Muay Thai vs. Boxing – Who Would Win and Differences Explained


When comparing Muay Thai vs Boxing, one of the most common questions aspiring martial art practitioners ask is the inevitable, “Would a Muay Thai fighter win against a boxer or vice versa?”

In an abstract way, Boxers and Muay Thai artists have sparred many times to determine who wins in a fight. Muay Thai artists can box but will rarely win a boxing match against a dedicated boxer. In a situation where kicks are allowed, the Muay Thai artist will have an advantage. 

There are many aspects that these two combat sports have in common, and just as many that they hold unique. Read on to take an in-depth look at Muay Thai, boxing, and how they relate to each other and why Muay Thai has advantage over boxing and their key differences.

The Main Differences Between Muay Thai and Boxing

While there are some fundamental similarities between boxing and Muay Thai, such as the focus on strikes and timed rounds of competition, they couldn’t be more different for practitioners. The primary difference, and the one most obvious to spectators, is that boxers only throw punches, while Muay Thai artists integrate punches, elbows, kicks, and knees. 

Beyond these apparent differences, these two disciplines have very different takes on several concepts that are fundamental to most martial arts. These include the fundamentals of hand positioning, hip positioning, stance, and equipment, further discussed below.

Hand Positioning

There is a reasonably large variety in terms of where the hands are positioned within each discipline, but there is little crossover between the two. Boxers need to hold their hands in a position that easily allows them to defend from punches directed at their head and torso. 

Conversely, most Muay Thai artists hold their hands closer to their face with their forearms angled toward their opponents. This positioning is designed to allow responses to the threat of elbows and head kicks which are often aimed at the chin or temple.

Hip Positioning

The positioning of a fighter’s hips is one of the most impactful differences between boxers and Muay Thai artists. Boxers use the lower half of their bodies for footwork and to add more force to their punches. This focus means that boxers angle their hip and back leg as much as 60-80 degrees behind them to allow for the famous bobbing and weaving that marks a skilled boxer.

Muay Thai artists keep themselves more or less square to their opponent, giving them the ability to launch kicks and knees from the bag leg with significant speed. Although the footwork used in boxing is universally effective within that sport, it would put a boxer’s legs at risk against kick and knee attacks in a direct matchup between the two martial arts.

Stance

The goal of the fighter’s stance in any martial art is to create the best possible defensive position for the practitioner while also keeping themselves ready for any attack they intend to make. Boxers need to avoid the many jabs, crosses, uppercuts, and hooks while maintaining balance enough to throw their own blows. This balance involves the feet being placed slightly farther than hip-width apart and the fighter’s weight evenly distributed between both of their legs.

Muay Thai artists keep their feet slightly closer together with that square stance mentioned above that allows speed and power from the rear leg. However, a Muay Thai artist will also keep marginally more weight on the back foot, allowing the front leg to block kicks from their opponent.

Equipment

Much of the gear between these two disciplines is the same, such as the hand wraps, gloves, mouthguard, and headgear. However, Muay Thai artists will also need to invest in shin guards to protect their legs. 

Initially, fighters can use Muay Thai and boxing gloves interchangeably, but weight class and sport regulations will require specific competition equipment.

Who Would Win in a Street Fight – Boxing or Muay Thai?

Both boxing and Muay Thai train fighters to be able to protect themselves and defeat an opponent. Nevertheless, Muay Thai artists would have a clear advantage in a street fight, but not because that discipline is a more effective fighting style. Boxing is a storied and historical discipline, but it is rooted deeply in competition and rules, and many aspects of boxing do not accommodate a situation without restrictions. 

In a boxing match between a Muay Thai artist and a boxer, the Muay Thai artist would not be allowed to use knees, elbows, or kicks, limiting their arsenal significantly. There are no rules to navigate in a street fight, and in a situation where these two disciplines met, the Muay Thai artist would be better equipped to defeat their opponent.

Ultimately it is vital to remember that street fights are inherently chaotic due to the infinite number of potential circumstances that could affect the winner and the loser. As such, it is impossible to state for sure that a Muay Thai artist will always win a street fight against a boxer, but it is slanted in their favor.

Are Muay Thai Fighters Good Boxers?

Although Muay Thai is referred to as Thai boxing, there are so many differences between the two sports that they cannot be directly compared to one another in most instances. An enormous part of boxing training revolves around not getting hit. Muay Thai artists are trained to block and trade blows rather than ducking and weaving around them as boxers do, and the focus on grappling or clinching takes away from that evasive ideal.

When comparing boxing and Muay Thai, it is vital to remember that boxers need to be extraordinarily evasive because they focus on striking their opponent’s head. Muay Thai artists condition their bodies to endure attacks, and they are capable of delivering staggering blows that have been known to break bones. However, no amount of conditioning can improve a fighter’s ability to take blows to the head. When a Muay Thai artist adheres to boxing rules, they are unlikely to keep pace with a more dodge-focused boxer.

Despite this difference, there are instances of Muay Thai artists beating professional boxers in competitions, such as the famous Muay Thai artist Saenchai’s impressive string of wins from 2002-2004. Ultimately, just as a boxer would suffer drawbacks if they attempted to compete in a Muay Thai event and adhere to that ruleset, a Muay Thai artist is at a disadvantage when competing under boxing restrictions.

Are Muay Thai and Boxing Punches the Same

Ever since Muay Thai became popular in the western part of the world, it and boxing have been compared to each other. Since that introduction to the rest of the world, coupled with the increased crossover of various martial arts thanks to the UFC, Muay Thai has borrowed numerous techniques from boxing, especially when it comes to punches. However, despite those borrowed techniques, numerous differences exist between a punch from a Muay Thai artist and a boxer.

Most punches from a Muay Thai fighter will be from a longer distance rather than close up. Traditional boxing involves using long strikes but also short and compact punching combos to overwhelm their opponent. In Muay Thai, if fighters get into the same range as boxers do, they are more likely to use elbow techniques or get into the clinch, which is most effective at that range.

Unlike in boxing, a Muay Thai punch does not involve that much pivoting. This difference is notable because the pivot allows boxers to achieve the devastating power they attack with. Muay Thai fighters are always prepared to defend from lower body attacks, which a pivot can be susceptible to. Another somewhat imperceptible difference is that Muay Thai fighters will turn their knuckles inward when delivering a hook, unlike the vertical position that traditional boxers maintain. 

Since there is so much crossover between martial arts at a competitive level in today’s environment, there will inevitably be many exceptions to these differentiators. As fighters continue to develop mixed-martial-arts techniques, they will borrow the most effective means of doing something from whichever discipline provides it to them. This development means that the differences between certain aspects of Muay Thai and boxing may blur together as time goes on.

Which Discipline is Harder to Learn?

While there are many arguments to be made for both boxing and Muay Thai in terms of which discipline is more challenging to learn, the general consensus is that Muay Thai is the more difficult martial art to learn. 

Muay Thai is called the Art of Eight Limbs due to utilizing the striking points of feed, hands, knees, and elbows. Not only do practitioners need to learn how to deliver attacks from each of these points of contact, but they also need to be able to defend against them as well.

Muay Thai also involves the concept of clinching, which is a grappling technique that fighters engage in when they get into extremely close range against each other. This technique must be mastered along with all of the other elements of Muay Thai to be successful. 

While boxers undergo enormous training to learn how to punch effectively, they must focus on their footwork and cardiovascular ability as well. Boxers can learn their martial art more quickly because there are fewer distinct techniques to learn, but there is enormous potential to master them as they develop their skills.

The first six months of boxing training focuses on punching and footwork, which gives newcomers the ability to hone down on these particular techniques and build a good foundation. The first six months of Muay Thai Training will also focus on fundamentals, but each of those six months will likely involve learning entirely new things, which slows down the learning process.

Putting time into either martial art will be rewarding, but Muay Thai is undoubtedly the more challenging one to learn in the first place.

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Which One is Better for Self Defense?

Muay Thai, boxing, and most martial arts are perfect for learning self-defense techniques, and the difference comes down to personal preference in most cases. As mentioned above, it is easier to get to a level of competence more quickly through boxing, and boxing is an excellent technique to have ready to end a fight quickly while both combatants are still standing.

Conversely, Muay Thai prepares its practitioners for strikes from not only the fists but also kicks, knees, and elbows. Most real-world self-defense situations will likely not require this capability, but it is vital if an opponent is skilled in that form of attack. The range that kicks from Muay Thai provides and the efficacy of the clinch in close range means that it is a more practical self-defense technique in the long run. 

It is undoubtedly faster to train in boxing and be capable of self-defense through those techniques. Still, Muay Thai will provide more comprehensive and adaptable defenses in the long term, and the choice of which is more effective for self-defense comes down to the practitioner in that situation

Boxing vs. Muay Thai – Which One is Safer to Learn?

The dangers of most combat sports are well documented, but none more so than boxing. In the long history of boxing, there have been 923 fatal injuries from the year 1890-2007, which is very high compared to its contemporaries. Although MMA (Muay Thai) is considered a hazardous sport, it does not have the same level of documented deaths that boxing does.

Although Muay Thai uses many strikes and its practitioners are trained to endure hits and return them when the moment is right, it is actually safer than boxing because there is less focus on the head. Injuries are inevitable in any form of combat sport, but Muay Thai fighters are significantly less likely to suffer life-threatening injuries despite its well-earned violent reputation. 

Many studies have reviewed the potential for life-altering brain injuries that comes from boxing, and innumerable retired professional boxers have discussed the dangers that being repeatedly struck in the head presents. Unfortunately, the risks that boxing presents do not end when the fighter leaves the ring. While many of the injuries sustained in martial arts and other combat sports can be healed, there is significant evidence that suggests boxers suffer from many long-term health issues.

One of the most common is a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), commonly referred to as a concussion. This can be damaging enough on its own, as concussions represent the immediate damage being done to the brain as a result of an impact. However, the more significant concern is that of a chronic TBI, which is a neurodegenerative disease that may present years after the initial injury. 

Although TBIs and chronic TBIs are not as common at the amateur level as they are at the professional echelon, it is worth considering if you intend to study the art of boxing. While some safety measures are being implemented at a professional level by different organizations, there are still many unknown aspects of these long-term health effects, and any amateurs interested in learning boxing should be aware and take necessary precautions themselves.

Which One is Right for You?

Deciding between learning boxing and Muay Thai is a decision that comes down to personal preference and how well it suits your martial arts goals. Take all of the above information into account, watch videos of these two disciplines being showcased, and think about what will be right for you.

In terms of the techniques and training involved, Muay Thai encompasses your entire body and teaches how to gain an advantage in any combat situation. It can function as an exercise routine, a mental discipline, and a martial art simultaneously, and it conditions its practitioners’ bodies to undergo enormous stress. If your goal is to perfect a combative sport and gain all the numerous benefits for training in this discipline, Muay Thai may be right for you.

If you instead are interested in a more popular and potentially lucrative sport, boxing may be the correct choice for you instead. While boxing may not have the same focus on using your entire body as a weapon, it still teaches the most effective way to throw a punch and avoid taking one in return and is a well-respected discipline. If you intend to go down the path of boxing, ensure that you take proper precautions and spar carefully to avoid the potential dangers of this head-focused sport.

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The Final Round

While the subject of who wins between boxers and Muay Thai artists will likely endure for as long as the two disciplines themselves, the bottom line is that any martial art will be beneficial in life going forward. Both Muay Thai and boxing have countless advantages for learning their techniques, and many professionals of either discipline are well versed in numerous others as well. Remember that learning one martial art does not mean that you can’t pick up others as you go through life. 

Clay E

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

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