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What Is American Kickboxing? Here’s What You Should Know

Photo by Don Wilson

Kickboxing has many styles and forms out of which one of the most popular styles is the “American Kickboxing” or now recognized as “Full Contact Kickboxing”. It is a unique style that differs a lot from other styles like Dutch and K-1. This is notably true when it comes to rules and emphasis.

American Kickboxing style emerged in the 1970s that is based on both western boxing and karate techniques. This unique style of kickboxing prohibits striking below the waist. Striking above the waist was for perceived safety reasons when American Kickboxing was created.

Keep reading this article to find out more about American kickboxing and how it compares with other styles. We will also explore its history, rules, and most famous fighters.

History of American Kickboxing

The story of American Kickboxing begins in the 1970s. At the time, the most popular combat sports were full-contact karate and western boxing. But with kickboxing rising in other parts of the world, the Americans wanted to create their version of this sport. And it all started when martial art gyms started to mix karate and boxing techniques together. They used full contact karate as a base on top of which they added western boxing. 

On January 17, 1970, the American audience saw the first ever kickboxing bout. The match took place between Shorin Ryu fighter, Joe Lewis, and Kenpo fighter Greg Baines. The people who put this event together were Lewis himself, and the promoter, Lee Faulkner. These two are pioneers of kickboxing in the U.S and the American style.

Joe Lewis vs Greg Baines, Kickboxing, January 17, 1970

Lewis and Baines fought under the full contact rules. They could use punches, kicks, knees, as well as elbows and sweeps. The fight ended with Lewis scoring a KO in the second round. These initial events were promoted under the karate association and called “full-contact karate”. But later on, this new combat sport would change its name to “kickboxing”.

Kickboxing officially became a combat sport in the US with the birth of “Professional Karate Association” in 1974, and “World Kickboxing Association” in 1976.

James “The Dragon” Turner, who is the current IKTA European Kickboxing Champion, informed us that the sport is now known around the world as “Full Contact Kickboxing.”

The term “American Kickboxing” is often used, but it is usually used to distinguish the sport from others. The actual name of the sport or discipline in the combat sports world is “Full Contact” or “Full Contact Kickboxing.”

What Are The Rules of American Kickboxing?

American kickboxing rules are also known as “full contact” rules, which is a term from karate. The rules differ a lot from the other styles of kickboxing when it comes to rounds, gear fighters have to wear, and forbidden strikes. Here are the most important rules:

  • The length of the matches goes from 2 to 10 rounds with each round being 2 minutes long. The exception: in some very early prototype matches circa 1974 and for a while afterward, some matches featured three-minute rounds. By the time the general rules of the sport were consolidated by the late 1970s, it was and remains universally recognized in all organizations that Full Contact has two-minute rounds.
  • The rest period between the rounds is 1 minute.
  • Fighters can strike with kicks and punches only. They are not allowed to strike with knees, elbows, or fight in the clinch. However, they can use sweeps to throw the opponent down to the ground.
  • Striking below the waist is NOT allowed. This means no leg kicks.
  • Spinning techniques like backfists are legal as long as the strike connects with the glove.
  • Fighters compete wearing long pants, pair of boxing gloves, and kick boots.

What’s The Key Difference Between Muay Thai and American Kickboxing?

Muay Thai and American Kickboxing are two styles that do not have much in common. These two striking styles are a world apart when it comes to emphasis, strategies, and rules. Here is all you need to know about it.

Emphasis and Techniques

Muay Thai is a versatile style where fighters use all limbs as weapons. They can do damage with kicks, punches, elbows, knees at all ranges, including in the clinch. The emphasis is on hard kicks and fighting in the clinch using elbows and knees. And, fighters prefer throw single power strikers rather than to have a high output. They use punches just to set up the kicks, or to close the distance to fight in the clinch.

American kickboxing, on the other side, is more limited than Muay Thai because American kickboxing is technically a different entity Fighters compete using punches and kicks to strike above the waist only. Knee and elbow strikes are not allowed, as well as fighting in the clinch. The emphasis is on high kicks, and mixing them with western boxing techniques. Fighters tend to fight at a much higher pace than their colleagues from Muay Thai.

Muay Thai vs. American Kickboxing – Difference and Comparison:

Muay ThaiAmerican Kickboxing
Muay Thai rules are simple and do not vary between the promotions:

American Kickboxing rules are also known as full-contact rules of kickboxing
Length of the matchesMatches last 5 rounds, with each round being 3 minutes long. The rest period between every round is 2 minutesMatches have from 2–10 rounds, with each round being 2 minutes long. The rest period is 1 minute.
TechniquesFighters strike above and below the waist using kicks, punches, knees, and elbows. They can also execute various trips, throws, and sweeps to throw the opponent down to the ground.Fighters can land strikes only above the waist using kicks and punches. Fighting in the clinch, elbows, knees, trips and throws are not allowed. But, fighters can use sweeps.
Protective gearFighters compete bare-chested, wearing shorts and a pair of boxing gloves.Fighters compete bare-chested wearing long pants, shin guards under their long pants, kick boots, and pair of boxing gloves.

What’s The Key Difference Between Dutch Kickboxing and American Kickboxing?

Dutch Kickboxing and American styles of kickboxing differ a lot from one another. The main difference is that the American style doesn’t allow strikes below the waist, while Dutch does. Also, the matches are much shorter in the Dutch style, and fighters can use knees in the clinch.

Emphasis and Techniques

Dutch-style is a mix of western boxing, Kyokushin karate, and Muay Thai techniques. The emphasis of this style is on boxing and mixing the punches with the fast low kicks, and knees in the clinch. You can spot a Dutch-style just by the way a kickboxer is focusing more on hand strikes rather than on kicks. They also tend to fight at a high pace and have a high output of strikes. You will rarely see them throwing one strike at a time.

On the other side, the American style is a mix of western boxing and full contact karate techniques. The emphasis is on hand strikes and high kicks because the rules do not allow you to strike below the waist. The matches last much longer than in Dutch style (from 2 to 10 rounds), and fighters are not allowed to fight in the clinch or use knee strikes to do damage.

Dutch Kickboxing vs. American Kickboxing – DIfference and Comparison:

Dutch Kickboxing American Kickboxing
RulesDutch-style rules are very much the same as famous K-1 rulesRules differ a lot from Dutch Style
Length of the matchesMatches include 3 rounds, with each round being 3 minutes long and there is a 1 minute break. If the fight ends in a draw, there is 1 extra round.Matches have 2–10 rounds with each round being 2 minutes long, which is much longer than in Dutch style. The break between the rounds is 1 minute, and there are no extra rounds.
TechniquesFighters use punches, kicks, and knees to strike both above and below the waist. They are not allowed to use elbow strikes, or grappling moves like trips and throws to throw the opponent down.Fighters compete using kicks and punches to strike only above the waist. They can also use sweeps to throw the opponent down to the ground. They are not allowed to use knees, elbows, clinch or perform grappling moves like in some other kickboxing styles.
Protective gearAll fighters must wear shorts and a pair of boxing glovesUnlike in Dutch style, American kickboxers must wear long pants or trousers, shin guards under their long pants, kick boots and pair of boxing gloves.

Is the American Kickboxing Style Effective in MMA?

The skills you learn in American kickboxing work quite well in MMA fighting. But on the other side, this style is not as popular as some others like Dutch, K-1, or Muay Thai. This is mainly because the American style(Full Contact) is a bit limited due to its rules.

If we look at MMA, fighters can strike with kicks, punches, knees, and elbows, targeting the entire body area. They also fight in the clinch and can execute various throws and sweeps. American style fits well when it comes to punches, and mixing them with high kicks and footwork.

But its biggest downside is the lack of low kicks, which play a big role in modern MMA. You won’t learn how to throw or defend against kicks below the waist at all. And since they don’t have to worry about leg kicks, American-style fighters tend to stand in the wide stance and put a lot of weight on the lead leg. In MMA, this leaves them open for vicious leg kicks and takedowns.

The other issue with the American style in MMA is the lack of clinch, and knee and elbow strikes. It won’t teach you how to throw or defend against these strikes, or against trips and throws.

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Best American Kickboxing fighters

Joe Lewis — is a pioneer of American kickboxing and, perhaps, the most famous fighter of this style. He became the first heavyweight champion in 1971, and PKA world champ in 1974. He deserves a lot of credit for making this sport popular in the US.

Joe Lewis

Dennis Alexio — is a former world kickboxing champ in three separate weight classes. In his career, he won WKA, ISKA, and PKA world titles and was one of the best in history. What made him special was the fact that Alexio is a master in multiple striking arts like Muay Thai, boxing, and karate. He retired from the sport with 68 wins, out of which 63 were KOs.

Rick Roufus — is the older brother of the famous MMA coach, Duke Roufus. Rick had a solid career, and he won the world titles in PKA and IKF, and ISKA organizations. He used to have really fast hands, and very powerful kicks which he developed training Taekwondo.

Benny Urquidez— won multiple world titles in kickboxing and is one of the most popular American fighters. He was the first one to travel to Japan and beat their fighters in kickboxing, and he also won PKA, WKA, and STAR world titles.

Don Wilson— is an 11-time kickboxing world champ. In his career, he won ISKA, PKO, WKA, PKA, and STAR world titles, fighting across three different weight classes. He is also a famous actor and you can see him in movies like “The Martial Arts Kid” and “Ring of Fire.”

Don “Dragon” Wilson
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What Is The Best Kickboxing style?

What is the best kickboxing style? That is a matter of strict opinion. That being said, many MMA experts consider the Muay Thai style to be the best striking art. This is because the Muay Thai style has greatly influenced many MMA fighters who have had great success in stand-up fighting in MMA matches.

Their success in stand-up fighting using Muay Thai techniques has greatly influenced public opinion about what is perceived as the best style due to the popularity of MMA. This is not to say other kickboxing styles are inferior to the Muay Thai style.

Muay Thai is often seen as a total package when it comes to striking because its fighters use all limbs as weapons. It is a versatile style that fits well in MMA fighting because it will teach you how to mix kicks, punches, elbows, knees, and the basics of grappling together. Muay Thai is one of the very few striking arts that will teach you how to fight at all ranges, notably in the clinch, which plays a big role in cage fighting.

Some people may find Muay Thai too brutal. But on the other side, it will train you for real combat scenarios, both mentally and physically. Training is cardio intense, and the emphasis is on sparring, which is a great way to train a person for real-life fighting.

Students learn how to fight on all ranges but the emphasis is on hard kicks, and fighting in the clinch with knees and elbows. Every single technique you learn in classes works in real life, and this makes it very effective for self-defense.

Other styles like K-1 and Dutch-style are also very effective. But you can’t compare them with Muay Thai simply because these two are not versatile enough.

What is K-1?

K-1 is a popular kickboxing promotion from Japan that has origins in “Seidokaikan karate”. Back in 1993, Kazuyoshi Ishii founded K-1 with an idea to find out which striking art is the most effective, and which striker is the best. In the early days, the world saw many style vs style matchups, and fighters competing under unique K-1 rules. Here is a brief look into K-1 rules:

  • Matches include 3–3 minute rounds with a 1-minute break between. There is one extra round if the fight ends in a draw.
  • Fighters can strike with kicks, punches, and knees in the clinch.
  • They can land strikes both above and below the waist.

It didn’t take long for K-1 to become very popular all around the world. The matches were very exciting mainly because fighters fought at a high pace all the time. The fights rarely went to a decision, often ending in brutal KOs. K-1 was so popular that it was bigger than modern MMA during the 2000s and even bigger than boxing. Winning the K-1 title meant that you are the best striker in the world. It was the most prestigious title. The two main K-1 competition formats were:

  • K-1 World Grand Prix
  • K-1 World Max

K-1 is more than present in modern times, but it is not as popular as it was in the 90s and 2000s. 

What is Dutch kickboxing?

Dutch kickboxing is the most popular style of kickboxing. It emerged in the 1970s thanks to Jan Plas and other martial artists who brought kickboxing to the Netherlands. In the following years, they would make a lot of changes, and create a unique Dutch style. They used Kyokushin and Muay Thai as a base on top of which they added techniques from western boxing. The final result was a style with an emphasis on hand strikes, forward pressure, low kicks, and high output. 

Fighters trained in Dutch Style used to dominate in K-1 during the glory days of this promotion in the 90s and 2000s. Even in modern times, people see the Dutch style as the best kickboxing style.