Muay Thai vs Boxing

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Do you want to start practicing a martial art, but not sure which one? Or are you simply curious as to which is more effective? Either way, you’ve come to the right place.

Muay Thai and boxing are two very popular combat sports. One’s been popular in the Western world for centuries, while the other wasn’t widespread until recent decades.

Today we’ll compare the two and see what similarities they share and their differences.



History — Muay Thai vs Boxing

Muay Thai and boxing both have a long history, dating back several hundred years. Let’s have a closer look.



Boxing is truly an ancient sport. The earliest proof we have of boxing dates all the way back to Iraq and ancient Egypt, somewhere around 3000 BC.

The ancient Egyptians used it more as a type of ritual as opposed to something competitive. Researchers found depictions on tombs of men dressed as ancient gods, fighting each other.

From Egypt, it was picked up by the ancient Greeks to be used in the early Olympic Games. The boxers would be completely naked except for leather strings that they used for protecting their hands and forearms. These leather strings also served as a sharp weapon that would cut their opponent during a punch.

boxing history Greece


Despite the bloodbath, deaths were relatively uncommon. The fight would usually end when one fighter gave up or was incapable of continuing.

Boxing took on a much deadlier reputation once it reached Rome. This was the era of gladiators, where boxers had to wear gloves studded with sharp metal. The fights would go on until one competitor died.

After the Roman Empire fell, boxing fell as well. It wasn’t until the 17th century, in England, that it resurfaced. Fighters began to wear gloves similar to those we have today and rules were established over the following decades.

Boxing then traveled to the U.S. and gained immense popularity. It finally made its Olympic debut in 1904 St Louis. The only country who entered was the U.S., and there was only a men’s division.

Later, the Olympic Games saw more contestants from Cuba and Russia. And the sport continued to grow.


Muay Thai

The history of Muay Thai doesn’t stem as far back as boxing, but it’s no less interesting. Muay Thai originates from Thailand where it’s a national sport. It began as a combat style, where soldiers used their whole body as a weapon.

Experts have two theories as to why the people began using it. One of them points toward the time that the Thai people moved away from China. They allegedly used Muay Thai to defend themselves while moving out of the country.

The other theory suggests that Muay Thai came to life after the people had established themselves away from China. They used it to defend their land from threats of invasion.

Over time, Muay Thai continued to change as new kings came and went. During King Naresuan’s era, the people used the art to settle national issues. Every soldier was trained in the style, even the king. Throughout his reign, the art kept evolving and changing.

muay thai drawing


Following Naresuan came a king dubbed as the Tiger King. During his reign, Muay Thai fights were often hosted in every city and people would place bets on who would win.

It was a sport for the people, where rich, poor, old and young would compete for the prized title of champion. Even the king would go undercover to compete.

As time went on, Muay Thai’s popularity grew and during King Rama V’s reign, soldiers fought for military titles. The art evolved further. As the next king took over, a ring surrounded by ropes was used to fight in—much like what we see today.

Somewhere before 1925, people established fighting stadiums where rules soon followed. It wasn’t until 1945 that weight classes were used. Up until this time, there would only be one champion.

Finally, in the 1970s, Muay Thai became known in the Western world.



Gear — Muay Thai vs Boxing

Both Muay Thai and boxing are about the strength of the fighter, but sometimes fighters wear gear to protect themselves. Let’s have a look to see if they share similarities when it comes to gear.



As we’ve seen above, boxing has a long history. Plenty of rules and regulations have been established to protect the fighters. One, in particular, is gear.

Boxing is a dangerous sport, guilty of countless head and body injuries, even deaths. One of the fundamentals of protective gear in boxing are the gloves. These are a requirement for the fighter’s and their opponent’s safety.

Under the gloves, fighters bind their hands in hand wraps, which provide further support. These sit tightly around the wrist and fist to stabilize the area during a punch.

To protect the head and teeth, fighters wear headgear and a mouthpiece. However, in the professional boxing leagues, fighters aren’t allowed to wear headgear in competition bouts.

To protect the more sensitive area, men wear groin guards, even though it’s not allowed to punch below the waistline. Women can also choose to wear chest protectors.

Lastly, we have boxing boots. These are special, high ankle boots with non-stick rubber soles. These allow the fighter to move around on the mat while supporting the ankles.


Muay Thai

Muay Thai is truly a combat sport. The goal is to inflict as much damage as possible. During the Tiger King’s reign, contestants began to wear strips of horse hair bound around their forearms and hands.

These horse hair ropes served two purposes—one was for the protection of the fighter. The other was to hurt their opponent further.

Later though, the horsehair was replaced by ropes or cotton strips. Such ropes were mostly for the protection of the fighter. The ropes used were long and each fighter bound his hand so that it was secured in a fist form.

During the 1930s, the ropes were quickly superseded by gloves. This was mostly due to safety regulations.

Muay Thai fighters also wear groin guards. In the earliest days, it was actually allowed for the fighters to hit below the waistline in the groin area. The fighters would use seashells or bark as groin guards that were secured by a rope running between the legs.

After some time, it became popular to use triangular-shaped pillows instead. These would be either blue or red, depending on the corner. They tied them around the waist, and a strap ran between the legs.

Today, however, Muay Thai fighters wear standard groin guards.

Muay Thai fighters also wear something called Mongkol, or Mongkon. This is a blessed headband given to the fighter by his coach when he’s proved himself worthy.

The headband is only worn during a special ceremony before the fight and not during the actual fight.



Technique — Muay Thai vs Boxing

Now it’s time for a break down of the two arts and their specific technique. We’ll start with the basics.



The fighting stance is where we’ll see the first difference. If we look at the boxing stance, you’ll notice that it’s all about balance and protection. The fighter stands sideways with his feet shoulder length apart.

Instead of being wide and open, the sideways stance helps to reduce the target area. The feet are then placed one behind the other which helps to stabilize the fighter. This will also allow him to move away or duck under a jab or hook more easily.

Looking at a Muay Thai fight, you’ll see something completely different. Muay Thai fighters stand more open toward each other. The hips are generally more squared which essentially allows the fighter to use both legs to strike.

If a Muay Thai fighter stood like a boxer, his forward leg would be vulnerable to hard hits. The squared stance helps them move their weight from side to side, alternating powerful kicks.


The Guard

The guard is every fighter’s best protection. Of course, this varies between individuals, but in boxing, a tight, low guard is generally preferred. Boxers are usually seen keeping their arms tucked in near the body and hands near the chin.

This guard protects most of the danger zones on the fighter, such as the stomach, chest, and head. Since it’s not allowed to hit below the belt, boxers don’t have to worry about protecting their lower body.

Muay Thai fighters, on the other hand, must be more careful. A general Muay Thai guard is much higher and more extended.

A favorable way to quickly end a fight is with a kick to the head. Hence, fighters keep their hands high. The extended arms also allow the fighter to counter with a quick elbow.

Muay Thai fighters also utilize their legs in guarding. They bring their shins up to protect from any kicks or knees to the body. Dropping their hands for just a second could mean disaster.

If you would use a Muay Thai guard in a boxing bout, your stomach and chest would be unprotected. Your opponent could deliver some match ending blows.



Here again, we’ll see a huge difference. Boxing is pretty straightforward when it comes to striking. You’re only allowed to punch above the belt.

boxing coach student practice


Fighters can use different combinations of jabs, hooks, and uppercuts. However, it’s absolutely illegal to deliberately deliver a punch to the kidney and posterior of the head. These moves can cause significant damage, even death.

Muay Thai, also known as Thai boxing, has always been recognized as an art of eight limbs. This is basically because fighters are encouraged to use their fists, elbows, knees, and legs to strike.

Fighters have a much broader range of different combinations and strikes they can use. This also makes the art significantly brutal, especially since nothing, apart from the hands, are padded.



Boxers are only allowed to use their hands, yet a lot of focus is put in the footwork. If you look through the history books, you’ll see that every great champion was a master in footwork. Including the heavyweights.

Boxing is all about being quick on your feet. Remember the famous quote “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”? Most fighters train as much in their footwork as they do in punching techniques.

Although Muay Thai fighters use their legs a lot, they’re a little less focused on perfecting their footwork. The most important thing when it comes to footwork is to stay light and alert. A Muay Thai fighter with heavy feet can’t deliver kicks or check them fast enough.

kicking in thai boxing


This is also why you often see Muay Thai fighters bouncing one knee at all time. This also restricts their movement around the ring, seeing that they really only have one leg on the ground.

Another thing that you see a lot in boxing is dodging and ducking to avoid punches. Boxers have to think fast in order to slip a punch or duck under a jab.

It’s very different in the world of Muay Thai. Here, fighters put more of their focus on offense. They will generally rather block or take the strike than avoid it.



Which Is Better — Muay Thai vs Boxing

No doubt that Muay Thai and boxing are two very interesting forms of combat sports—with their fair share of differences. Saying which one is better would be almost impossible.

Boxing has influenced Muay Thai, or at least the international fighters. Muay Thai fighters perfecting their footwork and boxing skills do a lot better in international fights than those who don’t. That said, a match between the two fighters doesn’t really favor the boxer.

A Muay Thai fighter has one huge advantage and that’s his legs. These can counter aggression before the boxer even gets close, likely knocking him off balance. A Muay Thai fighter creates space between himself and his opponent, whereas boxing is more of a close contact fight.

So if you ask me which is better, I would say it comes down to personal preference. Both can teach you valuable skills, and if you’re looking to become a better fighter, I would recommend perfecting both arts.




Muay Thai vs boxing—the differences between these two arts are huge and it’s difficult to compare them. Each has a long history, being the sports of kings in the past. No doubt they will benefit you either as self-defense or if you’re into MMA.

If you need to choose, ask yourself what skills you would rather learn—hand and footwork or a broad variety of attacks?

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