There’s no doubt that both boxing and Muay Thai are powerful and effective forms of martial arts. However, that’s where the similarities end. Where one is in an intricate dance of footwork and striking, the other is a rapid firing, full body attack.

Choosing the style of self-defense that’s best for you requires careful consideration on what your goals are, your strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly what you are comfortable with.

It’s important to remember that both styles of martial arts have their merits and can be used in self-defense situations. The question is which style suits you best?

Boxing vs Muay Thai: Differences

Although from the outside there are many similarities between boxing and Muay Thai, the reality is that these are incredibly different fighting styles. Boxing is streamlined, with a focus on using the fists to strike, and to defend. Hits in boxing are only allowed above the waist, and the legs aren’t involved at all.

Muay Thai, on the other hand, uses the entire body to strike. As well as the fists, the legs, elbows, and knees are all used to make a hit. Muay Thai isn’t refined in the same way boxing is. Hits come thick and fast, and defense takes a back seat to offense.

Kicks

Kicking in boxing is not allowed – it’s probably the quickest way to get yourself disqualified. Muay Thai, on the other hand, relies on kicks being used in combination with the arms. A Muay Thai fighter can use the feet, knees, fists, and elbow, in a full-body affront. The addition of kicks is what sets these two so far apart. It changes the entire movement of the fight.

Stance

One of the first differences you’ll notice between boxing and Muay Thai is the stance. For a boxer, the stance is one of the primary methods of defense. A boxer will turn at an angle, to minimize the amount of body that’s unprotected. With Muay Thai, the fighter needs to be ready to use the legs, the knees, the elbows, and the arms. Because of this, they’ll stand straight on, so the whole body is engaged and ready to strike.

Guard

Similar to the stance, how boxers guard gives them that higher level of defense. A boxer will guard close to the face, keeping the gloves near the head. This prevents the opponent from getting a hit. A Muay Thai fighter will instead use the entire body to defend, while also preparing themselves to power up for a kick. To do this, the Muay Thai fighter will keep the gloves further away from the face, with an open guard.

Clinch

Whether the clinch is used defensively or offensively is a major difference between boxing and Muay Thai. Boxing uses the clinch defensively. It provides an opportunity to relax, and to prepare for the next hit. Muay Thai will use the clinch offensively, as they set themselves up for a strike using the elbows or the knees.

Distance

Both Muay Thai and boxing use distance as an integral part of the fighting style – it’s a major part of the defense. A boxer will stand closer, as they only need to avoid the reach of the arms. Muay Thai fighters will give more distance, because they need to be out of the way of kicks.

Footwork

Boxers rely heavily on footwork, using it to dodge and weave. Muay Thai doesn’t need footwork in the same way, as defense comes from shielding the body using the shins and elbows.

Equipment

As well as differences in the style itself, training and equipment are also impacted. Muay Thai fighters train with heavier and longer bags, to accommodate the kicks. The gloves are padded differently, because they don’t need to take the repeated impact of a boxer.

Watch the video below to learn more about the equipment needed for Muay Thai:

Watch the video below to learn more about the equipment needed for Boxing:

Which Style is Better for Self-defense?

Muay Thai is the better choice for self-defense. Muay Thai has more options for fighting back than boxing and offers up better ways to keep the opponent at a distance. An example would be using a front kick to knock the opponent away.

Boxing is more focused on striking and punching your opponents, so it’s less likely to lead you out of danger as quickly. And if you can’t escape from an attacker, then Muay Thai has other options like knee or elbow strikes that could help put them down for good.

Muay Thai also has fewer restrictions on elbows, knees, and other strikes that are not permitted inside of boxing. This is a huge advantage when it comes to self-defense, as these strikes are some of the most effective in close-range combat.

A Muay Thai fighter also has more options than a boxer when fighting on the ground. This is valuable when it comes to self-defense, as a ground fight can be the deciding factor between winning or losing.

Finally, Muay Thai offers more options for fighting from the clinch position. Clinching an attacker can be a great way of getting them off balance or even preventing them from attacking you altogether by striking with elbows, knees or other techniques that are not permitted inside.

The video below explains more on this:

All in all, Muay Thai is a more effective form of self-defense than boxing. It offers more options for fighting in different positions and has more tools for escaping from close-range combat.

Who Would Win in a Fight?

At an equal skill level, in an MMA fight, a Muay Thai fighter would likely beat a boxer. Even the highest skilled boxer is only prepared to defend against the fist, meaning they’d be completely unprepared for the full-body attack of a Muay Thai fighter.

A Muay Thai fighter can sweep an unsuspecting boxer off their feet with a kick, and they have the advantage in clinches. A heavyweight boxer could definitely get a good few punches in, but once they get close enough to do so, they open themselves up to a whole number of other attacks.

Of course, this is assuming that both fighters are of a similar physique, fitness level, and skill. An untrained Muay Thai fighter wouldn’t be able to match the power and performance of a talented boxer. 

A boxer wouldn’t be defenseless against a trained Muay Thai fighter, they just aren’t prepared for that level of total body engagement. A good boxer could definitely land a few jabs that any fighter would struggle to shake off. In a contest following boxing rules, a Muay Thai fighter would likely be outmatched, because they don’t train to the same level with their hands.

Is Boxing or Muay Thai Harder?

Neither option is easy to learn, and both will require a high level of physical and mental engagement. However, the evasion technique that’s at the heart of boxing does make it the more difficult style to train.

When a boxer defends, they have limited ways to do so. The gloves and arms are the obvious option, but the rest is down to footwork. Boxing requires a level of finesse – a focus on footwork that keeps the opponent guessing, and gives you an opportunity to strike. Learning this isn’t easy. A boxer needs to train for a long time to fully master the art of the sport.

From the outside, Muay Thai may seem to be the more difficult option. As well as punches and jabs, a Muay Thai fighter needs to learn kicks, blocks, and clinches. However, there are fewer rules to Muay Thai, and much more of an emphasis on attack. 

Both options have basics that a beginner is able to pick up fairly quickly. A newcomer to boxing may struggle to reach a high level, but can box proficiently with little training. On the other hand, a fighter learning Muay Thai might find they take longer to learn everything, but gain skill quicker.

One thing to remember is that it’s pretty difficult to decide which unique fighting style is harder. It comes down to temperament in many cases, as well as your own personal strengths.

Which Is Better for Fitness?

Boxing and Muay Thai are both incredible ways of keeping yourself in physical shape. If you’re interested in learning purely for fitness, then there’s no option that’s better than the other.

Boxing is a great cardio workout because you’re constantly moving your feet and throwing punches. This is essential for burning calories to hit your weight loss goals. Muay Thai is a great cardio workout too because you need to constantly move your feet and throw punches, but the added bonus of kicks make it an even better option for burning calories.

Muay Thai is a full-body workout that requires various muscle groups to be engaged at all times. You’ll build up your strength in both upper body and lower body while moving around the ring with every strike you make. The variety of kicks and punches means you’ll also be accessing muscles you might not use in your day-to-day routine.

Both fighting styles also improve your balance and coordination, which are both important aspects of fitness. This is done through the footwork and hand speed necessary to land punches. Balance and coordination are important for a healthy lifestyle because they help prevent falls and injuries.

In the end, boxing is great for cardio and Muay Thai is excellent for building up strength across all muscle groups. It really comes down to what you want from a workout – if it’s purely something to keep active then boxing is the way to go. If you want a full-body workout that will enable you to build up muscle strength, then Muay Thai is the way to go.

They both have their benefits and the best option will be determined by your personal needs as well as what style of fight you want to get into.

Should I learn boxing or Muay Thai first?

If you’re interested in learning both types of self-defense, you probably think it doesn’t matter which one you learn first. After all, many of the basic principles must be the same. However, this is not always the case as it is with Boxing and Muay Thai.

In this scenario, it’s better to learn Muay Thai first, and then transition over to boxing. Muay Thai covers the basics of using the fists and arms, alongside teaching kicks and using the legs.

One issue with learning to box first is that many of the habits that are good in the boxing ring, are bad in a Muay Thai fight. The ducking and weaving that are so necessary for a boxer are bad tactics when coming up against an elbow or a kick. 

Boxing might teach you the basics of self-defense, but not in a way that readily adapts to Muay Thai.

The Dangers of Boxing and Muay Thai

These are physical sports that demand physical engagement, so there are dangers in each option.

Muay Thai is the more physically dangerous sport, because the impact can be felt across more areas of the body. The shins, knees, and elbows all have to absorb – and inflict – damage. Even without sparring, repeatedly hitting a bag can cause a build up of strain. 

Both sports also present a risk for head injury. CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) is a real issue in boxing, and something that all fighters have to be aware of. Be sure to protect the head properly.

Be sure to invest in the proper training equipment. This does tend to make boxing the cheaper option, as you don’t need to invest in shin pads or leg coverings

Sparring itself also presents potential problems, but these can be minimized by practicing smartly. 

To limit injury, any competitor needs to focus on form, not just strength.

Final Thoughts

Boxing is self-defense with finesse, and Muay Thai is a rough battle for dominance. Which is better for you depends on the skills you’re interested in learning. If you enjoy careful footwork and hand movements, then pick boxing. If you want a less refined style that uses every part of the body, choose Muay Thai.

Both options have the potential to make you a formidable fighter. If you’re interested in switching to MMA, then the best option is to train both. You get the skilled hands of a boxer, and the total body control of a Muay Thai fighter.