Muay Thai vs Boxing: Which One is Better?


Photo Credit: Gerrit Phil Baumann via Wikimedia Common & WorldSeriesBoxing via flickr

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The world of Muay Thai and Boxing are both quite similar in that they involve a heavier load of strikes compared to other martial arts. In fact, when MMA practitioners are learning how to strike with the best in the MMA world, they’re learning one or the other. Yet evaluating the best of the two can be a bit hard for many to do. This is due to the fact that both have their merits.

The question is, which one is better to get involved in either combat art? Let’s dive into that.

Muay Thai vs Boxing: The Main Differences

In Muay Thai, you have 8 different striking sectors: Hands(left & right), Elbows(left & right), Knees(left & right), and Feet(left & right), totalling 8 striking factors. While boxers or Muay Thai fighters are skilled in hitting people with feet or hands, boxers never use elbows, feet, and knees (they’d get disqualified for that) to strike their opponents. On top of this, boxers are not allowed to clinch. At least not for very long. 

Meanwhile, what is not allowed in boxing is a major part of Muay Thai fighting. There are even moves you’ll do inside the clinch, such as knee strikes to the body and even the head. You might also land punches to the head or body too. 

Muay Thai vs. Boxing: Who Would Win In A Fight?

If you put a black belt (armband) in Muay Thai up against a championship boxer, both being the same sex and weight class, it is more likely that the Muay Thai fighter will walk away as the winner. Yet due to boxing teaching people how to properly strike, you should not discount how great a boxer can fair in a fight like this. You just need one punch to hit just right, and you’re capable of knocking nearly anyone out.

One area Muay Thai could hurt the boxer is how they go about striking. Keep in mind, Muay Thai experts can utilize knees and elbows. Boxers are not taught how to properly throw anything outside of punches. Therefore, Muay Thai strikers can hit moves most boxers won’t normally come across.

Muay Thai knee strikes

In Muay Thai, you’ll also see kicks targeted to the legs a lot. This is especially brutal on the shins and calves. Muay Thai fighters will toughen these areas up a lot in practice. Meaning by the time they kick you, it’ll be led with some major power that can be done numerous times in a row without fail.

Yet a boxer would not even be prepared for the first shin or calf strike. Muay Thai fighters might even kick at the knees or thighs too! This can be wildly effective against a Boxer of any type because a lot of punches and kicks utilize power from their entire body. That means properly standing or planting your leg will give you the power you need to land a big shot. If you hurt the legs, you can take away a lot of that power from a boxer. 

This is the same concept behind what boxers do when they attack the other fighter’s torso. They are attempting to take away the power they have behind their strikes. Yet even if a boxer were to land effective strikes to the Muay Thai expert’s body, the Muay Thai expert can also use “the clinch” game that boxers are not proficient in. 

From here, they can land elbow or knee shots that do not always require a lot of power to be effective. You’re hitting people with boney or sharp areas of the body in this position. For these strikes, it’s not always about the power behind the strike itself but where and how you land them. Even a lower to moderate knee shot to the nose can break it, for instance.

Once you understand the key differences between Muay Thai vs Boxing by reading Muay Thai vs. Boxing – Who Would Win and Differences Explained, you will better understand why Muay Thai is the superior art between the two.

Which One Is More Effective in a Street Fight?

When you talk about a street fight, you need to be capable of handling anything that comes your way. The ranking system in Muay Thai is a bit different compared to other martial arts. In some, if you attend practices and do your best in classes, you could reach black belt status in many martial arts within a few years. In Muay Thai, it can take up to 10 years.

Muay Thai fight

Of course, they do not utilize belts but rather, armbands. Just to get beyond a white armband to a Yellow or Orange could take a year or longer.

That said, even a moderate Muay Thai fighter could likely handle themselves incredibly well in a street fight. They will know how to use their body well and utilize all potential weapon areas it has. That said, a boxer might know how to hit a great haymaker or jab on a potential attacker using the distance wisely.

If you are trained in Muay Thai, you have more offensive tools at your disposal because of knees and elbows as a Muay Thai practitioner. Not only can you strike, but the potential attacker would never know where you’re coming from.

Hence, even though both combat arts are great to learn as self-defense, Muay Thai is a better choice as self-defense due to having more offensive tools.

Which Is Better For Body Workout?

Most people will say that boxing is likely the best workout you can go for. Why? In Boxing, it is all down to cardio. You can rest between rounds but with all the punches you’ll throw, it’ll take up a ton of energy very fast. This is why boxing instructors will always teach you how to breathe when striking.

This is incredibly important, as getting tired will show and an opponent will be happy to pounce in a sanctioned fight. Being too tired can lead to quite literally being knocked out. Therefore, you’ll not only learn how to breathe but also a lot of other great cardiovascular material that you can benefit heavily from in daily life. The more you box, the more you’ll benefit in cardio health.

Since you are using your body a lot, this can also help you get into great shape from an abdominal standpoint and likely even help in promoting muscle growth. You rarely see obese-looking boxers at the professional level for a reason. They’re in the gym constantly putting in the work to get better, all while remaining in great shape.

While Muay Thai can be a useful workout too, a lot of this martial art is not about cardio specifically. Sometimes, it’s about using the least amount of effort to get the greatest result. Like with Kickboxing, you’re seeing the boxer move around a lot while in Muay Thai, you’re literally lying in wait for the perfect opportunity to strike. Therefore, you’ll likely get a better workout in boxing. However, you’ll still do a lot in Muay Thai training.

However, by comparison here, boxing is good for a workout for the average person.

Which Art Should You Learn First As A Beginner?

Truthfully, there is no reason you cannot learn either one as a beginner in fighting sports or martial arts. While you will not need nearly as long to become a relatively good boxer as it’ll take to move up the Muay Thai armband system.

In Muay Thai, expect to learn a lot and be able to take on Amateur Contests as early as your teenage years in both. Therefore, you can easily take either one you have an interest in, at any time you wish to do so. However, we will warn you a bit. If you’re an older person, overweight, or in bad health, both can be tricky to be involved in.

Yet Boxing would be easier on the body initially. Muay Thai can be great to do at a slower pace but in terms of regular class schedules, boxing would be the most ideal for people in these situations who are not physically 100 percent. 

That does not mean Muay Thai is out of the question, it’ll just need to be done at a proper pace due to all that is asked of a person physically. Such as clinch movements and elbow & knee usage (both of which can be problem areas for people who might have some physical issues).

For Muay Thai, we always advise people to train only with those backed by the World Muay Thai Boxing Association to find a certified Muay Thai instructor who is highly qualified to teach.

The same occurs for Boxing. You want to train with official Boxing Instructors. In the United States, your official trainers will be given a certification by USA Boxing that they’ll put on display. Like with Muay Thai, if you’re meeting up with a former or current Boxing World Champion, then it’s even better.

Is Muay Thai More Dangerous Than Boxing?

It is clear that Muay Thai and Boxing can both be dangerous because they are combat arts. Yet instructors do not start people out like professional fighters. That would be wrong to do, and it’s actually against their core teaching. Of course, this is when we remind you that it is always best to meet with official instructors and discuss any concerns you might have before you sign up.

When you first start out, Muay Thai instructors will make students of all ages wear headgear. Yet they might also have you wear shin guards as well as knee or elbow pads. You will be forced to wear headgear in all amateur competitions too. In boxing, you’ll likely wear headgear for a while. It is forced in all amateur contests right now. Even if you make it to the Olympics, you’ll notice the use of headgear that all boxers must use. Therefore, both are as safe as can be to start out.

Boxers with headgears

In the end, the danger is there for both. In Muay Thai, you’ll often wear headgear in training but not in professional contests. Due to the various ways you can be hit along with the multiple target areas, most would say Muay Thai is more dangerous.

How’s Muay Thai Different Than Regular Kickboxing?

Kickboxing uses what is known as the “4-Point strike system” (hands & feet), Muay Thai uses the “8-Point strike system.” This includes the 2 hands and 2 feet, as well as both knees and both elbows. That adds up to 8, of course. Due to this, Muay Thai is considered to be completely full contact where kickboxing is considered to be limited.

The clinching game does not exist in kickboxing at all. They also differ in how people are taught as well as how fights tend to operate in their specific worlds. In kickboxing, fighters will move around a lot, circling and weaving as well as move their heads around. In Muay Thai, fighters are often patient to wait for a potential time to strike, often like a snake in the grass.

Once they do, the fighter will be very aggressive in moving forward. This jump to aggression can come right out as their opponent strikes or attempts to. Thus, counterattacking is often where Muay Thai fighters tend to shine. It’s likely one of the most important aspects of the art. While kickboxing does work on counters, the idea is to move around and set up a chance to get a point. Even if it’s a small jab or kick.

Closing Thoughts

Ultimately, both Muay Thai and Boxing are great to learn and take part in. They both have their merits and they are both fun to watch in their own specific worlds. However, if you plan to jump into MMA then you’ll likely benefit most from Muay Thai. At the same time, you’ll also be capable of handling yourself in potential street fights or in times when you need to defend yourself against an attacker.

Boxing is a sweet science, which can be fun to watch and double as a terrific workout. In fact, there is far more money in boxing at elite level than in any other fighting sport on the planet right now. Therefore, if you needed to learn one just for a potential fighting career and if you like striking martial art, consider boxing.

It’s up to you what you decide here. However, we recommend you do your own research further before taking lessons or joining classes.

Clay E

Clay E is a MMA/Muay Thai practitioner who was a collegiate wrestler at James Madison University.

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