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10 Muay Thai Rules Every Fighter Should Know

After growing up watching western Boxing and Kickboxing, many fans get confused watching Muay Thai fights. Whilst there are a lot of similarities between the sports, there are also several notable differences.

Muay Thai fights are scored using a different system to western Boxing, Kickboxing and the UFC. Even competitive fighters can get confused by the different Muay Thai rules and the scoring system.

In this article, we go over the Muay Thai rules, traditions and differences between western Kickboxing, MMA and Boxing.

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What Are The Rules Of Muay Thai?

Below is an overview of Muay Thai rules before we discuss them in further detail.

  • Fighters perform the wai kru ram muay before fighting
  • There are specific rules for women fighters
  • Fights take place for 5 x 3-minute rounds
  • Betting plays a significant role in Muay Thai culture
  • Fouls can lead to point deductions or a DQ
  • Fighters compete in weight divisions
  • Fighters have to stick to strict Muay Thai attire rules
  • Legal techniques include punches, kicks, knees, elbows & clinching techniques

The Wai Kru & Ram Muay

After Muay Thai fighters enter the ring, they perform the wai kru ram muay before the fight starts. The wai kru ram muay is a cultural ritual performed by fighters.

Wai kru ram muay translates to “war-dance saluting the teacher”.

It consists of two parts:

Wai kru – During the wai kru the fighter circles the ring three times before kneeling and bowing at every corner. They do this to show respect to Buddha, Dharma, and the sangha of monks.

Ram Muay – The ram muay is a dance that the fighter performs before the fight to show their style and control. Each fighters ram muay is individual. Fighters take inspiration from their trainers, so training partners will often have a similar ram muay.

Different Rules For Women

women muay thai rules

There are certain rules that effect female Muay Thai fighters in Thailand.

Firstly, male Muay Thai fighters enter the ring over the top of the ropes, whilst females enter under the ropes.

In Thailand’s national boxing stadiums, Rajadamnern and Lumpinee, women are unable to fight or corner fighters. In fact, women are forbidden from touching or entering the Muay Thai ring.

Length Of Fight

Muay Thai fights take place over five rounds. Each round is three minutes long.

Unlike western boxing and kickboxing, Muay Thai fighters have a two-minute rest in-between rounds.

Muay Thai Strikes & Legal Techniques

Muay Thai is commonly referred to as the art of eight limbs. This is due to the fact fighters can use punches, kicks, knees and elbows to strike their opponents.

Fighters are also aloud to clinch in Muay Thai. Cinching is the grappling aspect of Muay Thai where you hold your opponent to throw knees and elbows or sweep them.

Fighters who specialise in clinching are called Muay Kao.

How do strikes score in Muay Thai?

Judges in Muay Thai score strikes using a specific criteria.

The Muay Thai scoring criteria includes:

  • Technical execution of techniques
  • Clean landing techniques
  • The effect of the shots & damage inflicted
  • Ring dominance

In Muay Thai, only strikes or techniques that meet this criteria will score.

Illegal Strikes

Similar to western Boxing and Kickboxing, there are several illegal techniques in Muay Thai.

Illegal Muay Thai techniques include:

  • Head-butting
  • Eye gouging
  • Groin shots
  • Biting
  • Disrespectful conduct
  • Illegal throws (judo & wrestling techniques)

Fighters who use illegal techniques will receive either a warning, point deduction or disqualification from the referee.

Muay Thai Attire Rules

Muay Thai rules attire

Similar to most sports, Muay Thai has rules regarding what fighters can wear.

Muay Thai attire rules include:

  • Only Thai boxing shorts are to be worn (vests are permitted for women)
  • Long hair and beards are prohibited in some stadiums
  • Mongkhon is to be worn when performing the wai kru ram muay
  • Prajioud (traditional armband) can be worn during the fight
  • No jewellery or piercings are permitted
  • Hands can be wrapped by a soft material (no tape over the knuckles)
  • A groin protector must be worn (tied at the back)
  • Fighters can wear ankle supports/bandages

Glove sizes are determined by weight divisions. Fighters weighing up to 126 lbs will use 6oz gloves. Muay Thai fighters above 126 lbs and up to 147 lbs use 8oz gloves. Any fighter that weighs more than 147 lbs must use 10 oz gloves.

The rules above are for Thai boxing stadiums. Muay Thai attire rules can differ slightly depending on the organisation.

Fighters Compete In Weight Divisions

Similar to western Boxing and Kickboxing, Thai boxers fight in weight divisions. The average weight in Thailand is significantly less than the western world. For that reason, the most competitive weight divisions in Muay Thai are up to 147 lbs.

Below is the WBC’s weight division guide.

WBC Weight Divisions

Methods Of Victory

There are several methods of victory in Muay Thai.

These include:

  • KO – Knockout
  • TKO – Technical knockout
  • Decision
  • DQ – Disqualification

Knockouts occur when a fighter is hit to the ground using a Muay Thai technique and is unable to get up within ten seconds.

A TKO is declared when a fighter is unable to continue. This is usually due to a fighter receiving excessive damage or an injury. A fighter can withdraw themselves or the decision can be made by the referee or their corner.

It should also be mentioned that if a fighter gets knocked down three times in a round, it’s declared a TKO.

The third method of victory in Muay Thai is via the judges decision. If no fighter wins by KO or TKO the winner is decided by the judges scorecard.

Fighters can also get disqualified if they commit a foul or use illegal techniques.

Rounds 4-5 Are The Most Important

Unlike western Kickboxing and Boxing, Muay Thai fights are scored as a whole.

Unlike Boxing, in which rounds are added up, Thai fights are scored in their entirety. It’s common for a fighter to narrowly lose the first three rounds, to then win the fight by dominating the 4th and 5th rounds.

Gambling Is A Big Part Of Muay Thai

muay thai rules gambling

Love it or hate it, Muay Thai and gambling go hand in hand.

Betting plays a large role in Muay Thai culture. In fact, Muay Thai is one of the only legal sports you can wager on in Thailand. Boxing stadiums that hold sanctioned Muay Thai bouts are legal gambling areas.

Muay Thai spectators in the stands will bet on fights, with the odds and amount determined by hand gestures.

Muay Thai gyms can also place side bets on their fighters. It’s not uncommon for camps to back their fighters with large sums of money.

Unfortunately where there’s money, there’s also corruption.

There have been several cases of fraud that involved fighters throwing fights for money.

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Conclusion

There are many differences between Muay Thai and western Kickboxing. These are differences in both culture and Muay Thai rules.

In Muay Thai, fighters maintain tradition by wearing the mongkhon, and performing the wai kru ram muay.

Other differences between Muay Thai and western combat sports include the number of rounds, fight attire and the scoring system.

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Gareth Davies

I'm a martial arts competitor and enthusiast. Over the last 15 years, I have trained and competed in several martial arts. I live in Manchester U.K working as a strength & conditioning coach when I'm not travelling and exploring martial arts around the world.
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