By Adam Haynes, 5/28/18–It is highly likely that even those with a passing interest in MMA will have heard of Muay Thai. Thailand’s national sport – which derives from the ancient Siamese-influenced Muay Boran – is perhaps the most potent of all the striking arts. From the same platform, fight fans will have noticed premier mixed martial artists exhibit the perfect marriage of punches and kicks inside the cage.
Muay Thai, also known as the “art of the eight limbs” due to the use of punches, kicks, knees, and elbows, can trace its roots back to ancient Thailand. Having become integrated into the very fabric of MMA, Muay Thai is one of the most effective disciplines to employ inside the cage.
While laypeople may see the two as basically the same thing, experts tend to separate “Thai boxing” from American kickboxing. In comparing Muay Thai and kickboxing, there are a number of tangible factors that differentiate the two. Some people say that kickboxing is a full-contact blend of karate and boxing – with no permitted elbow or knee strikes and of course, limited to no clinching. Those forbidden kickboxing tactics are prominent features of Muay Thai.
Here’s a remarkable video showing one of the first known match-ups between Muay Thai and kickboxing. It went down in Vegas in 1988, and convinced a lot of American fight fans of Muay Thai’s efficacy. Note how the Muay Thai fighter overcomes a significant weight difference with an ongoing barrage of low leg kicks (not allowed in standard western kickboxing rules).
Muay Thai vs. Kickboxing
When former US President Theodore Roosevelt remarked that “Comparison is the thief of joy,” it is highly unlikely that he had Muay Thai and kickboxing in mind. In fact, we are certain he didn’t, but nevertheless …
Separating the Edson Barbozas and Joanna Jędrzejczyks from the Stephen Thompsons and Holly Holms of MMA comes down to their respective striking disciplines. To be more precise, the former derive their stand-up game from Muay Thai while the latter are stylistically closer to western kickboxers.
It is not just the striking aspect of Muay Thai which earns it its honorable place in MMA. The Muay Thai clinch has become a rudimentary part of any fighter’s skill-set, given its effectiveness in close-quarter attacks. Think Wanderlei Silva’s crushing knees from the clinch against Quinton Rampage Jackson, or Anderson Silva’s propensity to damage in close proximity. In fact, watching Muay Thai legends such as Saenchai or Buakaw in action will show you that Muay Thai is a lot more than punches and kicks.
The Effectiveness of Muay Thai & Kickboxing in MMA
It would take a lot of convincing to suggest that kickboxing is more effective than Muay Thai. Practically every MMA gym on the planet emphasizes the importance of learning the rudiments of Thailand’s national sport.
It is essentially the king of the striking arts, due to its comprehensive and highly-potent strikes. As vicious as it is beautiful, just one look through the table of UFC, Pride, Bellator, and ONE champions – past and present – will return a convincing number of champions well-versed in Muay Thai.
This is to take absolutely nothing from the effectiveness of kickboxing. Similarly, an adjusted and proficient exponent of western kickboxing is a dangerous task for any fighter to figure out.
When it comes to punches and kicks vs. punches, kicks, knees, elbows, clinches and throws? On paper, Muay Thai takes gold. In sport, however, things do not always work that way…