MMA vs. Muay Thai: Which Is Better?

December 13, 2021

Muay Thai is an integral part of modern MMA fighting. But if we separate these two martial arts, which one is better and why? This is a well-known topic in the world of combat sports, with people from both sides arguing that one is better than the other.

MMA combines techniques from various striking and grappling arts like boxing, wrestling, and BJJ. Muay Thai focuses only on using all limbs as weapons to fight in the standup. The emphasis is on hard kicks, basic boxing, and fighting at close range using elbows and knees.

Stay with us to find out more about MMA vs. Muay Thai, as we will explain which one is better and why.

What Is MMA?

First of all, MMA is a combat sport that emerged in the 1980s in Japan with the birth of the promotion named “Shooto.” Later on, the sport would explode when “WOW promotion” and “SEG group” produced the first-ever “UFC 1 Tournament” event in 1993.

At the time, the UFC was a home of style vs. style matchups, and the primary mission was to determine which martial art and which fighter were the best in the world.

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These early UFC events were legal street-fighting brawls with a few rules in place. MMA pioneers were experts in one specific fighting style. There were no rules like weight classes, time limits, or referees.

But over the years, the sport would change in terms of rules and fighting styles. As soon as the athletes started to cross-train with grapplers going into striking gyms and vice versa, we got the hybrid martial art called MMA.

As its name suggests, mixed martial arts mix only the most effective techniques from various grappling and striking martial arts. It doesn’t matter if the methods come from boxing, wrestling, or Kung Fu. If it works in real-life fighting, you will see MMA fighters using it.

What Is Muay Thai?

Muay Thai is a unique system that is a national sport in Thailand. It has origins in a combat system called “Muay Boran” that the Siamese soldiers used in the 13th century. The sport version of Muay Boran began to emerge in the 19th century during the reign of King Rama V.

At the time, the King was a big fan of Muay Boran matches in various celebrations and festivals. He supported the creation of the first rules, and in some way, he set an outline for what would later become known as “Muay Thai.”

Muay Thai is still very brutal and among the most dangerous martial arts despite all the rules. It trains you to use all limbs as weapons to strike with kicks, punches, knees, elbows, and execute basic trips and throws. It covers all the ranges, including the clinch, which is the central aspect of Thai boxing when it comes to standup.

The emphasis is on power and causing as much damage as possible with every strike. Yes, fights can end in a decision, but the main goal is to finish the fight before the time expires.

What Are The Key Differences Between MMA and Muay Thai?

Differences Between MMA and Muay Thai

Muay Thai and MMA differ a lot in just about every aspect, and here are the major differences:

History And Origins

MMA is a modern martial art that emerged in the mid-80s in Japan. Its origins go back to ancient Greece and the sport called “Pankration,” which resembles current MMA fighting. In short, Pankration was a mix of boxing and wrestling, and the matches were brutal, even deadly.

In modern times, the first concept of MMA emerged in Brazil, and it was called “Vale Tudo.” It was a home of early style vs. style matchups where fighters from all martial arts could come and test their skills against fighters from other combat systems. Later on, the Japanese found the first-ever MMA promotion called “Shooto” in 1986, before the UFC was created in 1993.

Muay Thai is a much older martial art. Its origins go back to the 14th century, the Siam Kingdom, and a combat system called “Muay Boran.” At the time, Siamese soldiers used Muay Boran as a hand-to-hand combat system to fight in many wars they had.

But later on, people trained in Muay Boran would start to fight in matches during various festivals until King Rama V had decided to put together a set of rules and create a sport version known as Muay Thai.

Strategies and Emphasis

MMA is a martial art that focuses on pro matches and preparing a person to fight under the rules. The main goal is to develop all-around skills and learn how to fight in the standup, clinch, and on the ground. On fight night, athletes do their best to mix striking and grappling together and impose their will inside the cage.

Muay Thai is an aggressive striking system that, like MMA, also puts a lot of emphasis on competition. Students learn how to use all limbs as weapons to strike with punches, kicks, knees, elbows, and some basics of grappling.

When it comes to strategies, the goal is always the same. Throw each strike with violent intention and give your best to knock the opponent out before the time expires.

Different Techniques

MMA is the most versatile combat sport. It is much more complex than Muay Thai because it consists of grappling, striking, and ground fighting techniques mixed into one fighting style. It is almost impossible to list all of the techniques, so here is a brief overview of what students learn in training:

  • Striking (boxing punches, kicks, knees, and elbows)
  • Takedowns (single/double leg, sweeps, trips, throws)
  • Chokes (rear-naked choke, D’arce, Anaconda)
  • Joint locks (armbar, kimura, knee bar)
  • Positions (full mount, side-control, closed guard, back mount)

Muay Thai techniques are not too complex but rather very simple and easy to understand. Fighters use all limbs as weapons to strike with:

  • Punches (hooks, uppercuts, jabs)
  • Kicks (roundhouse kicks, front kicks, tips)
  • Knees
  • Elbows
  • Trips and throws

Rules

MMA rules are simple and easy to understand. Fighters compete inside the steel cage in different sizes and shapes, utilizing various grappling, striking, and ground fighting techniques. Most promotions use the famous Unified Rules of MMA created in 2000:

  • Non-title matches include three rounds, with each round being 5 min long. Title fights have five rounds, with each round being 5 minutes. There is a 1 min break between every round.
  • Fighters wear a pair of 4-oz open-fingered MMA gloves and shorts.
  • Fighters cannot use soccer kicks, foot stomps, strike the back of the head or groin area, or gouge eyes.
  • Matches include three judges sitting beside the cage and scoring the fight using the famous scoring system taken from boxing. 
  • Matches can end via decision, knockout, submission or disqualification.

Muay Thai rules are also straightforward and do not vary much between different organizations:

  • Matches have five rounds, with each round being 3 minutes long.
  • There is a 2-minute break between each round.
  • All fighters wear a pair of fully-padded Muay Thai boxing gloves, shorts, mouth guard, and armbands (optional).
  • Matches can end via knockout, decision, or disqualification

MMA or Muay Thai For Self-Defense

MMA or Muay Thai For Self-Defense

MMA works better in street fighting because it is far more versatile. It trains you to use the same techniques you learn in Muay Thai. But on top of that, it also adds grappling and ground fighting techniques from various arts like BJJ and wrestling.

Muay Thai is not bad by any means, and if you are a fan of striking, it should be your choice. In the end, it is the most brutal striking art that would teach you all about actual fighting, but MMA is simply more effective.

MMA might be a combat sport, but its concept is close to ideal for street fighting as it prepares you to fight in elements. First, students learn how to strike using boxing and Muay Thai combos. Then, they must learn how to use or defend against wrestling takedowns, throws, and trips.

Once the fight goes to the ground, they must know how to secure a dominant position to finish the fight using chokes and joint locks.

The best thing about MMA is that all of its techniques work in real life and may help you get out of trouble. You won’t spend a second doing katas or flashy moves that work only in movies. No, the emphasis is on learning only the most effective moves, which makes a lot of difference once you get into trouble.

Whether the flight is in a room, bar, or open space, or at one point goes to the ground; you will have a weapon to use.

MMA vs. Muay Thai – Which One Is Harder To Learn

MMA is a complex combat system that takes a lot of time and sacrifice to get good at. While Thai boxing focuses just on striking, MMA goes a lot further. It also includes advanced grappling and ground fighting, which takes a lot of time to master. Learning how to strike is not easy by any means. Still, grappling is much more complex because the emphasis is on leverage and technique.

On average, it takes around 5–10 years to become good at MMA. It’s impossible to come up with an exact number as we are talking about the most versatile fighting system. One has to learn many striking, grappling, and ground fighting techniques and mix them together inside the cage. How the hell can you learn all of this, you may ask?

To cover all the aspects of the sport, MMA students must train in at least three different martial arts. Although this sounds like a lot of work, it is the only way you cover all the aspects of the sport. The good side is that training never gets boring as you constantly learn new things. If you want to learn more about how it works, you can read more in our MMA training article.

Muay Thai is not that hard to learn because the emphasis is on striking. Yes, you still need around 3–5 years to become very good at it. But on the flip side, techniques are pretty straightforward, and you won’t have a hard time picking up all the basics.

Muay Thai conditioning is intense, burns many calories, is painful, and will put your body through tremendous stress. But this is a price you need to pay in just about any martial art gym.

MMA vs. Muay Thai – Who Would Win In A Street Fight?

MMA vs. Muay Thai Who Would Win In A Street Fight

MMA fighters have better chances of beating Thai boxers in a street fight, which is hard to argue against. Whether we are talking about the fight in the closed or open space, MMA fighters have more weapons at their disposal. And they are far more superior when it comes to grappling.

Muay Thai fighters are experts in fighting on the feet, and as long as the fight stays there, they have a chance of knocking out an MMA fighter. But at the same time, MMA trains you to defend and counter against everything Thai boxers throw at you.

They all know how to check kicks, block punches, deal with the Thai clinch, and counter these attacks with grappling attacks and takedowns.

This is a game-changer because Muay Thai won’t teach you to defend against takedowns. Once you dive for the legs, all Thai boxers would react like an average person who has never grappled before. One has to spend years on the mats drilling and learning how to grapple with stopping these attacks.

And the chances of Muay Thai fighters surviving drop to zero as soon as the fight hits the ground. It would be just a matter of a moment before MMA fighters would get into a dominant position from which they can do whatever they want.

Once again, you need to know a proper procedure for escaping from these positions. Unfortunately, Muay Thai fighters are not familiar with this.

Is Muay Thai Effective In MMA?

Is Muay Thai Effective In MMA

Yes, Muay Thai is often seen as a complete striking system that is the best for MMA as far as the standup is concerned. Other striking systems like boxing or western kickboxing are good too. Still, the concept and versatility of Muay Thai fit much better.

In fact, it’s fair to say that one can’t reach high levels or succeed in cage fighting without knowing how to use or defend against Muay Thai techniques. At some point, you would come across the opponent who would expose this hole in your game, and it would be a harrowing experience.

MMA is a unique sport where fighters compete in all ranges using all limbs as weapons if we are talking about standup. They can strike from a distance, close range, and fight in the clinch.

Muay Thai plays such a significant role because it teaches you exactly that. While boxing doesn’t include kicks and clinch, Muay Thai has it all. And on top of that, students drill some basic grappling moves like trips and throws. These can’t help you much against skilled wrestlers or BJJ fighters, but it’s always better to know something than nothing.

Next, Muay Thai works well in MMA because of its emphasis on aggression and violence. It teaches you to always throw each strike with a violent intention and goal to knock the opponent out cold. There is no scoring points, winning decisions, or light contact, just damage. Muay Thai probably has the most significant damage per strike ratio of all martial arts.

Muay Thai vs. MMA — Which One Is Better For You?

MMA and Muay Thai are among the most effective martial arts you can train in. MMA is more versatile, has more weapons, and is more effective for any street fighting scenario.

On the other hand, Muay Thai might be limited due to the lack of grappling, but it is still the most effective striking martial art. Which one is better for you comes down to one thing: TIME.

MMA is better than Muay Thai in most aspects which comes at a price. The classes are challenging as you have to train in at least three separate martial arts in a single week and do MMA strength and conditioning. You can’t expect to become good at it or go too far without showing up to a gym at least 3 or 4 times per week.

Muay Thai classes are also cardio intense, painful, and hard on your body. However, the progress is fast as the techniques you learn are not that complex. It should be your choice if you want to learn how to fight in a short period or get in top shape. 

About the author 

Tomislav Zivanovic

Since 2017, Tomi has been working within the martial arts media, writing unique and creative articles about martial arts, and covering the most famous combat sports events. He works with some of the biggest martial arts blogs and websites like Middleeasy and Martial Arts Unleashed.


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