Seeing athletes in combat sports get completely hammered only to come back for more is always a sight to behold. Punch resistance or their so-called “chin” is one of the main ingredients that often make a remarkable fighter.
Roy Nelson, also known as the “Big Country,” may have not become a champion at the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but his name will always be remembered for having one of the most durable chins in history.
In modern boxing, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. remains as one of the toughest opponents to beat because of his ability to recover quickly from a solid hit. The list is long and many fighters have reached unprecedented success because their tolerance to physical pain has been on full display.
In case you wonder why some people are durable while some are not, experts have explained the science behind a person’s ability (or the lack thereof) to take a punch.
The Head Trauma
University of Connecticut’s Dr Anthony Alessi, who was awarded Ringside Physician of the Year in 2009, first explained the biochemistry of head trauma, pointing out that calcium is responsible for damaging the nerve cell during a concussion. (All quotes are from Bleacher Report)
“It’s really a multi-factorial process when you deal with concussions. Potassium is inside the nerve cell, and sodium and calcium are outside the cell. What happens is, when you have a concussion, you upset the membrane. Calcium begins to flow into the nerve cell, which then causes swelling and damage to the nerve cell.”
“Let’s say there’s a storm, and the concussion is the storm. It causes a rupture in your basement wall, and now you’ve got water flowing into your basement. That rupture in the basement wall is like rupturing the nerve cell. Now you’ve got all this water flowing in—which would be the calcium—and the only way to get it out is to pump it out. And that’s what the nerve cell does.”
The more calcium entering the nerve cells, the weaker a person’s resistance to punch. If the cell could not get its pumps to restore the calcium balance, a person will experience a knockout.
“The nerve cell has pumps to pump the calcium out so that it can get back to being balanced. The body diverts energy to get these pumps working. That’s why knockouts occur because the brain is saying: ‘Listen, I gotta shut it down here and get this thing going again.’ If you get another storm before you’ve even repaired the first one, you’re going to have an overwhelming amount of calcium rushing in, and that can sometimes even result in death.”
Meanwhile, Dr Matt Pitt stressed that a person’s neck strength is also critical in absorbing a blow.
“The sternocleidomastoids are prominent. Unfortunately, they are also isolated. It is not surprising then that we rarely see the thrower of a well-placed punch to the head grasping his hand in pain and stumbling back in amazement as his opponent casually flexes his muscles and smiles; the muscular arithmetic is firmly in the thrower’s favour.”
The Role of Mental Strength
Dr Alessi also downplayed the role of mental strength to one’s capacity to take and recover from punches. He insisted that it is a big misconception and is almost a suicide. In fact, the more our head absorbs punches, the less it becomes resistant to pain.
“Mental strength doesn’t play a role in it. That kind of mentality is scary more than anything. Those are the kinds of people who are going to stay in there no matter what, and those are the guys who end up with the most damage…. They’re willing to die.”
“Some fighters believe the more you get hit in the head, the more you build up an immunity to damage. These people think: ‘The more I get hit, the tougher I get.’ But it’s more like: ‘The more you get hit, the dumber you get.’ That’s one of those gym fallacies that has been going around for years.”
(Featured Image Source: Instagram/Raw MMA)