Muay Thai vs. Boxing  –  Which Style is Better? (Easily Explained)


Muay Thai and Boxing are considered the two best and most effective striking systems that are also popular among average people who want to learn self-defense tactics or improve fitness.

Boxing is one of the oldest forms of combat that focuses just on hand striking, whereas Muay Thai includes both hand and leg strikes, as well as knee and elbow strikes, which makes it far more versatile than boxing. Is this enough to say that Muay Thai is better when it comes to self-defense, fitness, weight loss, or MMA?

In this article, we are going to explain how these two striking systems differ from one another, which one is better and why. Well, let’s go!

Boxing vs. Muay Thai  –  Key Differences.

Though both are striking arts, boxing and Muay Thai differ a lot from one another in just about every aspect. Here is a simple and detailed explanation of all the key differences:

History

Boxing is one of the oldest forms of combat with its origins dating all the way back to ancient Egypt around the 3rd millennium BC. There are many cave drawings inside the Thebes showing people trading punches with their hands being wrapped. But as a combat sport, boxing emerged in ancient Greece in 688 BC at the 23rd Olympiad.

Muay Thai emerged in Thailand and its origins go all the way back to the 14th century and the combat system called “Muay Boran”. At the time, Siamese soldiers used Muay Boran as a hand-to-hand combat system to fight on the battlefield. Later on, the matches would come to be a part of various festivals that used to be very popular in the region. In the 19th century, King Rama V made a decision to legalize these matches, and name this sport version Muay Thai.

Concept

On paper, boxing is a simple system as it focuses only on mixing hand strikes with upper body movement and footwork. There are no leg strikes, clinch, grappling, or hitting the area below the waist. It is a pure form of fist fighting where you don’t have to worry much about anything else besides punches in terms of weapons but it is more technical and strategic than Muay Thai.

Muay Thai is much more versatile as it trains a person to use all limbs as weapons in a fight, which is the reason why people call it “the art of eight limbs”. The emphasis is on hard leg kicks, mixing the kicks with basic western boxing combos, and dirty boxing inside the clinch using elbows and knees. On top of that, the training covers some basics of grappling like trips, sweeps, and throws that are allowed in matches.

Stances and guard

Since boxers have to worry about the kicks, most boxers prefer to stay in a wide-bladed stance and lean heavy on the lead leg. This allows them to effectively slip/dodge punches, bob weave, and generate more power. As for the guard, most boxers hold their lead hand a bit further out from their face, and the other one close to their chin. They keep both of their arms close to their bodies and elbows extended to protect the rib-cage area from hard body and liver shots.

Muay Thai differs a lot here because of the kicks and clinch fighting. Most fighters tend to stay in a squared stance with their feet shoulder-width apart which allows them to quickly defend or attack with kicks and knees. Unlike boxers, they keep both of their hands in front of their face, slightly angled toward their opponent to create distance and respond to upcoming kicks, punches and elbows. 

Footwork and range

Footwork and movement play a big role in boxing. This is mainly due to the fact that boxers fight at a much close range and they use footwork to create angles, keep their range and out position their opponent. In fact, you can’t expect to succeed or become good at boxing without good footwork which is the most underrated skill in boxing. This is why boxing is often referred to as “sweet science” because it requires a lot of technical skills to become a good boxer.

Muay Thai fighters, on the other side, prefer to stay in front of their opponent and block the punches and kicks with their hands and legs. You will rarely see them applying lateral movement, bouncing around or rapidly changing direction as most of them stay flat-footed. 

Boxing Rules:

  • Lenth of the matches: pro-boxing matches have from 4 to 12 rounds, with each round being 3 min long, and the rest period between the rounds is 1 min. In total, high profile boxing match includes 36 min of action.
  • Legal strikes: boxers can only use their hands as weapons to do damage with punches. They are allowed to strike only the upper body area above the waist.
  • Illegal strikes: strikes to the back of the head (rabbit punches), strikes below the waist, kidney punches as well as using legs, takedowns, or any other techniques besides punches.
  • Scoring: each boxing match includes 3 judges sitting beside the ring and scoring the fight using a 10-point system. The winner of the round gets 10 points while the loser gets 9, 8, or 7 depending on how dominant the winner was.

Muay Thai Rules:

  • Lenght of the matches: Muay Thai matches have 5 rounds with each round being 3 min long. Unlike in boxing, there is a 2-min break between the rounds.
  • Legal strikes: fighters are allowed to do damage with punches, kicks, elbows, knees, as well as to throw the opponent using trips, throws, and sweeps.
  • Illegal techniques: fighters are not allowed to strike the back of the head, groin area, or hit the grounded opponent.

Gloves:

Boxing gloves are more padded and rounded to increase hand protection. The gloves are also more rigid and far less flexible than the ones in Muay Thai to prevent any movement of the wrist and knuckles upon landing a hard punch.

Muay Thai gloves are a bit more flexible as fighters need to grab their opponent to clinch, catch kicks and execute throws. Blocking kicks is also a reason why Muay Thai gloves have more padding on the sides.

Muay Thai vs Boxing – Which Is Better For Self-Defense?

On paper, Muay Thai is a better option as it is more versatile than boxing, and it puts more emphasis on throwing each strike with full power and finishing the fight as fast as possible. It includes a wide range of weapons, and trains you to fight at all ranges, including the clinch. But on the other side, boxing might be equally effective in a lot of scenarios for one specific reason.

The most common way of attack out on the street is by swinging a punch. No one would bother, notably people not trained in martial arts, to throw kicks, go for takedowns simply because punches are the fastest and most natural way you can hurt a person standing in front. And this is why boxing is close to ideal for self-defense.

Not a single combat system would teach you how to defend and attack using punches better than boxing. It doesn’t matter if the attacker is bigger or stronger, boxers have great timing, spatial awareness, know how to block or slip the punch, and deliver fast, powerful and precise counters.

Boxing also might be a better option because the learning curve is much shorter. There are far fewer techniques than in Muay Thai that are also much easier to learn. On average, students need from 6 to one year of training to develop solid skills they can apply in a real fight.

On the other side, most street fights are chaotic brawls with a lot of grabbing and pulling at close range and this is where Muay Thai and its clinch fighting aspect shine the most. The only fair answer is that both martial arts are highly effective for self-defense, and which one is better really comes down to personal preference.

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Muay Thai vs Boxing – Which Is Harder to Learn?

To find out which one is harder to learn, you need to take a look at the set of different factors and consider which one:

Technically difficult: Muay Thai

Muay Thai is a far more versatile martial art when it comes to techniques. It consists of dozens of different punches, kicks, elbows, knees, clinch positions, and throws. On top of that, you need to learn how to mix it all together while boxing focuses on hand strikes only.

High intensity: Muay Thai

Both boxing and Muay Thai are aggressive systems where the emphasis is on power, damage, and knockouts. Students do a lot of intense cardio sessions, various drills to improve timing and muscle memory, grueling strength workouts, and above all, a lot of hard sparring. You won’t earn or learn anything in both of these arts without sweat, blood, pain, and even tears.

Muay Thai might be slightly more intense due to its emphasis on raw power while boxing is a bit more technical.

Photo by Eric Langley / CC BY

Takes longer to learn: Muay Thai

Boxing consists of punches mixed with footwork and movement. Most of the techniques are direct, simple, and as a beginner, you won’t have a hard time picking up the basics. On average, students need around 6 months to 1 year of training to develop solid boxing skills, the skills they can apply in an amateur match or self-defense scenario on the streets.

Muay Thai takes more time simply because there are more techniques to master. Students need from 2 to 3 years of training to achieve the same level of proficiency as you would with one year of boxing. 

High injury rate: Muay Thai

Overall, Muay Thai is harder on your body and training carries a higher risk of injuries than in boxing. There are a lot more fractures, torn muscles, knee injuries, contusions, and various other “light” injuries. But since boxing includes far more head strikes, it carries a much higher risk of facial and brain injuries.

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Muay Thai vs Boxing – Which Martial Art Is Better For Fitness?

The only fair answer is that both Muay Thai and Boxing are great options if you are looking to improve your fitness. Training in both may help you lose weight, get stronger, boost endurance, and get more flexible. Classes are a mix of anaerobic and aerobic workouts that on one side, burn a lot of calories, and on the other, make your upper and lower body stronger.

The structure of training is dynamic, there is very little rest, and you are going to be on the move and sweat all the time. Your body might hurt after every session and feel sore, but the fitness benefits of this type of workout are huge.

Studies have shown that a single hour of training in both Muay Thai and boxing can burn up to 800 calories. So if you commit yourself to classes, expect to lose weight and get in top shape in a record-breaking time. Last but not least, throwing hundreds of kicks and punches per class helps you relieve stress, and improve mental health. 

Though these two differ in many aspects, there is a lot in common when it comes to the physical and mental benefits of training. It is fair to say that boxing is a bit more popular option among average people because it is less intense, and a bit easier to learn.

Muay Thai vs. Boxing – Which Style Is Better For MMA?

Muay Thai has an edge over boxing for MMA because it is more versatile and it better fits within the rules of cage fighting. MMA is a sport that allows fighters to use all limbs as weapons to fight at all ranges, including the clinch. Out of all striking arts, Muay Thai is the only one that covers all of these aspects. Boxing gives you a better understanding of footwork, movement, angles, timing, and distance. But there are also a couple of big downsides.

First of all, boxing is limited in MMA because the entire emphasis is on punches. It won’t teach you how to defend against kicks, takedowns, clinch, knee, or elbow strikes, not to mention fighting on the ground. For instance, standing in a boxing stance in MMA is bad as it leaves a fighter prone to vicious leg kicks and takedowns.

Muay Thai, on the other side, is better but not ideal. It is often seen as a total package for MMA when it comes to standup fighting. Apart from punches and kicks, it trains you to fight in the clinch, and even some grappling basics.

The conclusion is that Muay Thai is a better base for MMA on paper because the learning curve is much longer for a boxer. Upon switching to MMA, Muay Thai fighters can immediately start working on grappling. Boxers, on the other side, first need to learn the kicks, clinch, elbows and knees which can take a lot of time before they can finally move to grappling.

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Muay Thai vs. Boxing – Who Would Win?

Fighters trained in Muay Thai have more weapons at their disposal, and with that, better chances of beating a boxer. But how the fight would play out really depends on numerous factors like the place of the fight, are the fighters similar in skill and size, and many other elements.

Muay Thai fighters have the advantage over boxers in most scenarios because they are superior at all ranges. If the fight is in an open space, boxers would have a hard time dealing with the kicks and closing the distance without receiving a knee, or front kick straight in the face or body. And even if they manage to move in without taking damage, Muay Thai fighter would wrap their hands around their neck, and initiate the clinch position from which they can unload with knees and elbows. Boxers are not trained to fight in the clinch and would look lost in this position and have hard time escaping or defending. 

Though they might be superior on the streets, Muay Thai fighters would lose just about every boxing match inside the boxing ring on the top level. One of the Muay Thai fighters who managed to do well in boxing was Saenchai, but bear in mind that he did it on the regional scene in Thailand.

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Should I Learn Boxing And Muay Thai At The Same Time?

Training in both Muay Thai and Boxing at the same time has many benefits as long as you are doing it the right way. These two arts complement each other in many different ways and visiting both gyms can only improve your game and make you a complete striker. 

On one side, Muay Thai fighters can learn a lot about footwork and head movement. This can help them learn how to dodge/slip punches, deliver fast counters, create better angles, and stay off the centerline of attack. On the other side, boxers can learn how to throw and defend against the kicks, as well as how to fight inside the clinch.

But if you want to pursue a career in one martial art, then you should be careful because cross-training might have a negative impact on your skills. It can have a negative impact on your stance, guard, timing, and feeling for distance. On the other side, fighters who often switch between Muay Thai and boxing classes are MMA fighters looking to elevate their striking game.

Conclusion

Ultimately, both Muay Thai and Boxing are great to learn and take part in. 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.

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