Comparing boxing to Muay Thai is like comparing a precision-built Ferrari to a balls-to-the-wall muscle car.
The Ferrari is more precise, but the muscle car is gritty and gets the job done in spectacular style.
Both boxing and Muay Thai use the concept of distance control to keep you safe while defending yourself. Boxing only focuses on striking with the hands, whereas Muay Thai uses the hands, elbows, knees, and shins to fight. That’s why it’s called the ‘The Art of 8 Limbs’.
Both arts have the potential to keep you safe in a combat or self-defense situation.
As long as you’re able to effectively manage the distance between you and your attacker.
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Technical Differences: Boxing Vs Muay Thai
Boxing and Muay Thai may have less in common than you might think, technically speaking.
They are both standup styles and they both use their hands for striking, but that’s where the similarities end.
Let’s look at what technically sets these two arts apart:
Stances in boxing and Muay Thai differ quite a bit.
For boxing, you want to reduce the striking area for your opponent by turning your hips outwards, leading with your weaker hand for the jab. In Muay Thai, your hips are further forward and more square-on to your opponent to effectively check/block kicks and to throw kicks with your back leg quicker.
Muay Thai Stance
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Your guard is your arms and hands that are used to defend against strikes coming at your head.
Boxing only targets your upper body and head, so your hands will be closer to your head and your elbows in to defend against body shots. For Muay Thai your hands are further away to create a good defensive barrier against powerful kicks to your body and head, which also helps to generate momentum for kicks.
Muay Thai Guard
The clinch in boxing and Muay Thai play two very different roles, one being defensive and the other being offensive.
A clinch in boxing is used to prevent your opponent from striking when close-up. This is mainly used as a rest position until either fighter gets out or until the referee separates you. In Muay Thai, the clinch is used to set up striking opportunities like elbows and knees, or even throws to the ground for points.
Boxers do punch from inside the clinch.
But in most cases, you’re trying to control their hands and arms while resting.
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The range (or striking distance) between boxing and Muay Thai differs because of the weapons you’re able to use.
Boxers will typically stand closer to each other while fighting compared to Muay Thai fighters. This is because of the difference in range between a kick and a punch. Boxers only need to be concerned with the range of each other’s arms, but Muay Thai fighters need to defend against kicking ranges as well.
Muay Thai Range
Typically, boxing has far more footwork than Muay Thai.
Boxing has a rich history in footwork, creating almost dance-like movements while moving around your opponent and in and out of striking range. Muay Thai differs significantly because there’s barely any emphasis on footwork, both offensive and defensive, opting to rather defend with forearms and shins as shields.
Again, this comes down to the elegance versus brute force comparison.
Muay Thai fighters display their toughness where boxers display their finesse.
READ MORE: [Explained] What Are Leg Kicks?
Gloves: Boxing Vs Muay Thai
Apart from boxers wearing boxing shoes, the only piece of equipment used by both arts are padded gloves.
There are a few key differences between boxing and Muay Thai gloves, determined by the weapons used in each art: punches and kicks. The differences in design are mainly in the padding distribution, the flexibility of the gloves, the wrist support that they offer, and the overall shape. Glove weights are quite similar.
Muay Thai Gloves
Let’s look at these important differences more closely:
Surprisingly, as you’ll see in the images above, boxing and Muay Thai gloves do actually differ in shape.
Boxing gloves tend to have a more rounded design to encourage a natural fist shape and to increase the aerodynamics of punches. Muay Thai places less emphasis on these factors because of their preference for elbows, knees, and kicks rather than punching. So their gloves tend to have a flatter knuckle design.
Muay Thai gloves distribute the padding to the sides and top of the hand for defending kicks.
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Gloves are padded to protect the area of your hand that receives the most impact.
Boxing gloves have more padding on the knuckles for protecting your hand while punching, which is your only weapon in boxing. Muay Thai gloves have more padding on the back of your hand, to protect your hands while defending against kicks, which is the main weapon in a Muay Thai fight.
Muay Thai has much less emphasis on punching, in part because it scores a lot fewer points than kicking.
This is also because kicking with your shin is far more dangerous than a punch from a padded hand.
Flexibility and Wrist Support
Another noticeable difference between boxing and Muay Thai gloves is how flexible they are.
Boxing gloves only have one purpose, protecting your hand while punching. So they’re built rigid with very little flexibility. In contrast, Muay Thai gloves need to be more flexible to effectively grip in the clinch, catch an opponent’s kick, as well as protecting your hand while punching.
Boxing gloves also tend to have larger, more rigid cuff areas to protect the fragile wrist joints.
If you struggle to open your hand while wearing your glove, it’s probably a boxing glove.
Muay Thai gloves also don’t have a grip bar, specifically to increase flexibility for clinch work and catching kicks.
Can Muay Thai Gloves Be Used for Boxing?
Boxing and Muay Thai gloves tend to be used pretty interchangeably by casual fighters who aren’t too concerned about glove specifics.
In general, boxing gloves that offer the right protection can be used for either boxing or Muay Thai. However, it’s not recommended to use Muay Thai gloves for boxing if you’re specializing in boxing only. If you’re a boxer, it’s best to have boxing gloves that offer the right wrist and knuckle support.
If you protect your wrists and hands properly, you’ll be able to train for longer while reducing the risk of avoidable injuries that can take weeks or even months to heal before you can start training again.
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Punching/Heavy Bag: Boxing Vs Muay Thai
Muay Thai heavy bags (or banana bags) are relatively similar to boxing heavy bags as far as material and diameter, but differ in one main way:
Muay Thai heavy bags are longer than boxing heavy bags, so that you can practice kicking to an opponent’s body and upper legs. Boxing heavy bags don’t need to be as long, because the lowest point a boxer will punch is to the lower torso. You could practice boxing on a Muay Thai heavy bag, but not the other way around.
Other recommended equipment:
Boxers and Muay Thai fighters use various different types of punching bags and equipment for training.
Each piece of equipment focuses on a specific aspect of the striking arts or protecting the various weapons:
- Punching mitts (boxing and Muay Thai)
- Reflex ball (boxing and Muay Thai)
- Hand wraps (boxing and Muay Thai)
- Kick pads (Muay Thai)
- Headgear (boxing and Muay Thai)
- Shin guards (Muay Thai)
- Speedball/bag (boxing)
- Double-end ball/bag (boxing)
- Mouthguard (boxing and Muay Thai)
- Boxing shoes (boxing)
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Is Boxing Harder Than Muay Thai?
Boxing and Muay Thai are both considered very effective martial arts (yes, I consider boxing to be a martial art).
To answer the question of boxing being harder than Muay Thai or vice-versa, we need to first understand which aspects of the two fighting styles we need to compare.
Boxing can be harder to perfect because you only have your hands for striking with only the upper body and head as a target. Muay Thai is harder than boxing if you consider the impact on your body while training because strikes from elbows, knees, and shins can be far more devastating than a punch with padded gloves.
Both fighting styles use at least a 10-12 ounce glove.
It’s the use of the knees, elbows, and shins to the opponent’s body, legs, and head that makes all the difference with Muay Thai.
Many boxing and Muay Thai fighters have made successful transitions to MMA, often dominating the standup game in the fight.
We need to consider a few key points:
Which art is harder to learn?
Which art is harder to train?
Which art is harder on your body?
Let’s get into it.
Which Is Harder To Learn?
Muay Thai and boxing differ in many ways, but most importantly in the way that fighters defend themselves.
Muay Thai focuses on blocking strikes with the arms and shins, whereas boxing uses more evasion techniques like head movement, technical footwork, and very effective distance management. Muay Thai may have more striking options to learn, but boxing is by far the more technical martial art and definitely harder to learn.
That isn’t to say that Muay Thai isn’t technical, it certainly is.
It just offers more of a brute force approach to winning a fight, rather than technically picking an opponent apart.
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Which Is Harder To Train?
Both boxing and Muay Thai require a very high level of stamina.
Training for both styles will always include a lot of cardio, whether it be running, skipping, or other HIIT-type workouts that mimic the rounds of a fight. The technically harder martial art to train is boxing because it requires far more mastery of head movement and footwork compared to Muay Thai.
Muay Thai fighters will drill kicks and knees for minutes at a time on a bag with less emphasis placed on combinations.
Other aspects of their training are also done as drills.
These drills prioritise muscle memory, timing, force and overall toughness of shins, elbows, and knees.
In contrast, boxing has a more refined approach to training.
Muay Thai training consists mostly of:
- Strength training
- Cardio (running and skipping)
- Bag work
- Clinch fighting
- Pad work
Boxing training consists of:
- Strength training
- Cardio (running and skipping)
- Bag work
- Footwork drills
- Pad work
- Head movement drills
- Speedball/bag (reaction time, hand-eye coordination, and hand speed)
A lot of a boxer’s time is spent on perfecting their movement around a ring, as well as in and out of striking distance.
If they’re not working on footwork, they’re training evasive defenses like head movement drills.
Which Is Harder On Your Body?
Over time, the compounding effect of absorbing knees, elbows, and shins while training Muay Thai during sparring sessions can significantly shorten your career.
Muay Thai is harder on your body because the strikes that you absorb are more damaging to your body than with padded punches in boxing. Even practicing kicks repeatedly on a heavy-bag for many years has the potential for permanently damaging the joints and cartilage in your hips, knees, and ankles.
This is the reality of fighting.
It’s not unlike football or hockey, where permanent head injuries are a very real risk and may even cause incurable CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).
Unfortunately, boxers are prime candidates for head injuries as well since the head is one of the main targets in boxing.
READ MORE: [EXPLAINED] Striking Vs Grappling | Which Is Most Effective?
Can Muay Thai Beat Boxing? Who Would Win The Fight?
Under MMA rules, Muay Thai fighters will almost always beat boxers. Boxers typically need to be closer to an opponent to hit them, but a Muay Thai fighter could effectively manage distance using a range of kicks to the legs, torso, and head. If a boxer gets too close, they risk being elbowed or kneed.
If they fought under Queensbury Rules (boxing rules), a boxer may have a slight edge if they’ve perfected evasive, counter-striking techniques.
Here’s a good video of a boxer sparring a Muay Thai fighter using Queensbury Rules:
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Is Muay Thai Good for Self-Defense?
Muay Thai offers striking options at long, medium, and short-range, including kicks, knees, punches, and elbows. Most people you encounter on the streets won’t be able to compete with a well-trained Muay Thai fighter, so it’s great for a hand-to-hand self-defense situation.
If you regularly train Muay Thai and also include some grappling, you’ll be well prepared to defend yourself.
Having said that, we always recommend your first level of defense being escape from a hostile situation, if you can.
Is Muay Thai More Effective Than Boxing? Which Is Better For MMA and Self-Defense?
Muay Thai targets an opponent’s entire body using hands, elbows, knees, and shins from various ranges. Boxing only uses the hands to target the torso and head. Boxing is very effective within its own ruleset, but Muay Thai can be more effective as a martial art in an MMA or self-defense situation.
If you limit your training to a boxing ruleset, you’re essentially missing out on 80% of your arsenal.
Muay Thai might be the most effective martial art overall, but boxing certainly does offer a lot in terms of distance control and evasive defense.
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Should I Learn Boxing or Muay Thai First?
Boxing and Muay Thai are two very different art forms.
Deciding whether you should learn boxing or Muay Thai first depends on how you prefer fighting. If you prefer more tactically evasive training and sparring, then I recommend boxing. If you’d like to be able to fight with all your limbs and don’t mind a few bumps and bruises, then Muay Thai is for you.
To be a more complete martial artist though, you should definitely try to learn a grappling art as well.
In a one-on-one situation, grappling can be your most effective form of self-defense that reduces the damage to you and your opponent.
Either way, learning any martial art is good.
The health benefits, self-confidence, and developing the ability to take care of yourself and your loved ones is more than enough motivation for most.
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Photo by Hush Naidoo
Hi! I’m the Founder of Strictly Fighters and I write about martial arts and self-defense.
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