Nobody wants to get punched. Even professional fighters avoid getting punched as best they can. Unfortunately, whether it’s outside a bar or inside a boxing ring, fists have a way of finding faces. So how to take a punch? We could think of no better man to ask than Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship heavyweight king Joey Beltran, who has also competed in MMA under the UFC and Bellator banners. Beltran is revered for his granite chin and toughness, and he definitely knows a thing or two about getting hit, whether it’s by naked knuckles or a gloved fist.
Here’s how to take a punch like a pro.
Preparing to Take a Punch
If you suspect there’s a punch coming your way, you might be compelled to try some boxing-specific exercises to bulk up your neck and jaw. Beltran isn’t sold on these. As far as he’s concerned, a person’s ability to take a punch comes down to their inherent toughness, and not much else.
“In my opinion, it’s more about genetics,” Beltran tells Men’s Journal. “I personally have never done any neck exercises or jaw-strengthening exercises. I’m not saying they’re bad, but I have a good chin, and I think it’s God-given.”
A better idea? Work on preparing yourself for the impact mentally. Beltran believes that this kind of preparation can be useful, if only to help you accept that there’s a good deal of pain headed your way.
“If it’s a bare-knuckle fight or an MMA fight, I just try to have full acceptance of what’s about to happen,” he says. “I’m OK with it. In a way, I actually kind of enjoy it. I don’t feel like I’m doing my job until I get punched in the face.”
Taking a Punch
There’s a fist flying toward your face. Now what? Priority number one is to get out of the way, but if you can’t, Beltran has a few tips.
First and foremost, keep your eyes open.
“It all boils down to that old boxing cliché: The punches that you don’t see coming hurt the most,” Beltran says. “I think that holds true whether it’s a street fight or an MMA fight or a bare-knuckle fight.”
Second, keep your head and jaw in the right position: Mouth closed with your chin lowered close to your neck to protect it. Don’t turn away from the punch.
“You’re in a fight,” he says. “Grit your teeth, definitely don’t have your mouth open, tuck your chin, and keep your eyes wide open.”
Third, roll with the punch. Tilt your head and body in the same direction as the punch to lessen the force of the impact. But don’t overdo it, says Beltran. If you move too much, you’ll increase your risk of being knocked down, particularly if you’re untrained—and that’ll leave you in an even more vulnerable position. To avoid that, keep your feet planted and your knees slightly bent in an athletic stance. Roll with the punch and then return to center.
Or, you could try what Beltran does.
“I have more of a caveman mentality,” he says. “If I see it coming and I can’t get out of the way, I’m just going to tuck my chin and boom: Smash my head into their hand.”
Recovering From a Punch
The good news, according to Beltran, is that the pain of getting punched doesn’t typically set in until the fracas has faded. You can thank your adrenal glands for that.
“If I get hit, right when they announce the winner, that’s when the adrenaline usually starts to wear off,” he says, “and I’m like ‘oh, man.’”
Of course, not everyone takes punches for a living. Adrenaline may not be enough to stave off the pain and wooziness of getting hit. In that case, Beltran recommends tying up with your opponent. Get close and hook your arms under their armpits, thereby removing the space required for them to land more punches.
“I tuck my chin and try to grab a hold of the guy,” he says. “But that’s in an organized context. If I get [hit] like that on the streets, I’m going to go for the nuts.”
While there are few things worse than getting badly rocked in a fight, the good news is that you should regain your composure reasonably quickly—so long as you don’t get clocked again. In Beltran’s experience, it usually takes about 20 to 30 seconds for the dizzying effects of a punch to wear off.
The Positive Side of Getting Punched
There aren’t many silver linings to getting punched. It hurts. Even so, Beltran believes there’s one positive that can be extracted from the experience: If you can survive a good punch, at least you know what you’re made of.
“I definitely think you should get punched one time in your life,” he says.
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