Kickboxing vs Muay Thai: Are they Similar or Different?

Watching a live MMA match on TV is exciting. But things start to complicate once you dive deep into the technicalities. MMA, which stands for Mixed Martial Arts, consists of a variety of fighting styles. And two of the most common styles are Kickboxing and Muay Thai.

This is subjective, and others would argue Jiu Jitsu or Karate to be the best. But Kickboxing and Muay Thai are an integral component of MMA nevertheless. But these are more same than different. 

Concept of Muay Thai

Muay Thai, as known as Thai boxing, is an aggressive form of fighting. The fighters are tasked with delivering powerful blows with punches, knees, feet, and other parts. The blows are so powerful that the fighters intentionally try to damage the calves and thigh muscles of their opponent. 

Elbow shots are aimed at cutting through an opponent’s face, and clinches are used to control a fight. So Muay Thai is an aggressive form of fight that is offensive in nature, but there are crucial defensive tactics too.

Concept of Kickboxing

Kickboxing is a relatively gentler fighting sport. The opponent doesn’t come into the right to tear your muscles, nor to make you unconscious (at least intentionally). The rules regarding what can and cannot be used are stricter. 

Furthermore, there are different types of kickboxing like Japanese kickboxing, Chinese kickboxing, Dutch kickboxing, among others. Japanese or K-1 kickboxing is the most popular form nowadays that is greatly influenced by Muay Thai. So you’re going to find more similarities in there.

Difference between Muay Thai and Kickboxing

But there are a lot of similarities kickboxing shares with Muay Thai, which make both look like sister sports. But when looked closely, you’ll see the glaring difference. If you’re serious about MMA or either kickboxing or Muay Thai, then you must know about these distinctions.

Kicks to Punches Ratio

The first difference you’re going to notice is in the kicks to punches ratio. In Muay Thai, kicks and kneeing are the primary weapons, with punches being used to set up the kicks. But in a kickboxing fight, you’ll notice the fighters delivering much more punches than kicks. The punches are often longer in duration and feature a combination of punches.

This difference is because of how the scoring system works in both sports. In Muay Thai, you’re not going to win unless you kick or knock down your opponent. Going by the traditional Muay Thai rules, middle kicks have the highest reputation, followed by knees, elbows, and punches in that order. So fighters are encouraged to deliver more kicks than punches to win a game.

In kickboxing, you have a comparatively even scoring system. So kickboxers do not prioritize kicks over punches or knees to win the game. Since people find it easy and faster to deliver the punches, by doing so, they accumulate more points and win the fight.

Moves, Attacks, and Stance

There are differences in how the players move, attack, and stand inside the ring. Clinching is an integral part of MMA. And many have this misconception that it is now allowed in Muay Thai, but that’s not true. Clinching is allowed, but only for a short period of time. Therefore, it’s not seen as often as in kickboxing.

Sweeps and Dumps are often glamorized in MMA. While that’s allowed in Muay Thai, it’s not in kickboxing. Similarly, you’re not allowed to catch kick either.

With moves and attacks, there are also certain differences in the way the fighters take their stance.

In Muay Thai, you’ll notice more number of fighters to have their elbow placed outwards. While in kickboxing, then the elbow is around the ribs area. This also can be attributed to the higher number of punches received in a kickboxing fight.

To protect themselves from the punches, kickboxers glue their arms around the rib area. Also, since elbows are not allowed in kickboxing, they never have to worry about elbowing their opponent. 

In Muay Thai, however, fighters try to strike more number of punches. Hence by keeping it outwards, they are better able to deliver them.

Although stance varies from fighter to fighter, you’ll more often than not notice these differences.


Like already mentioned, Muay Thai is an offensive favored sport. This means fighters are less concerned about defense not until they’ve been nominated.

Professional Muay Thai is inherently more dangerous, and fighters are aggressive. Therefore, fighters in Muay Thai take active measures for kicks. But in kickboxing, players usually do not shin-check the kicks because they’re infrequent.

So when comparing fights, you’ll notice kickboxers do not block the kick with shins, but Muay Thai fighters do so at will.


Another major difference between kickboxing and Muay Thai is the speed at which the match progresses.

In Muay Thai, you have five rounds of a fight. This is two rounds extra when compared to kickboxing, which lasts for three rounds.

In the first two rounds, Muay Thai fighters tend to take the game slow and play it safe. This is to avoid losing the first two sets early and coming under pressure. The last three rounds are quite intense, and you’ll notice aggressiveness from both fighters.

In kickboxing, all the rounds are played at an equal pace.

Each round lasts for about three minutes. So Muay Thai will take longer to complete.

Cultural Difference

Last but not least, there are cultural differences between the two sports. Muay Thai has its origins in Thailand and is the national sport of the country. You’ll notice more number of rituals in a traditional Muay Thai match. You may also hear cultural music in the background. These are absent in kickboxing, and the fighters directly get into the action. In terms of coverage, both sports are covered heavily in the media.

To Sum up

Both sports offer entertainment and largely depends on how you view it and with what expectations. Learning the differences will help you in analyzing MMA better. If you’re looking to get started professionally, these will help you in picking your niche.

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