muay thai vs boxing

Muay Thai or Boxing: Which Is Better?

In one of our earlies articles, we’ve discussed the differences between Muay Thai and kickboxing, only to see that the two of them are similar, but also different. Namely, kickboxing stems from Muay Thai, which is – in itself – an Oriental martial art created in Thailand. Today, we are going to compare Muay Thai – or Thai boxing – with classical, Western boxing to show you the differences and similarities between these two sports.

Muay Thai is essentially Thai boxing, but we are soon going to see that there are not many similarities between these two disciplines, as Muay Thai is more similar to kickboxing than to classical boxing. Keep reading to find out more!

Historical and General Differences Between Muay Thai and Boxing

Muay Thai (Thai: มวยไทย), literally “Thai boxing”, is an Oriental martial art and combat sport that originated in Thailand somewhere during the 18th century. It is a full-contact discipline that is also known as the “art of eight limbs” and is heavily reliant on the use of fists, elbows, knees and shins. It originated as a fighting technique to be used in wars, Muay Thai soon became a fighting sport used outside its original setting.

After more than a century of development in the Far East, Muay Thai became extremely popular in the West during the 20th and 21st centuries, when Western practitioners that came from Thailand started using the discipline in kickboxing and MMA competitions, thus introducing and popularising Muay Thai in the West. Muay Thai is, today, a global combat sports practiced around the world and is internationally governed by the IFMA. 

Boxing, on the other hand, is a combat sport in which two people wearing protective gloves, throw punches at each other for a predetermined amount of time in a boxing ring. Boxing matches are overseen by a referee and are fought in rounds, that may vary in length and number.

There is also a panel of ringside judges who may declare the winner in certain situations. A winner can be resolved before the completion of the rounds when a referee declares one of the fighters to be incapable of further fighting, by disqualification of a fighter, or when a fighter forfeits the match.

When the fight reaches the end of its final round with both opponents still standing, the judges’ scorecards determine the winner. In the event that both fighters gain equal scores from the judges, the bout can be declared a draw (there are differences regarding these rules in professional and amateur boxing).

Boxing is a modern form of historical one-on-one hand combat that is probably as old as humans themselves; still, the earliest evidence of fist-fighting sports date back to the ancient Near East in the 3rd and 2nd  millennia BC. The earliest evidence of  some boxing rules date back to Ancient Greece, where boxing was established as an Olympic sport in 688 BC. 

Boxing evolved from 16th- and 18th-century prize fights, largely in the United Kingdom, to the forerunner of modern boxing in the mid-19th century with the 1867 introduction of the Marquess of Queensberry Rules.

This is the basic overview of the two sports/arts we are going to compare in this article. Now that you’ve seen all the generalities, we can continue with some more specific questions so that you can see how the two compare in certain aspects. 

Muay Thai vs Boxing: Which Is Better for Self-Defense?

Self-defense is the art of using specifically taught moves to defend yourself from an unwanted attack on your person. Although there are arts and techniques that specifically teach self-defense, most combat sports and martial arts include some degree of self-defense courses, Muay Thai and boxing included. But, when it comes to self-defense, which is better?

In an earlier article, where we discussed the practical application of boxing in a street fight, we’ve said that boxing was not the best choice for a purely defensive approach. Still, it is not completely useless.

Namely, modern-day boxing focuses on offence and most boxing gyms will teach you how to defeat your opponent using offence, rather than defense. Still, defense is essential in boxing (as we’ve seen so many times, when boxers with a better defense would win their matches) and you will certainly learn how to defend yourself, although not as wholly as in some other sports.

Boxing will teach you how to guard your upper body and head, but it lacks effective techniques when legs are concerned. That doesn’t mean it’s useless, it just means you’ll have to adapt your approach so that you use your advantages and minimise (or completely hide) your disadvantages.

What boxing will do, although it cannot be considered as classical self-defense, is improve your reflexes and your observation skills. It will teach you how to foresee your opponent’s next move and how to react to it. It will also teach you how to avoid getting hit, perhaps even keep your opponent at a distance.

In the latter case, it would be good if you knew some arts or sports that put more focus on the legs, as it could prove to be a victorious combination of skills.

On the other hand, Muay Thai has a more balanced approach and a more complete one as well. Namely, Muay Thai utilises all extremities, meaning that the disadvantages boxing has when legs are concerned are annulled in Muay Thai, who relies mostly on legwork, while – at the same time – using punches.

Muay Thai is also specific because it requires patience, meaning that it will teach you endurance, which can be essential when defending yourself. Muay Thai focuses on waiting for the right moment to attack and that can prove to be essential in a tight spot. 

Both boxing and Muay Thai help with self-defense. Boxing is better if you want to learn the basics of self-defense and practice it short-term, but if you have any long-term goals and wish to improve on what you have already learned, then Muay Thai is a better choice for you. 

Also, be sure to take a look at the article we wrote about how good are other martial arts for self-defense.

Muay Thai vs Boxing: Which Is Easier to Learn?

An important factor in choosing your sport is how difficult it is to learn. All combat sports and martial arts are difficult in their own ways and – ultimately – it all depends on your strength and determination, but some of these are naturally more complex and more difficult to learn if you’re a beginner. 

Muay Thai is an all-encompassing martial art that involves kicks, elbows, knees, and punches. This means that it takes more time to master all the techniques and approaches before you can fully appreciate its benefits. Not only do you need to learn how to use these types of shots, but you also have to learn how to defend yourself against them. Clinching is also very important in Muay and that takes a long time to master completely.

Boxing, on the other hand, involves punches (just your arms) and defensive legwork, but doesn’t utilise your whole body. This type of striking emphasizes quick hands and head movement to avoid punches. Boxers tend to learn their techniques quicker because there is much less to learn; boxing is straightforward in that aspect.

Boxing is easier to learn and will demand less from you than Muay Thai because of its focus on just one part of your body. But only if you’re a complete beginner; here, easier means quicker to learn, not generally easier.

Muay Thai vs Boxing: Which Is Better for Strength and Condition?

As far as fitness goes – although that is not very often the main reason one takes up a martial art or combat sport – both Muay Thai and boxing offer plenty to the practitioners.

Both Muay Thai and boxing are great for your health, for your general fitness and stamina and even for your cardiovascular system (a lot of people do cardio exercises combined with martial arts techniques). Both are also great for strength and conditioning.

Even in their pure forms, Although Muay Thai puts more focus on the legs – thus strengthening your lower body – and boxing puts more focus on the upper body and arms, when it comes to general fitness, both are equally effective.

It’s important to remember that when the focus is more on fitness and conditioning rather than skill and technique you won’t have the attributes to properly defend yourself, because fitness doesn’t teach that.

Take cardio kickboxing – which we have written about – as an example – it is great for your body, but it will do next to nothing to help you defend yourself in a potentially threatening situation. 

Muay Thai vs Boxing: Who Would Win in a Fight?

The question both is and is not difficult to answer. Namely, you have to consider several essential factors when answering this question. Some of them are – a fighter’s experience, his physique, the conditions, etc. 

Considering a professionally sanctioned fight, i.e., a strictly controlled environment, Muay Thai fighter would have the upper hand over a boxer in a fight.

Why? Simply because he utilises his whole body and has more techniques to use. Where a boxer is lacking in technique (primarily the legs), a Muay Thai fighter strives. But a Muay Thai fighter also uses his arms, meaning that he knows everything the boxer does plus a lot more.

Although one bout doesn’t constitute rock-solid proof, the 2004 fight between Alexey Ignashov, a Muay Thai and kickboxing champion, and Arthur Williams, a boxing champion, can be used as a reference for our answer; as you might presume, Ignashov cleaned the floor with William, using his leg as a decisive weapon against a solid boxer. 

But when it comes to unsanctioned events and real-life situations, our answer would be – we cannot tell. A lot of factors influence such situations (primarily, there are no rules) and it is practically impossible to foresee all of them and to give a straightforward answer. We only hope you’ll never be in a situation where you’ll have to find out.

Muay Thai vs Boxing: Which One is More Dangerous?

We’ve already talked about the dangers of boxing in some earlier articles and we’ve deduced that, compared to most other combat sports, boxing is usually more dangerous for the fighters. Due to the fighters focusing on hitting their opponent’s head, there is a substantial risk of (serious) brain damage, that could manifest immediately or later in life.

For example, boxing has had 923 cases of fatal injuries in a 118-year period (1890-2007), which is relatively high when compared to other sports, such as the nominally more dangerous MMA. Boxing has a ratio of 7.82 deaths per year, based on the numbers we mentioned, a number 13.4 times higher than the same number in MMA matches.

This becomes more important if we just take the 12-year period (2007-2019) since the first reported fatality in MMA into account; in that period, there have been 21 boxing-related deaths in total, which is three times more than in MMA for the same period of time.

Muay Thai actually confirms what we’ve said.

Although it uses more shots, Muay Thai is generally safer than boxing because it’s not as aggressive and it doesn’t focus on the head that much.

Certainly, you can expect injuries, but fatalities are rare, as well as long-term head injuries and similar problems. Muay Thai fighters, because they can by the virtue of their art, don’t have to go just for the head, which significantly decreases the risk of fatal or threatening injuries. 

Muay Thai or Boxing: Which One Is Better for You?

This question could also be paraphrased as – which is better, Muay Thai or Boxing? The answer is not straightforward and it all depends on you and your personal approach.

You have to know what you want, what you want to improve and how you want to develop your fighting techniques. Based on your preferences, you will decide for yourself which one you prefer, Muay Thai or boxing, because each one of them offers something, so it’s up to you to make the final choice.

If you want to learn a more encompassing style that utilises your whole body to gain an advantage, then we should think that Muay Thai could be your “poison of choice” when it comes to martial arts. If, on the other hand, you have no intention on focusing on the legs, boxing might be a better choice because of its strict focus on the upper body, which might just fit your preferences perfectly.

But again – as we’ve stated – the final decision is yours. Consider what you know and what you want before making the final choice that could influence your life in ways you cannot even imagine.

Well, that covers the basic differences between Muay Thai and boxing. If you want to know more about the world of martial arts, please follow us and see you next time.

Stefano Secci, French Savate Boxing, and Martial Arts champion
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Stefano Secci

Stefano Secci was born on the outskirts of Genoa. He began practicing sports at 11 by enrolling in a Ju-Jitsu class; from there, I have not stopped playing sports until today. At 16, he switched to French Savate Boxing, which I married and has remained my first and only true love. Our testing and reviewing method.
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