Boxing or Muay Thai: Key Differences and Which to Choose?

If you haven’t trained in either Boxing of Muay Thai, the first thing I’d say is that both are awesome. Let’s take a look at some of the key differences and what to bear in mind when it comes to training in these two epic combat sports:

  • Types of strikes
  • Stance and footwork
  • Defence and head movement
  • Injuries
  • The culture
  • Usefulness outside the gym

The short answer is that both are amazing skills to learn for confidence, self-defence, and fitness.

I’ve trained extensively in both but if I really had to choose just one I’d go for boxing for its mesmerizing rhythm, crisp punches, and rich history.

👊 Types of strikes

The most obvious difference between Boxing and Muay Thai are the types of striking involved.

Muay Thai is known as the Art of Eight limbs because, as well as your fists, you can use your feet, knees, and elbows to attack your opponent. With boxing of course, it’s just fists (and maybe your teeth if you’re Mike Tyson).

You have spinning elbows, jumping knees, flying kicks. The amount of different moves in Muay Thai is crazy making it a more complicated sport to learn.

Muay Thai also has a grappling element that is an important part of the skill, whereas in boxing grappling is discouraged and separated by the ref.

I started out training in boxing for several years before trying Muay Thai and it felt awesome to expand the types of striking in my arsenal and working new parts of my body.

Knowing I can now whip out a savage low kick or vicious elbow is an empowering addition to the fast hands I developed in boxing.

In short: Muay Thai feels like you’re turning your whole body into a lean, brutal fighting machine, rather than just your fists.  

The many different moves of Muay Thai
It takes a long time to master all of this!

👣 Stance and footwork

When I started Muay Thai my front leg kept getting ruined in sparring. Thanks to years of boxing I naturally put my weight forward and low, making my front leg a sitting duck for kicks.

Lots of bruises later, I learned the hard way that the Muay Thai stance has a much higher centre of gravity and a more sideways pose than boxing.

This higher stance allows for quick kicks but doesn’t give you the strong foundation for some heavy, swift punches like you get with boxing.

The Muay Thai stance doesn’t encourage so much of the quick footwork that makes boxing so beautiful to watch and satisfying to train in. When training in Muay Thai the coaches often told me to stop moving my feet so much and to preserve my energy!

Boxing’s rhythm, that can make it feel like a dance, stems from its footwork. And footwork is far less important in Muay Thai.

Ali head movement
There’s a good reason they called boxing “The Sweet Science”

🛡️ Defense and head movement

I was also taught in boxing that its about not getting hit just as much as it is about hitting.

This is NOT the case in Muay Thai!

Muay Thai is stand and deliver. You square up and batter each other, eating the hits, and blocking with your own shins. My legs were purple for months from regular bone on bone.

A large part of Muay Thai training is toughening you up to take these hits. I often had to stand with my hands behind my back as another fighter kicked 20 reps on my unprotected chest.

Local Thai Muay Thai fighters are known to harden their shins (which are used for kicks and blocks) by kicking banana trees or being hit with baseball bats. I’m not joking.

And whatever you do in Muay Thai, do not duck! If you do you’ll end up with a knee to the face and that won’t be pretty. I got away with it the first and only time I accidentally ducked during one of my first Muay Thai sparring sessions.

All this isn’t to say that Muay Thai don’t teach defence. Of course it does. But you’re not encourage to weave and dodge and dance like you are in boxing.

So, Muay Thai will toughen parts of your body up in a way that boxing won’t.

Mayweather ducks a punch
Whatever you do, do not do this in Muay Thai!

🤕 Injuries

For the four months I was training Muay Thai in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I had some sort of injury on one or both of my feet or the whole time I was there.

If you’re just starting Muay Thai, accept the fact that your feet will get injured. It’s an inevitable part of the process of learning and conditioning your body.

You’ll hurt your toes doing front kicks (teeps), or you’ll bruise the top of your feet because you didn’t point your toes when you kicked the pads.

Sure you can get injured in boxing too but Muay Thai just uses so many different parts of the body, including sharp elbows and knees, that the chances of injury are much higher.

Me training Muay Thai in Thailand
You’ll get a plenty of injuries from doing this thousands of times…

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🥊 The culture

Part of my love for boxing comes from everything that happens in the wider sport, both today and in the past.

The legendary characters like Ali, Tyson Fury, Mike Tyson, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, and countless others, have created a storied boxing history dripping in inspiring stories, hilarious antics, and a god-like reverence.

There’s a reason that Mohammed Ali posters can be found in bedrooms and classrooms all around the world, and that tickets for world heavyweight fights sell for tens of thousands of bucks.

Boxing inspires and motivates millions in a way that Muay Thai doesn’t and it’s cool to be a part of that. For whatever reason, Muay Thai hasn’t really made it mainstream so there’s not much to follow outside of your own training.

Having said that, traditional Muay Thai from Thailand does have an extremely rich culture, rooted in the country’s spiritual and vibrant character.

Muay Thai Wai Kru dance
The ceremonial Wai Kru dance performed before Muay Thai fights

💥 Usefulness outside of the gym

If you’ve done a year or so of either boxing or Muay Thai then you’ll be in a good position to deal with any clown who decides to mess with you or your loved ones.

But Muay Thai is arguably more useful in a street fight situation simply because you have more strikes available to you, including the brutal elbows.

Who’s going to expect you to power a low kick into their calf or thigh? Or send an upwards elbow into their jaw? Any of these moves could either end the fight immediately or let your attacker know he’s picked on the wrong dude.

The more moves you have at your disposal the better when it comes to protecting yourself in a real world situation.

So, if learning self-defense is your main goal then I’d probably suggest you go for Muay Thai.

Boxing or Muay thai are good in a street fight
Best to avoid this lot but, if you can’t, a little bit of Muay Thai will go a long way.

🛎️ The verdict

As I said, you won’t regret doing either of these sports.

Train for a year and watch how your whole life changes. Your confidence sky rockets. Your body becomes a finely tuned machine. Your mind grows into an oasis of calm, ready for anything.

To any newbies, I’d recommend starting with boxing. Learn the fundamentals of the Sweet Science. Fall in love with combat sports. And then take that foundation to go and learn the more complicated Muay Thai and any other combat sports.

Happy fighting! 🥊🥊  

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