep bruises, stress fractures, you name it. However, in all that time I managed to avoid ever taking a serious gut/liver shot until recently. And I think I can easily say that this was one of the most painful things I've ever felt. It was like my entire brain shut down to anything but the pain. Once that subsided, it got me thinking: why does a well placed gut shot hurt so badly? What organ or collection of organs is it that sends a big, fat "ouch" racing up my spinal column? Granted, separating my shoulder was incredibly painful, but even that didn't compare to the gut shot in terms of sheer physical agony. (From William C. Jenkins)
A. Wow. Where are the easy questions? Please allow me to use my knowledge, training and experience to work through this one since my search of the medical literature did not find any good formal studies on this topic.
The"gut" and/or liver shot is often debilitating to say the least. But I believe that there may be two separate and distinct mechanisms related to this incapacitating phenomenon.
First the generic gut shot.
A gut shot is simply blunt force trauma to the abdomen that causes significant pain and difficulty breathing to the recipient. This mechanism has been widely described as related to spasm of the diaphragm. Here goes the dreaded anatomy and physiology lecture. (Sorry, blame it on Bill. He asked the question.)
The diaphragm is a large flat muscle that runs horizontally separates the thoracic cavity (chest, lung and heart) from the abdominal cavity (belly, organs and guts). It acts like a bellow that moves (contracts) up and down changing the pressure within the thoracic cavity in order to help the lungs fill and release air (respiration/breathing). When struck the diaphragm can, for lack of a better word, "cramp" (spasm) causing significant pain and difficulty breathing since it is not moving properly to help the lungs move air.
This has also been commonly described as the "solar plexus" (which, by the way, is not a medical term). I first learned about the solar plexus while watching "wrastlin" on TV on Saturday nights as a little kid in Houston. Man, whatever happened to Gorgeous George, the Von Erich's, Dick Murdoch, Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka and the Masked Mexican Assassin El Diablo – talking about living room throw downs and putting your little brother in a sleeper hold!! Pardon me. I digress.
The second mechanism is blunt trauma to a solid organ or the dreaded "liver shot." Abdominal organs for the most part are covered with a thin but very tough fibrous membrane called a capsule. The capsule of solid organs (liver, spleen, kidneys, etc.) does not like to be stretched or deformed. The capsule of hollow organs (intestines, bladder, stomach, etc.) is specifically designed to accommodate stretching.
The liver is the largest solid organ in the abdomen and quite superficial, which leaves it poorly protected. It is on the upper right side (right upper quadrant) of the belly just above the belly button and extends above the lower border of the rib cage. So a large portion of the liver is left unprotected and relatively exposed to a well placed body shot.
When a solid organ takes a forceful blow and the overlying capsule is stretched, severe pain ensues. Once again, it is the body's attempt to protect itself from further harm or rupture of an organ. Reflexively (without thought), the combatants arms come down to cover the midsection and many times the injured person will fall to the ground and assume a modified fetal position to further protect. The fight is over or soon will be. The primitive instincts of the body have gone into override and are taking on a strictly defensive posture.
Legendary fighters have learned that when you hurt your opponents with a head shot, they will cover their face. Therefore, the next blows should be delivered to the now-exposed body (abdomen/belly). If these clean body shots do not finish the fight, the reflexive covering of the abdomen will lower the hands and leave your opponent's chin begging for more.
High quality MMA is really 95 percent mental. At the most elite levels, everyone has game. But the combatant who can out think his or her opponent on that particular night has a tremendous advantage.
That's why the combatant with greater athleticism or a superior physique doesn't always win.