Difference Between Thai Boxing (Muay Thai) and Regular Boxing. At first glance, if two combat sports have the word “boxing” in their names, they might seem very similar in techniques and rules. However, that’s not the case. The differences between Thai boxing and regular boxing become apparent to anyone who has seen these fights even once. Essentially, these are completely different sports, suited for people with different preferences and objectives.

Definitions and History

Boxing – is a combat sport where athletes strike only with their hands wearing specialized gloves. Its roots trace back to ancient times, with mentions of similar fistfights found in documents from antiquity. It was included in the list of Olympic sports during that period. However, the modern version of boxing emerged in 18th century England. The first set of rules that are still relevant today was compiled in the mid-19th century. It was in 1882 that the final rules were established, mandating the use of gloves during the fight. The classic form of boxing is commonly referred to as English boxing.

Thai Boxing (Muay Thai) – is a martial art originating in Thailand. It traces its roots back to ancient martial arts practices in this country and Indochina. The alternative name for this combat sport is “muay thai,” which translates to “free fight.” Strikes in Thai boxing are delivered using fists, elbows, feet, shins, and knees. During sparring, similar to regular boxing, athletes wear gloves. Interestingly, in its home country, muay thai is a mandatory part of the training for the police force.


As evident from the definitions, the main difference between Thai boxing and regular boxing is that in the former, strikes are not only delivered with fists. Hence, muay thai is often referred to as the “art of eight limbs.”

Another significant difference concerns the body parts that can be targeted with strikes in these two boxing styles. English boxing forbids hitting opponents below the waist. Additionally, pushing, grappling, choking maneuvers, tripping, biting, spitting, hitting the back, or the kidneys are also prohibited. In Thai boxing, kicks are more frequently used and valued higher; they are considered more effective. In modern muay thai, prohibited moves include grappling, groin strikes, choking, and amplitude throws. Attacking the fallen opponent or using the head as a weapon is not allowed. Points can also be deducted during the fight for any insult against the opponent, be it a word, disrespectful gesture, or anything else. The most demeaning act in muay thai is receiving a strike with the foot, as in Thailand, this part of the body is considered contemptible. Even a slight touch with the foot for a fighter is akin to being spat on in the face. However, such strikes are not prohibited by the rules.

Classic boxing imposes noticeable restrictions on fighters since strikes can only be delivered with fists. Yet, for the same reason, clinching here is a relatively safe moment. Although there are boxers who intentionally engage in many clinches to exhaust the opponent and deprive them of the advantages of an active fight. Meanwhile, in muay thai, the clinch is one of the most dangerous moments of the fight, as powerful elbow and knee strikes are allowed, which are difficult to see and prevent in that position. This is why those proficient in Thai boxing have distinct advantages in close combat even during no-holds-barred fights.

Some differences are observed in the setting inherent to each of the two boxing styles. In English boxing, a square ring is required for the fight, the size of which in modern competitions can vary from 3 to 7 meters. Boxers engage in 3-minute rounds with a 1-minute break.

Interestingly, muay thai matches traditionally take place with music. It sets the rhythm and helps fighters concentrate. The duration of the round, as in regular boxing, is 3 minutes, but the fight takes place in a square ring with a side of 6 meters.

Overall, Thai boxing is considered one of the most traumatic and intense forms of combat sports. Until 1929, when rules for winning by points were established, fighters often left the ring dead or severely injured. Surrender was considered a huge disgrace. English boxing is significantly less dangerous for the athletes themselves.

Upon getting familiar with the characteristics of these two combat sports, it becomes clear why Thai boxing is considered more bloody but also more spectacular. If your goal is to learn self-defense, then muay thai will be one of the best options. With proper training, it allows you to quickly and effectively fight off an opponent, even if your own weight and muscle mass are not substantial. Remember that it was developed in Thailand, where the population generally has a relatively fragile build compared to people from other countries. Muay thai is also often included in self-defense programs for women.

If you want to master a brutal combat sport and compete while not subjecting yourself to a very high health risk, then the obvious choice would be English boxing.