Muay Thai Vs. Boxing: 10 Differences That Matter

Muay Thai is actually a form of boxing, so it’s perfectly natural to wonder how the two relate. Are there many differences, many similarities, how do they compare? Perhaps you want to choose a martial art and wondering which one of these two you should commit to.

So what is the difference between Muay Thai and Boxing? The difference between Muay Thai and Boxing is that Muay Thai fighters use their hands, feet, knees and elbows whereas boxer use only the fists. Thus boxing is effective in a fight at a medium distance and is easier to learn. Muay Thai is effective from a distance or from very close, and is more demanding art.

The Basic Difference Between Muay Thai and Boxing

Muay Thai may be a form of boxing but its origins are very separate. As the name suggests Muay Thai originated in Thailand and was a form of martial art practiced in ancient Siam and in modern Thailand for actual combat.

Boxing, on the other hand, arose in fairly recent times in England and the rules were formalized by the Marquis of Queensbury.

So, though the two art forms have some things in common, they have almost as many things that set them apart.

Some simple examples of this would include the fact that because Muay Thai also involves kicking and not just punching, it ought to afford the Muay Thai fighter a huge advantage in a street fight because they will be able to maintain a distance that disadvantages the boxer who needs to get close to punch.

However, if a boxer gets up close things change dramatically. Muay Thai punches are not as hard and heavy as a boxer’s punches. Thus, the boxer is going to be able to overwhelm a Muay Thai fighter in this situation.

But get a bit closer still and if the two fighters lock in a “clinch” and the advantage is passed back again to the Muay Thai fighter who trains for these situations compared to the boxer that does not.

A boxer will generally be able to defend better and should have a much stronger set of footwork, however, so though the Muay Thai fighter can keep them at distance, they may not be able to land any heavy blows at that range.

When it boils down to it the basic difference between Muay Thai and Boxing is that Muay Thai fighters use their hands, feet, knees and elbows to fight whereas a boxer is only going to use his fists. These lead to different ways of training and different practical outputs when the two are put side-by-side.

The 10 Differences That Matter: Muay Thai Vs Boxing

There are, of course, many differences between two schools of martial arts but here are the 10 that really, really matter.

Which Is Better For Self-Defence?

Both boxing and Muay Thai are going to be very useful and effective for self-defence in the street, especially if your opponents haven’t been trained in martial arts.

In the first instance, boxing is going to get you able to defend yourself the fastest. Nobody begins a fight laying down and boxers are quite lethal when on their feet.

Over time, however, Muay Thai ought to be better for that street fight though, it will take you longer to become competent but once you can kick well, you can keep people at bay more easily and give yourself  more room to maneuver.

So, if you need to be able to deal with some bullies, today, then you ought to head down to your local boxing gym but if you want to become an assured calm fighter in any situation on the street, then if you’re prepared to put the hours into training then you should find that Muay Thai is the better bet.

Which Is Best For Fitness?

Again, there’s no slouch in the fitness department when you compare Muay Thai to boxing. If you watch Chris Eubank get out of the ring at the end of a fight, he looks like he’s run a marathon – boxing is hard work when you do it right. The same is true for Muay Thai.

However, there are definite differences to the training regimes which you undergo for the two. Boxers tend to focus on strength and speed. Muay Thai fighters on flexibility and speed. Both of these are going to help you keep any excess weight off and help you tone up.

Muay Thai is likely to lead to a smaller frame than boxing because there is very little effort spent on building muscle bulk in Muay Thai. However, it’s fair to say that though both arts are a good workout – if your main intention is to find fitness, there are easier ways to do it and you can sign up for a good cardio workout at nearly any gym though these workout are not likely to help with your self-defense skills.

Related article: Why Are Muay Thai Fighters So Skinny?

In short, there’s nothing much in this. Boxing and Muay Thai are both fine if you want to get fitter as you learn to fight.

Which Is Easiest To Learn?

There are, at least, two forms of learning to consider when it comes to martial arts – the first is getting good enough for the martial art to be of practical value and the second is getting to a point of mastery. In many martial arts, mastery will be denoted by the use of a colored belt but neither Muay Thai nor boxing have such a grading system.

So, which is easier to get up to speed with? That’s easy to answer – boxing. In boxing, you need to get to grips with some basic footwork and learn to punch and then you’ll be a useful person to have at someone’s back in a fight. With Muay Thai, you need to get kicks, elbows and knee strikes worked out too and then learn to defend yourself. You also have to learn how to clinch in Muay Thai.

What about mastery? Well, it’s possible to master either art “quite quickly” because mastery in these arts is simply defined by the number of fights you’ve won competitively (either at amateur or professional gradings) but, in reality, if you want to become world-class at either sport it will take a lot of effort though it’s probably slightly easier for boxers to get to that point than for Muay Thai fighters.

So, overall, boxing is the easier art to learn.

The Different Foot Stances: Muay Thai Vs Boxing

A Muay Thai fighter squares up to their opponent and is pushed forward. Their hands are just below the forehead and their elbows face outwards. The hips are thrust just slightly forward. When you’re going to be doing a lot of kicking, you have to be able to move your weight around fast and that’s what this stance is for.

Boxers form a narrower stance and their hips will tilt back at somewhere between 50 and 80 degrees, they hunch over slightly and tend to have a lengthier stance. Boxing is only concerned about one thing – punching and then mainly to the head, so the objective of this stance is to give the boxer as much room to punch as possible, while keeping their profile to as little as possible for punching.

If a boxer took up a Muay Thai stance it would be too easy to get hit, if a Muay Thai fighter took up a boxing stance, her opponent would kick her legs out from under her.

The Different Hip Placements: Muay Thai Vs Boxing

In Muay Thai the fighter is incentivized to keep his or her hips square to the opponent. That, of course, affords the most possibilities to kick the other fighter. While a Muay Thai fighter will have a dominant leg, it won’t stop them from using the other leg if they feel it is advantageous.

In boxing, things are quite different, you will (at a minimum) end up with an angle to the hips of around 45 degrees. This protects the stomach from punches and allows the side to absorb the blows that might otherwise affect the abdomen. This stance also facilitates the classic “bob and weave” of boxing motion.

The Different Hand Positioning: Muay Thai Vs Boxing

In Muay Thai your hands aren’t just stopping your opponent from punching you, they’re there to block kicks and elbows too. So, the hands go up and then the forearms are pushed out square to the other fighter. It’s very important to keep them high because this allows for the most room to protect the face from all the different types of blow. An elbow to the head will end a fight.

Boxers have a more fluid hand position they need to be able to adopt their guard to the other fighter’s punching strategy. The fists stay high when they’re closing the opponent down or defending because this seals off the face but most of the time, they tend to be below the chin to protect the torso and force the opponent’s blows to their sides.

The Difference In Foot Work: Muay Thai Vs Boxing

It’s not that Muay Thai doesn’t use footwork, it does. It’s that Muay Thai doesn’t place the same level of importance on footwork as boxing does. When you have 4 sets of weapons to employ, you’re always trying to push forward and that means keeping your weight off your front foot and then delivering a blow with it.

Boxers, on the other hand, can be seen in what might look to an alien from another planet as something of a mating ritual. They bounce and jump on their toes, turn swiftly and they respond to each move their opponent’s feet make too. Boxers spend hours and hours each week practicing footwork not only does it aid defense but when you really want to drive a punch home, the footwork is what supports the power of the blow.

The Different Angles: Muay Thai Vs Boxing

The angle of incidence of a Muay Thai fighter is pretty much straight on to the other girl. Everything is about delivering a blow or a kick as fast as possible on a completely straight path. If you look carefully, it’s almost like a line has been drawn under them which they only go backwards and forwards on. That’s not to say that you won’t see angles created in Muay Thai but it’s usually a very unorthodox approach.

Boxers are constantly varying their angle of attack. They can end up dancing around each other in near circles. They’re looking to throw their opponent off guard to create a better striking zone and when they do, they explode into action.

The Difference In Rhythm: Muay Thai Vs Boxing

When you spend some time studying a Muay Thai fight, you’ll start to find a certain rhythm to the way they fight. You see a set of combos then the fighter either returns to their guard position or they push forward into a clinch.

Boxers, possibly because they aren’t fighting on a line, will bounce and weave. Their hands can lash out creating a complete barrage of blows and combos can run up to 6 or more punches! The rhythm is completely different and much harder to judge, at least at first, eventually, of course, if you box – you get used to this. Boxing is much faster paced throughout the fight when compared to Muay Thai.

The Different Defensive Movements: Muay Thai Vs Boxing

Muay Thai isn’t really a defensive art. The fighters learn to block kicks, blows, etc. but that’s about it. You don’t see a Muay Thai fighter ducking a blow or feinting to one side. They soak up the damage they get and hope to overwhelm the opponent before they get overwhelmed in return.

That’s not the way boxing works. In fact, many boxers can win a fight on the strength of their defense. They know how to parry and block, but they can also duck, bob & weave, skip, etc. to get away from a punch altogether. Defend well enough and the other guy can end up tiring himself out and that allows the good defender to finally unleash their offense.

Can A Boxer Beat A Muay Thai Fighter?

Yes. Though that sounds a bit boring, right? In truth, if a medium skilled boxer and a medium skilled Muay Thai fighter met on the street – the Muay Thai fighter is likely to win. If they play to their ability to keep the boxer at a distance, they should wear them down and that ought to be it.

However, life’s not always that simple. If you’ve just spent 6 months learning boxing, you’ll be pretty handy in a fight but not so for a Muay Thai fighter. A boxer at the early stage of training has the edge on a Muay Thai fighter in a similar position.

Once they get to the top of their respective games and step into the ring, however, the Muay Thai fighter should have the edge. The ability to kick out the legs from under them gives a highly skilled Muay Thai fighter way too much of an advantage.

See for yourself in this really interesting YouTube video:


Although no martial art is objectively better than any other, the difference between Muay Thai and boxing are significant, as we’ve seen today.

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