Muay Thai VS Kickboxing: The Differences

Muay Thai and Kickboxing are similar in many respects. To the untrained eye, it might even seem like they are the same. Both martial arts have a stand-up game that revolves around the use of punches and kicks, yet there are some important differences between the two martial arts.

Kickboxing can be described as a martial art that uses kicks and punches, mixing elements from Boxing and Karate. Muay Thai can be seen as a Kickboxing art where extra weapons can be utilized, which can make the style of the fighters completely different.

This article will describe both styles further in detail and compare them to each other. Furthermore, how would a fight between Muay Thai vs Kickboxing play out?


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Muay Thai

muay thai vs kickboxing

Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing, is often referred to as the ‘Art of the Eight Limbs’. Not only does Muay Thai use punches and kicks, but it also integrates knees and elbows into its game. Since the human body has a right and left side, eight points of contact are being used.

Muay’ translates into Boxing, so Muay Thai actually just means Thai Boxing. The sport was invented in the 13th century during times of war. The Thai army needed to learn unarmed combat, as well as armed combat. Muay Thai back then was called ‘Muay Boran’ and was meant to be as deadly as possible.

Muay Thai Fighting Style

Certain strikes have become forbidden over the years, as they would be too dangerous in a competitive sports environment. Examples of such strikes would be the use of groin strikes or strikes to the back of the head. Muay Thai has become a very respectful and effective martial art around the world.

Outside of the eight contact points a Muay Thai fighter can strike with, they can make use of the clinch, throws, and sweeps. They can choose to catch a kick/knee and attempt to get their opponent off balance and let them fall to the ground using sweeps or throws.

The clinch is a close-quarter grappling technique that is an essential part of the Muay Thai sport. It is a way to control your opponent from a close distance and do damage by throwing knees to the head or body. If you catch your opponent off balance during the clinch, the option to throw or sweep your opponent can present itself again.

A Muay Thai match usually lasts five rounds of three minutes. A bout can be either won by way of KO/TKO or points.

Kickboxing /K1

kickboxing vs muay thai

Unlike Muay Thai, Kickboxing did not find its roots in one place. Kickboxing is influenced by many martial arts using kicks and punches worldwide. Many people see Kickboxing as a clear mix between Boxing and Karate, but in reality, it takes influences from many martial arts, even Muay Thai.

Kickboxing Fighting Style

The techniques used in Kickboxing can differ from country to country or even from gym to gym. This is because there is no one way to carry out Kickboxing moves due to the many different influences in the sport.

Muay Thai is being taught in more or less the same way due to the dominant Thai roots of the sport. Kickboxing makes use of a four-point system where only kicks and punches are allowed. However, there are types of Kickboxing where knees are allowed as well, such as Dutch Kickboxing.

A Kickboxing match usually lasts three rounds of three minutes, except for title fights. Then there can be five rounds. A fight can be either won by KO/TKO or points.

Muay Thai vs Kickboxing Style Differences

thai boxing vs kickboxing

Due to the differences in the skill set between the different martial art fighters, different styles are adopted.

Below we discuss the main differences in skill sets between Muay Thai fighters and Kickboxers.

Muay Thai vs Kickboxing Footwork

Muay Thai fighters are flatfooted and want to maintain balance as much as possible at any given time. This is because Muay Thai fighters go back to their solid base after attacking an opponent. They are much more patient in their style and are looking for counterattacks. They do not move much to preserve energy and to exploit openings with explosiveness when their opponent gives them one.

Kickboxers on the other hand are generally light on their feet and move around much for them to create the openings themselves. They do not have to deal with elbows and knees when coming close to their opponent, so they have a more boxing-heavy style. Muay Thai fighters prefer to stay out of the clinching range to avoid those knees and elbows. Therefore they have a more kicking-heavy style.

Kicking In Muay Thai vs Kickboxing

Due to the difference in the boxing or kicking heavy style, the fighters also have different ways of dealing with kicks. Muay Thai fighters want to check (block) the kick to avoid leg damage, while Kickboxers often let the kicks find their targets to counter their opponent with a boxing combination. Muay Thai fighters usually take a few rounds to feel their opponent out. Once they have figured the pattern of their opponent out, they start to chip away at their opponent and increase their volume.

Fight Tempo In Muay Thai vs Kickboxing

Kickboxers tend to go straight into a battle and fire away with strikes from the get-go. The main reason for the different approaches is the number of rounds in each sport. Kickboxers only have to fight for three rounds, while Muay Thai fighters have to last for five. They have to be smarter about their energy consumption and tactics during the fight.

Who would win in a fight between a Muay Thai fighter and a Kickboxer?

muay thai vs kickboxing

This is a very tricky question, as there are a lot of variables to consider.

For the sake of the argument, let us imagine that both fighters have trained equally long and possess the same level of skills. Then it is important to consider what the rules of the fight would be.

Muay Thai vs Kickboxing Ruleset

Is the Muay Thai fighter able to use weapons like clinching, knees and elbows? If a Kickboxer would fight a Muay Thai fighter under Muay Thai rules, that Kickboxer would have a huge disadvantage.

If the fight would happen under Kickboxing rules, then the Muay Thai fighter would be at a disadvantage due to a big part of his game becoming obsolete. However, the Muay Thai fighter would still know how to throw punches and kicks, while a Kickboxer would not know how to deal with the clinch in a Muay Thai setting.

If the Kickboxer comes too close, knees and elbows are to be expected as well. This would mean that the Kickboxer would take more damage when Boxing in the pocket. They are not used to keeping distance the way Muay Thai fighters do. That being said, the Kickboxer would probably outbox the Muay Thai fighter, while the Muay Thai fighter would probably outkick the Kickboxer.

Another factor that comes into play is the number of rounds.

If the match is three rounds, it favours the Kickboxer as he is used to ‘short’ fights and will be able to swarm the Muay Thai opponent for most of the time. If the fight is five rounds, then the Muay Thai fighter has time to analyse its opponent and find weaknesses, while the Kickboxer will not be able to keep the same pace during the later rounds. The Muay Thai fighter will be able to capitalize on it in the later rounds and expose holes in the tired Kickboxer’s game.

So which fighter eventually wins all depends on the variables of the match.

What martial art is better? Muay Thai VS Kickboxing

This will probably sound like a cliché, but there is no better martial art between the two. Both are highly effective and the score between Muay Thai vs Kickboxer fights is about even.

The perfect example would be the first fight between a Kickboxer and Muay Thai fighter in America. ‘Rick Roufus vs Changpuek Kiatsongrit’ was a bout that became very popular due to it showing the benefits of both arts. Both fighters ended up in the hospital after the fight. Roufus broke Kiatsongrit’s nose with a powerful punch, while Roufus’s legs were completely shattered by Kiatsongrit’s leg kicks.

Both have their positives and negatives. Kickboxers could learn to clinch, using elbows and knees from Muay Thai. They would also be able to learn to become better counter punchers. Muay Thai fighters could in turn learn more about boxing, footwork, and (head) movement from Kickboxers. They could also learn more types of kicks due to the multiple influences that have formed Kickboxing.

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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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