At first glance, Muay Thai and boxing may look quite similar. The obvious differences are that in boxing you can use only your hands while in Muay Thai you can also kick and throw elbows and knees. So you may be wondering if a proper Muay Thai fighter will do good in the boxing ring?
Are Muay Thai fighters good boxers? While there are some Muay Thai fighters that competed in boxing and dominated, most people who come from Muay Thai background aren’t very good boxers. That’s because Muay Thai is very kicking heavy sport and most fighters don’t spend much time working on their punches and punching defense.
The technique of the punches of Muay Thai fighters isn’t that crips as boxers’ technique. Boxers’ punches are quicker and more powerful. That’s because as I already mentioned Muay Thai is a kicking heavy sport. Muay Thai fighters don’t put much power into their punches because they use them mainly just to set up their kicks, knees or elbows.
In these strikes is the real power of Muay Thai fighters, punches are mostly just a distraction from them. For example, a Muay Tha fighter can throw a right straight followed by a left hook and then a low kick. The goal is to make the opponent cover-up, defending the punches while you kick his leg hard. Those punches aren’t necessarily hard but the kick is.
The other problem is that Muay Thai fighters practice a lot of clinching – controlling the opponent in the clinch, throwing elbows and knees, and defending from elbows and knees in the clinch.
That can be really beneficial when it comes to self-defense or MMA but in boxing, clinching is used just defensively to interrupt and stop the opponent attack and you can’t win a boxing match using clinching. So the hours Muay Thai practitioners put into clinching go out of the window.
Even if you are better in Muay Thai than somebody else is in boxing, he’ll probably handle you pretty easily if you are just allowed to punch in sparring. To learn more why exactly is that, keep reading!
Problems Muay Thai fighters have in Boxing
Boxing stance is wider and more sideways that Muay Thai stance. That makes you mobile, gives you balance and makes you a smaller target for punches (because you are standing sideways towards the opponent). That stance is perfect when it comes to punches but it leaves your front leg unprotected from leg kicks.
On the other hand, the Muay Thai stance is very upright, squared and the feet are close together. This allows you to quickly lift your feet to check kicks or throw teeps. But that stance doesn’t allow you to punch very hard (you need to be in a wider stance so you have a good balance to do that) and also makes you very static.
Boxers can afford to stay in a wide and sideways stance because they don’t need to worry about leg kicks. Their stance is so mobile that boxers actually have the best footwork when it comes to in and out movement combined with lateral movement in all combat sports.
The power boxers have comes from their feet and more particularly from their wide and stable stance and from the pivoting of the feet they do when punching. That allows them to shift the weight from one leg to the other while punching which makes their punches faster and more powerful than punches of a Muay Thai fighter.
A big difference in power makes the fact that Muay Thai fighters don’t pivot their feet when punching. Their feet are squared towards the opponent which dramatically decreases the damage in the ankles and knees if they take a low kick while punching. But that makes their punches much less powerful than punches from boxers.
Other than the kicks, the clinching, the stance and the footwork there are a few more differences between Muay Thai and boxing that I want to mention:
Boxers like to pivot around their front foot (or rear foot sometimes), to do side steps, to hop and to switch stances just to get a superior angle and attack their opponent without putting themselves in risk. The perfect example of that is Vasil Lomachenko. Watch his highlights to see how he is able to always move to the left side of his opponents, almost behind them and punch them from a position where they can’t punch him.
In Muay Thai there are also angles sometimes, (for example when you step to your left so you have a better angle to land the right roundhouse kick), but in boxing, there are many more angles which can be a problem for a Muay Thai fighter.
Another important thing I need to mention is that boxers can fight while moving back. There are many boxing matches where the boxers who look like is running from his opponent actually is landing more punches. On the other hand, Muay Thai fighters like to move forward or to stand in front of the opponent and trade.
It’s much easier to move back and punch than to move back and kick. Because to be able to kick, you need to stop first and then to kick. Some people can do it effectively, it’s just very hard.
Unlike boxers, Muay Thai fighters are used to both kickboxing and punching distances. But when they transition to boxing they may need some time to adapt to fighting in only punching distance all the time.
Muay Thai has a slower rhythm than boxing. If you watch boxing (especially amateur in Olympic) you’ll notice how both boxers bouncing on their feet almost all the time. The idea is to get in a rhythm and confuse the opponent by suddenly breaking that rhythm when attacking.
Muay Thai fighters do something similar – it’s more of a marching motion where they lift their front foot slightly off the ground to be ready to check a kick or throw one to intercept the opponent. But they do that marching motion much slower than boxers do their bouncing.
Also, Muay Thai fighters usually throw no more than 3 strike combinations – for example, right cross – left hook- right low kick. In boxing, the punching combinations may be much longer – 4,5 even 6 punches to the body and the head. That can overwhelm a Muay Thai fighter.
Boxing defense is much more sophisticated than boxing defense in Muay Thai. In boxing, there is blocking, parrying slipping, bobbing and weaving, shoulder rolls, pivoting.
Muay Thai fighters don’t like to use head movement because if they try to slip punches they may get intercepted by a head kick. And if they try to bob and weave, their opponent may catch them with a knee to the face which is brutal.
They also don’t use the shoulder roll (using your shoulder basically as a shield against punches to the head) because it requires a sideways stance.
Muay Thay guys occasionally slip punches but most of the time they parry, block them or lean back. In boxing, such a defense can be effective but it isn’t that good when it comes to counter-punching and also can leave openings to the body which boxers love.
5. Boxers have a better jab
The jab is the most important punch in boxing. It is the fastest punch, it is rangy and you can throw it without really committing and putting yourself in a danger. Boxers use it to keep a distance or to set up combinations.
Don’t get me wrong some Muay Thai fighters have a great jab but most of the time, they use the front teep instead of a jab. It has more range, you can throw it to the body or the head and use it to counter leg kicks. But in the boxing ring, that weapon can not be used and you need to work on your jab.
Successful Muay Thai fighters in Boxing
Just to make that clear, in this article I’m talking about the average Muay Thai practitioner/fighter. There are some great Muay Thai fighters who were very successful in boxing.
Thailand has 4 Olympic gold medalists in boxing, 10 silver, and bronze medalists and most of them started training in Muay Thai gyms as poor kids.
Other like for example Somrak Kamsing started boxing for other reasons. During his Muay Thai career, Somrak was a genius defensive and counterpunching striker who dominated in Muay Thai. But for political reasons, he couldn’t fight for a belt so he transitioned to boxing. In 1996 he won a gold medal in the Olympics (in the same Olympic games Floyd Mayweather got a bronze medal).
Often if Muay Thai coaches notice that somebody has good hands – power speed precision, timing with his punches, they want him to compete in boxing. This is because boxing is a much more mainstream sport and there are much more money in boxing than in Muay Thai.