Muay Thai vs Kickboxing: Which Wins in a Real Fight?

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Muay Thai vs Kickboxing.

Who would win in a fight between Muay Thai vs Kickboxing?

For casual onlookers of mixed martial arts, Muay Thai and Kickboxing seem interchangeable.

Both have elements of mixed combat including leg kicks, push kicks, straight punches. There are also evasive movements, and powerful blows and body strikes.

There are similarities and we will explore them in this article. The two are distinct fighting styles with different fighting techniques, rules and histories.

But which fighting technique is better? Which is the most effective in real fighting? Who wins in Muay Thai vs Kickboxing? Read on to find out!

What is Kickboxing?

Before we look at the histories, differences and similarities of these fighting styles, let’s define Kickboxing.

This is a general and broad term that has different meanings to different people – especially depending on where you ask. Practitioners in Japan, North America and Europe all may have their own understandings of the term.

What unites them all is the fundamental use of punches and kicks in a combat sport. Rules in various forms of kickboxing may vary when we look further.

The clinch for example exists in some variations of kickboxing while is not permitted in other forms.

Furthermore, regardless of the different styles of kickboxing, the use of elbows and knees are generally not present.

What is Muay Thai?

Muay Thai is known as Thai Boxing. It is is a combat art and ring sport that originated in Thailand many centuries ago.

This martial art uses fists, elbows, knees, and feet.

Fights last five rounds of three minutes each with two-minute breaks between the rounds. We have written extensively about the rules of Muay Thai here.

Historical Differences Between Muay Thai and Kickboxing

You might have seen grainy videos of MMA fighters demolishing masters of traditional forms of fighting such as Kung Fu and Tai Chi in China.

Those ancient fighting styles trace their origins to ancient monks. But Muay Thai is a fighting style that traces its origin back almost one thousand years to warriors.

These styles have evolved over the centuries. But Muay Thai has always been rooted in practicality and effectiveness.

Practitioners of Muay Thai follow the footsteps of Thai warriors. This country that was never colonized. Thailand is an exception in a region of the world that the French and British Empires dominated.

Types of Kickboxing

Kickboxing is a broad term and it comes in a variety of kickboxing styles, notably Japanese, American, and Dutch.

Some of these newer additions to the martial arts canon incorporate aspects of other martial arts.

Japanese Kickboxing

Japanese kickboxing emerged in the 1960s. Japanese Karate masters fought Muay Thai champions in exhibition fights.

Karate saw a formidable opponent in Muay Thai. The Japanese style of kickboxing outlaws the most brutal aspects of Muay Thai such as extended clinches and elbow strikes.

Japanese kickboxers adopted certain aspects of Muay Thai. Especially the use of knees. Much of the Japanese kickboxing style however comes from Karate.

American Kickboxing

American Kickboxing is directly link to Karate. It also combines elements of Western Boxing such as head movement. This makes it formidable in its own way.

The combination of these two unique forms got a foothold in the US in the early 1960s. It reached its peak in popularity in the 1980s.

With no direct link to Muay Thai, this style does not allow signature aspects from Muay Thai like low kicks, throws, clinches, or sweeps.

Dutch Kickboxing

The Dutch style of kickboxing can formally be traced to the mid-1970s when it first took hold in the country. Prior to this, the Dutch presence in South East Asia, notably Indonesia, brought martial arts to the Netherlands. Following the Japanese occupation of Dutch Indonesia, Japanese karate also became well known.

Japanese Karate, and later Japanese kickboxing shaped the Dutch style, which is also heavily rooted in Western boxing.

Over time, the Dutch style became more distinct. Dutch fighters mastered heavy leg kicks (among other aspects) and Western boxing-style strikes.

Fundamental Differences between Muay Thai and Kickboxing

Let’s look closer at Muay Thai vs Kickboxing.

The biggest difference is that Muay Thai uses an eight-point striking system. This includes striking with kicks, knees, elbows and punches.

The 8-point striking system is a fighter’s two fists, two knees, two elbows, and two feet. These combine to a total of eight potential weapons to strike and overwhelm an opponent.

Kickboxing meanwhile uses a 4-point striking system that is rooted in punches and kicks. Elbow strikes and knee strikes are not part of the repertoire of a kickboxing fighter, making it a four-point striking system.

In a kickboxing match, opponents focus attacks to the upper body. There is room for elegant strikes like axe kicks. Meanwhile Muay Thai has strikes that focus on almost all parts of the body, and in particular, the kicks. In Kickboxing, kicks below the belt are illegal.

Another significant difference is the fighter’s approach to movement and attack. Muay Thai is an extremely aggressive combat sport where forward momentum is part of the fighter’s consciousness. Success is found through combinations of attacks and counter – attacks. Fighters typically meet each other head-on.

In the debate about Muay Thai vs Kickboxing, let’s look at defense. Muay Thai focuses on attacks and counter-attacks. Kickboxing has more elements of defense.

Attacks are carefully, but also violently, orchestrated through maneuvering around the ring. There are also elements of surprise in the kickboxer’s attacks.

Greater emphasis is placed on spinning kicks and punches. These are much less present in Muay Thai.

Kickboxing also offers a wider range of kicks delivered from various parts of the foot. Muay Thai kicks appear less elegant and most commonly use the middle shin to all parts of the body.

Additionally, the Western influence on kickboxing has added the importance of head movement. This results in a more elusive target for making contact.
Head movement is not a part of Muay Thai. The head rests on hunched shoulders. The fighter’s arms create distance and offer defense. in addition to offering fists and elbows as the opportunity is created.

Check out our detailed guide on Muay Thai for self defense.

The Final Faceoff between Muay Thai vs Kickboxing

Okay, okay – so in a contest of Muay Thai vs Kickboxing which one will win in a fight? Well, let’s imagine one fighter from each style face-off in the ring.

They are matched in size, conditioning, experience in their respective crafts, and spirit.

Perhaps the most determining factor will be the rules that are followed.

Fighting Under Kickboxing Rules

A fight confined by the Kickboxing rules will cancel out the clinch, elbows and knees. This will reduce the repertoire of a Muay Thai fighter and favor the kickboxer.

The Muay Thai fighter will be fighting at a handicap. He has training in a variety of fundamental techniques which are forbidden.

The kickboxer will be fighting in familiar territory in conditions matching his training.

Fighting Under Muay Thai Rules

In a scenarios, the Muay Thai fighter will have a significant advantage. He has a variety of attacks unfamiliar to the kickboxer, the clinch being the most glaring.
The clinch opens up opportunities for knees, close-quarter elbows, and throws. These will damage an opponent.

In a street fight with no rules, the winner is the combatant with the most weapons at his disposal. Add more extensive experience fighting confined by fewer rules.

This gives Muay Thai the edge. Elbow strikes, leg kicks, knees and brutal clinches to deliver throws and takedowns are fair play.

A perfectly timed strike or spinning kick from a kickboxer can cause an upset. But the reduced arsenal certainly limits its effectiveness.

Final Verdict

With its wider range of attacks and its fewer rules, Muay Thai is the winner.

Check out how BJJ vs Muay Thai compares!

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We're a team of fight fans and martial arts practitioners. Many of us have been involved in martial arts our entire lives.