Muay Thai vs Boxing – Which one is more effective?
When you get into martial arts, you will quickly realize that there are many different forms to consider. Muay Thai and boxing are two popular options that have their own unique advantages and disadvantages. Finding the one that’s the best fit for you depends on your own individual situation and what you’re looking to gain from it.
If you are able to learn both, there is definitely merit to being able to balance the benefits of both fighting forms. But if you want to focus on one, this guide outlining the unique qualities of Muay Thai and boxing will help you see their differences. Keep reading to find out which martial art is the best for street fighting, for learning, or for getting fit.
About Muay Thai
Muay Thai, also known as Thai Boxing or the Art of Eight Limbs, is the national martial art of Thailand. Although scholars debate the exact origins of the sport, it came about hundreds of years ago during Siamese warfare. In Muay Thai, parts of the body become weapons (1). For instance:
- The hands are like a sword and dagger.
- The shins and forearms protect you against blows like armor.
- The elbow is like a hammer.
- The knees and elbows search and test the opponent for an opening.
The body works as one unit for an extremely effective fighting style. The sport has only recently become known outside of Thailand.
According to historians, the earliest evidence of Boxing comes from around 3000 BC in Egypt. The Egyptians used leather thongs to protect boxers’ forearms and hands. Later, the Romans replaced these thongs with gloves studded with metal. For the Romans, “boxing matches of the era usually ended with the death of one or other contestant.” (2)
After the collapse of the Roman empire, fist fighting as entertainment stopped. Centuries later in 1681, London became a hub for boxing when its first official bout was registered. These early fights did not have weight classes, no gloves, and no rules.
In 1749, Jack Brownton wrote boxing’s first code of rules, which included:
- Only using hands to fight,
- No punches beneath the waist,
- No punching an opponent on the ground.
Brownton also invented the first boxing gloves. In 1814, the Boxing Society of London came to exist, and they adopted the London Prize Ring Rules for the sport.
In 1880, England began official organized amateur boxing with five weight classes. In 1904, boxing made its Olympic debut with the USA as the only entrant. The rules of boxing have changed over time, but it is a regular Olympic sport. In 2012, women’s boxing made a debut at the London Games.
Do they Influence Each Other?
Since boxing has strict rules, there isn’t much of a Muay Thai influence on boxing. Similarly, Muay Thai fighting doesn’t place a lot of emphasis on punching. However, fighters from different backgrounds have influenced modern Muay Thai after it rose in international popularity.
For example, fighters from boxing backgrounds put more emphasis on defensive movement. Some foreign fighters do not take the first two rounds of Muay Thai slowly, as is the custom. They choose instead to jump on their opponent immediately and end the fight as quickly as possible, as one might in boxing.
Muay Thai vs Boxing – Form
Boxing is a fighting style primarily focused on the upper body. Muay Thai allows fighters to use their entire body (3). These combat sports developed in different regions, so it is only natural that the stances and hand positions differ. Here is a breakdown of the differences between these arts.
Boxing rules state that fighters can only punch above the belt. In boxing, punches to the back of the head or the kidneys are not allowed. However, Muay Thai fighters can use fists, knees, elbows, and legs for a wide range of attacks. For this reason, Muay Thai is considered more brutal.
In boxing, the fighter keeps their body sideways to the opponent. The purpose of this stance is to help with defense and keep the target area to a minimum. In Muay Thai, this type of stance would leave the fighter’s front leg exposed to kicks.
For example, boxing champion Floyd Mayweather is known for his strong defense. His stance left his opponents with little space to land any strikes.
In Muay Thai, the fighters have their hips squared to each other. The typical stance involves:
- Feet shoulder’s width apart
- Front foot curved inward slightly
- Weight is shifted slightly to the back foot
- The back foot’s heel is slightly raised
Their stance is narrower than Mayweather’s famed defensive position. The Muay Thai stance allows fighters to use both legs and shift their weight quickly.
Boxers tend to keep a tight and low guard close to their body. They only have to worry about strikes above the belt, so this guard allows them to protect that area. Some other hand positions include a high hand to cover their face or one hand at the waist with the other near the chin.
In Muay Thai, the guard is near or above the head and is more extended. The Muay Thai guard:
- Allows the fighter to protect against head kicks,
- Allows the fighter to throw elbow strikes,
- Keeps kicks from hitting the head,
- Allows the fighter to use their shins to guard the body (in training, they often use shin guards)
You will rarely see body punches in Muay Thai because punching leaves the head too exposed.
If an opponent gets too close in boxing, the other fighter may use clinching. Clinching is a defense technique that stops the opponent’s momentum (4). A boxer may use clinching to:
- Neutralize an attack before it happens,
- Break up the rhythm of their opponent,
- Get out of a corner,
- Take a short breather,
- Stabilize themselves after a hard hit.
Boxers can only clinch for a short while before the referee stops it. However, the clinch is a key part of Muay Thai. For similar reasons, the clinch allows a fighter to control their opponent and set them up for close range attacks.
Boxing usually involves 12 or 15 three-minute rounds. Two outcomes that occur in Boxing that would rarely happen in Muay Thai are:
- An early knockout if one fighter gets the opportunity
- Both fighters leaving the ring relatively unscathed
Muay Thai fights consist of five, three-minute rounds. The first two rounds tend to be cautious fighting without much real damage. The final round is when the real fighting starts and the pace quickens. The fights tend to happen with short bursts of action and then defensive fighting.
The fighters take significant damage even with the slow start because of the vicious elbow and knee strikes. Because of the striking options, fighters try not to leave themselves open to attacks for too long.
Boxing strikes happen with the hands, but footwork is the key element for any skilled boxer. Boxers often have to duck and dodge punches and remain light on their feet. While successful boxers skillfully avoid strikes, Muay Thai fighters tend to block or absorb strikes.
Muay Thai fighters use their front leg to creep forward just as boxers do. However, they do not place too much weight on this leg because they need it to deliver or block kicks. For this reason, Muay Thai fighters often bounce their front knee to stay prepared. Therefore, footwork is a little less important.
In Muay Thai, fighters tend to minimize their movements to one line. They move forwards and backwards, keeping a square stance. In orthodox Muay Thai fighting, the only angles may come from rotating the body to throw a kick with the rear foot. In this sport, “it is generally the smarter fighter who wins, not necessarily the largest or more powerful.” (5)
Boxing is all about using angles to deliver powerful strikes. Boxers may rotate on their feet as they fight to take advantage of different positioning. For example, they can make uppercuts more powerful by leaning to one side. Slipping and weaving under punches is another way to create different angles.
Muay Thai vs Boxing in a Street Fight
In a street fight, it helps to know either of these martial arts. The pros of using boxing in a real-life situation include:
- Defensive competence,
- Ability to read your opponent’s upper body language,
- Understanding spacing and timing,
- Fighting standing up and with your hands.
Muay Thai teaches you to work with an opponent who can kick. Although this isn’t as common in a self-defense situation, it does happen. Overall, knowing Muay Thai would give you a longer striking range and knowledge about how to use every part of your body. If you need a short-term solution, however, boxing may be the fastest to learn.
Which is Easiest to Learn?
As Muay Thai uses the entire body for striking and blocking, it takes much longer to learn. You need to know how to use different types of attacks as well as defend against them. Muay Thai clinching is in itself a mammoth area to perfect, and that’s just one facet of the art form.
Comparatively, there is much less to learn in boxing. The sport involves striking with your hands, building your stamina, and mastering footwork. You’ll need quick head and hand movements to avoid punches. With less to learn, boxing is certainly the faster art form to master.
Which is Best for Fitness?
Both boxing and Muay Thai are good for strength and conditioning. Muay Thai will also help you harden your body, especially your shins as you use them for defense. As Evolve MMA said, “with continued training, Muay Thai will vastly improve your strength, dexterity, and cardiovascular performance.” (6)
However, understand your reasons for learning these skills. If you are focusing on fitness, you may not learn the techniques you need to defend yourself in a real fight. For example, a kickboxing class may help you build strength and lose weight, but it won’t help you act in a fight. Mastering either of these martial arts requires some level of fitness.
Which One Should You Learn First?
The one you learn first depends on the fighting style that most appeals to you. If you only want to focus on punching, then boxing would be more your style. In terms of defense, boxers get to use more evasive footwork than Muay Thai fighters.
If a Muay Thai fighter tried to roll and slip punches, they would risk knee strikes to the face or leg sweeps. However, Muay Thai fighters have more effective defenses against different types of attacks than punches. It is therefore often considered a more complete style of fighting. If you are seeking entry into MMA fighting, knowing the range of skills that fighters develop from Muay Thai could be a huge help.
If you plan on learning both, consider starting with boxing. Boxing skills:
- Are quicker to learn,
- Give you a strong foundation,
- Can crossover into Muay Thai fighting.
Few Muay Thai skills will help you in Boxing, since the priorities of the sports differ. In terms of violence, you’ll have to be able to take a hit in either sport. However, Muay Thai uses some of the most powerful and hardest parts of the body. So, if you are new to martial arts, you may want to begin with boxing – although keep in mind that those hits are no walk in the park either.
Hi, I’m Brandon, editor here at MMA-Today. Mixed Martial Arts has been my life long obsession as long as I can remember. I was introduced to Muay Thai at a young age, but ultimately fell in love with BJJ and grappling in my teenage years, and have never looked back. My goal with MMA today is to inspire people to train and enjoy mixed martial arts more every day.