boxing vs muay thai

Muay Thai vs Boxing

Muay Thai and Boxing are often seen as two of the most effective striking systems. Both of these arts cover all physical and mental aspects of real fighting, are very practical for self-defense, and have many other health benefits. But which one is better, Muay Thai or Boxing?

Also known as the “art of eight limbs”, Muay Thai is more versatile and with that, more practical than boxing. It trains you to use all eight limbs as weapons to strike with legs, hands, elbows, and knees, and it also covers the basics of grappling. Once at close range, you will learn how to execute basic trips, sweeps, and throws.

Boxing is not that complex because it only focuses on mixing footwork, upper body movement, and punches. It is very practical, but not as Muay Thai due to the lack of other weapons. Does this mean that Mua Thai is better?

Keep reading this article to learn more about Muay Thai vs Boxing, and how these two arts compare in different aspects.

Muay Thai vs boxing — what are the main differences?

These two martial arts differ a lot when it comes to emphasis, concept, weapons, and rules. Let’s explore them all:


Muay Thai origins come from the military system called “Muay Boran” which was used by Siamese soldiers in medieval times. Muay Boran matches were also very popular during various festivals, so much so that King Rama V decided to legalize it in the 19th century. This sports version of Muay Boran would later become known as Muay Thai.

Boxing has been around forever as people have been punching each other for fun since the birth of mankind. But as a legitimate sport, boxing emerged in ancient Greece where it was a part of the early Olympic Games.

Techniques (weapons)

Muay Thai is a versatile system often seen as a total package when it comes to striking. It teaches you how to use all limbs as weapons to strike with:

  • Kicks (front kicks, side-kicks, roundhouse kicks)
  • Punches (jab, hook, uppercut, cross)
  • Elbows (downward elbow, horizontal elbow, diagonal elbow)
  • Knees (flying knee, horizontal knee, diagonal knee)
  • Clinch Positions
  • Various trips, throws, sweeps

Boxing is not that complex because it only includes punches. Here is a list of boxing techniques:

  • Punches (hook, uppercut, cross, jab)
  • Head movement (duck and pivot, slip and counter, pull and counter)
  • Advanced footwork
  • Angles

Stances and punches

Muay Thai athletes prefer to stand in a squared stance with their legs shoulder-width apart and hips facing forward. Standing in this type of “tall” stance allows them to quickly check the kicks, and fire back with the counter. Most of them hold their hands at the eyebrow level with palms facing the opponent.

Boxers prefer to stand in a wide bladed stance because they don’t have to worry about the kicks and put a lot of weight on the lead leg. They keep their hands just below the chin with elbows tucked in their sides to protect the rib cage.

Concept and emphasis

Muay Thai is a combat sport where athletes compete under strict rules. The emphasis is on vicious kicks from the distance and fighting inside the clinch with elbows and knees. Punches are seen as secondary weapons only used to set up the kicks or to close the distance. Most athletes prefer to throw a single power shot instead of having a high output.

Boxing is also a combat sport where athletes fight for money, fame, and glory. The emphasis is on mixing punches with footwork, angles, and head movement and there are many different styles. It is also a brutal system where the goal is to knock the opponent out or cause injuries to finish the match.


Muay Thai rules are quite simple:

  • Matches have 5 rounds with each round being 3 minutes long and there is a 2 min break between each round.
  • Clinch fighting and throwing the opponent on the ground is allowed but there is no ground fighting
  • Matches can end via knockout, DQ, or decision.
  • All fighters must wear a pair of padded boxing gloves, mouthguard, shorts, and a groin cup

Boxing rules are very similar:

  • Matches have from 4 to 12 rounds with each round being 3 minutes long and there is a 1 min rest between each round
  • Fighting in the clinch or on the ground as well as striking with legs is not allowed
  • Matches can end via knockout, DQ or decision
  • All boxers must wear full padded gloves, mouthguard, boxing shoes, and groin protector

Muay Thai or Boxing for self-defense?

Muay Thai is more effective for self-defense than boxing and the reason is quite simple. It includes far more weapons and covers more scenarios that you may encounter on the streets.

Muay Thai has more weapons and performs better at all ranges

In training, you will learn how to fight from the distance, at mid-range, and inside the clinch. It trains you to do damage with vicious kicks, punches, or inside the clinch with elbows and knees. Or, you might choose to throw them off balance and run away. Boxing is limited simply because it focuses only on hand strikes.

Muay Thai clinch is highly effective on the streets

Most street fights are chaotic brawls where there is a lot of grabbing and pulling at close range. Though chaotic and dangerous, this is where Muay Thai shines with its clinch fighting positions. You will learn how to break the opponent’s posture with the clinch, and use this position to destroy them with elbows, knees, and punches. The best thing about it: most average people don’t know how to escape from the clinch.

Boxing does not include fighting in the clinch and apart from the lack of kicks, this represents its biggest downside in a street fight.

The element of a surprise

In street fighting, most people expect to get punched in the face. They don’t expect to get blasted with a wild roundhouse kick, or flying knee. These strikes also cause instant pain and would force most average people to back off and run away. Not to mention what would happen if you start blasting them with elbows inside the clinch.

Boxing is better for hand attacks

Boxing is also very good and do not underestimate its power in a real fight. In fact, there are elements where boxing might help you more than Muay Thai. For example, the fastest and most efficient way to hurt a person standing in front is by throwing hand strikes. No one would bother, notably average people not trained in martial arts, to throw wild kicks, flashy moves, and go for a takedown. No, most street fights begin with one person swinging haymakers, and boxing is the best martial art when it comes to defending against this type of attack, even better than Muay Thai.

Muay Thai vs Boxing — who would win in a fight?

On paper, athletes trained in Muay Thai have an advantage because they have more weapons at their disposal. But in reality, it’s fair to say that fighters from both martial arts have the skills and weapons to beat each other in a fight. Who would win depends on many factors like the place of the fight, and of course, the individual skillset.

Muay Thai kicks are hard to deal with

In a street fight, boxers would have a really, really hard time dealing with kicks. First, they don’t know how to defend those, neither can they counter with punches because they will be out of range. Second, a skilled Thai boxer can generate a force equal to hitting a person with a baseball bat in a single kick. A boxer not trained to absorb these strikes would crumble upon receiving two clean kicks.

Clinch is a game-changer

Boxing works well at mid/close range and this is where boxers can catch a Thai boxer. Boxers have a much tighter guard, faster hands, and are more accurate. However, the initial reaction of every Thai fighter would be to pull a Thai clinch at close range and unload with knees and elbows. Boxers are not trained for this and would have a hard time escaping and avoiding damage.

Overall, boxers have a legitimate chance of beating Muay Thai fighters. But, it’s fair to say that they would lose 9 out of 10 times.

Muay Thai or boxing — which one is harder to learn?

Becoming skillful in any of these two martial arts is very hard, and for many people, a lifelong journey. Whether you choose boxing or Muay Thai, you won’t achieve anything without dedication, hard work, sweat, and tears. Here is a short comparison that will give you a better insight into which one might be harder for you and why:

More techniques — Muay Thai

Thai boxing is a more versatile system as it includes striking with all limbs. You need to master dozens of different kicks, punches, elbow and knee strikes as well as trips and throws. But the hardest part is to learn how to mix it all together in a harmony. Boxing focuses just on hand strikes.

Takes more time to master — Muay Thai

On average, students with average talent, fitness level, and consistency need around 3-4 years to develop good Thai boxing skills. This is a level where they can start competing as pro fighters, and are skillful enough to apply the techniques in a real fight. Boxing takes less time to reach the same level, around 1–1.5 years of consistent training.

More intense — both

The concept of training in both of these arts is as intense as it gets. The emphasis is on grueling cardio workouts, strength training, and of course, a lot of hard sparring. Each Training session will push both your mind and body over the limits, and most people have a hard time keeping up with the classes.

Muay Thai or boxing for MMA fighting?

As a complete striking system, Muay Thai fits better within the rules of MMA fighting and plays a much bigger role than boxing. Boxing is more than present and it represents a solid base, however, it is limited in a lot of areas when it comes to standup fighting, and that’s why it is not as effective.

MMA is a combat sport that enables fighters to strike each other at all ranges, using all eight limbs as weapons, including inside the clinch. The only martial art that would prepare you for all of this in MMA is Muay Thai. This is the main reason why athletes with a strong base in Thai boxing are among the best in the world like Jon Jones and Israel Adesanya. A combination of strong defensive wrestling and top Muay Thai is often seen as the best combo of skills for cage fighting.

Boxing is also very good because not a single martial art would teach you better footwork, how to create angles, and throw fast, precise, and powerful punching combos. However, it has certain limitations as it won’t teach you how to defend/attack with kicks, and fight inside the clinch. This is a major downside because kicks and clinch work have become the two most important aspects of MMA. You can’t expect to succeed without these skills.

On top of that, your body won’t be conditioned enough to absorb huge punishment. As a boxer, you won’t be absorbing kicks to the body or legs, knees, and elbows. Once you switch over to MMA, your body will have a hard time dealing with these strikes.

Muay Thai or Boxing for fitness?

The only fair answer is that both of these martial arts are equal in this aspect and share similar benefits. Training in both offers you a full-body workout that will activate every single muscle group in your body, and burn a lot of calories. Classes are exhausting, physically hard on your body, and as intense as it gets.

Bad news first. Both of these arts put a lot of emphasis on endurance so expect to do a lot of grueling cardio workouts. Or in other words, students do a lot of intense sprints, endless rope skipping, long runs, and various other drills. Next, cardio without strength is useless in combat sports so students also do a lot of push-ups, squats, and various other bodyweight exercises. In some gyms, you might also exercise with kettle bells or weights.

However, bear in mind that you won’t develop big muscle mass. No, you will lose excess weight, lower your body mass index, and develop type of muscles that don’t burn much oxygen. Or in other words, you will have a muscular physique and top endurance, which is a dream of every athlete.

Last but not least, both boxing and Muay Thai burn up to 900 calories per training session and you will get in top shape in a very short time span. This on its own is one of the main reasons why so many people are signing up for amateur classes.

Muay Thai vs boxing — which one is better for you?

Which one is better for you is really hard to tell because it all comes down to your personal preference and many other factors including what you want to achieve. Here is a final look at these two martial arts that might help you make the right pick.

Muay Thai is more versatile and it is a much better option if you want to develop good self-defense skills. It will train your mind to stay calm in stressful situations, your body to absorb huge punishment, and improve your fighting abilities. On top of that, it makes you more confident, flexible, and agile, improves cardiovascular health, and has many other health benefits. 

Boxing is very similar when it comes to the physical and mental benefits of training. The only difference is the fact that it doesn’t include any other techniques besides punches, which makes it less effective than Muay Thai but still more effective than most other martial arts. If you live in an area where there are no Thai boxing gyms, do not hesitate to go into boxing instead.

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