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Is Muay Thai Safer Than Boxing | Long-term Benefits and Risks

boxing fight

Muay Thai is, alongside Lethwei, one of the most brutal stand-up martial arts. Elbows, knees, punches, and kicks can hurt the opponent badly. At first look, many would say that boxing can’t be dangerous. Hands are wrapped up, fighters wear 12+ oz gloves, rules are very strict.

But let me ask you a question. What do you think, is Muay Thai safer than boxing? Does ancient Siamese martial art lead to a lesser number of deaths, CTEs, and long-term brain injuries?

Muay Thai is at least 2 to 2.5 times safer than boxing. Plus there are more deaths in boxing compared to Thai boxing!

Strikes To The Head

Have you ever analyzed the number of strikes to the head in Muay Thai and boxing bouts? You didn’t, did you? Well, I will do it for you. Even if you’re a casual fan of martial arts, you won’t have a hard time understanding why Muay Thai is safer than boxing.

Is Muay Thai Safer Than Boxing

There are many ways to hurt an opponent in Muay Thai – kicks, punches, elbows, knees, and sweeps. In boxing, your “only” striking surfaces are fists. But when it comes to headshots, Muay Thai is way safer than boxing.

In Muay Thai, you can kick the opponent to the ankle, calf, knee, thigh, body, and head. You can also deliver fabulous knees to the opponent’s thighs, stomach, chest, and head. Elbows to the head and body are an awesome way to stop the aggressive foe, while punches serve to hurt your rival’s body and head too.

It means you can collect enough points to win even if you stay away from the opponent’s head (sometimes chopping the opponent down is a better strategy than head combos). Clinching is also allowed, but you can counter via sweep, which means so many new construction options.

In professional boxing, you must target above the opponent’s no foul-protectors (body and head). Twelve basic punches, plus advanced strikes and combinations. But have you ever wondered how many strikes per one professional boxing match target the foe’s head? Please look at the best boxing rounds from 2019. At least 30 clean punches landed per round, didn’t it?

You’ll see knockdowns and knockouts more often in boxing. Look at the highlights from the amazing bout between Jose Zepeda and Ivan Baranchyk.

Competitions And Rules

In Muay Thai combat, you can also finish the fight via various TKO’s (leg kick, chopping the opponent down, body kick, or cut due to a doctor stoppage). This means you can combine and change levels. For example, you can connect a body punch, elbow to the head, and a low kick. Only one of three strikes targets the opponent’s head, right?

Boxing brings only two potential ways to finish the fight – TKO (body punch, the referee stoppage, or the doctor stoppage) and a knockout. You will rarely see body shots combo in boxing, but three or more hits to the head in a row happen very often.


So let me conclude. Despite Muay Thai rules bring more ways to hurt your opponent and win the fight, it lets you target various areas of his body. You can chop him down or defeat him via liver/spleen shots. Around 1/3 of strikes attack your rival’s head. In western boxing, every fifth strike targets the body. It means 4/5 (80%) of punches aim to the head.

Thai boxing is safer than boxing because you eat way fewer haymakers to your head per one fight. Let me compare the brains of a Muay Thai fighter and a professional boxer, assuming both of them participated in 50 fights. The fist-specialist is more likely to suffer CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) than a Thai boxer.

Now I will get to know you with a few more entertaining facts. Both boxing and Muay Thai prohibit strikes to the back of the head and nut shots. Thai bout lasts 3-5 rounds, 3 minutes each round, while in boxing a round lasts 2 or 3 minutes (it depends whether you discuss female or male competitions). The number of rounds is 4-12, depending on the event (belt matches usually last ten or twelve periods).

Holding is prohibited in boxing, but if and only if both hands are trapped. For example, the referee will not step in and yell “break” while fighters dig for the underhooks because one hand is free. Muay Thai allows way more clinch activity, and the ref stops only when the fighters fall to the ground or when they literally “do nothing”.

But Muay Thai is safer than boxing here due to one hard-to-notice fact – rabbit punches (short punch strikes of the clinch). You’ll eat many of them during a fight.

Sparring Sessions

Even the basic training session can turn bad in boxing. For example, you can march forward, eat a moderate counterpunch, and get dazed. You’ll ignore it and get rocked again. Even an easy sparring session means three or more stuns per training session.

If you’re rocked ten times per week, multiply it by the number of weeks per year (53). Ten to twenty years of training leads to a very huge number of head strikes, right?

Muay Thai sparring session is dangerous because of bruises and body injuries. It is easy to cut the opponent open or hurt his head via elbow, but again, you are allowed to target various areas of the body, which makes Thai boxing sparring sessions safer than boxing spars.

Fighting Styles

I will try to analyze this parameter briefly. I am focusing on three major ones – brawler, counter-striker, and tactical fighter.

In boxing, brawlers will either put their opponent to sleep either they’ll get knocked out; while counter-strikers can be knockout artists or winners/losers via points (it is very hard to put them to sleep). Tactical guys usually take part in a chess game until the final bell.

sparring muay thai

On the other side, Muay Thai brawlers aren’t put to sleep every single time, some of them are point experts too. Counter-strikers are very rare, and they mostly punish their opponents via body and leg shots. When two tactical experts meet, knockouts happen in less than 10% of cases.

Despite Muay Thai is more brutal at first glance, it is safer than boxing because Thai boxing leads to a greater number of leg/body injuries and a reduced number of head injuries (compared to boxing).

Tips And Tricks To Check Whether You Like It Or Not

I believe Muay Thai is safer than boxing, even when it comes to the regular athlete who doesn’t plan to compete. An obsolete beginner will learn basic strikes and there will be no powerful punches to the head, but the next phase of learning and progress is tricky.

You will soon start taking part in conditional sparring. If you’re a Muay Thai fighter, your combos will mostly combine strikes to all areas of your body. This kind of training session means you’ll eat more blows to the head.

Oh, a sparring session happens in the later stages of your training, which leads to even more head damage. Muay Thai is dangerous due to dangerous kicks and knees, but you’ll face rib/leg pain more often. So, I have no dilemma here – an ancient Siamese martial art is safer than boxing when it comes to long-range risks and benefits.

Long-Term Risks

The most often Muay Thai injuries are cuts, bruises, and fractures. But here is an interesting fact. The majority of injuries are related to the legs and body. Sometimes a powerful kick, for example, damages internal organs. But concussions don’t happen as often as, for example, leg or foot fractures.

You’ll hardly break an arm or foot in boxing due to powerful fist protection (gloves and hand wraps), but please think. When you constantly get punched to the head, a huge number of your neural cells die, and it cannot recover. Repeated blows to the head could lead to various problems in the later stages of your life – CTE, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, aneurysms, strokes…

I know this sounds odd to you, but when the leg or hand is put in a cast, it usually recovers. Yet, brain damage is permanent. It is super-hard to recover neural endings. For example, a famous boxer Muhammad Ali fights Parkinson’s disease (too many strikes to the head during his boxing career).

You will very rarely see a Thai boxing specialist suffering from CTE. Their bodies and legs suffer more damage, which makes Muay Thai safer than boxing when it comes to long-term risks.


Muay Thai bouts look very brutal compared to boxing battles, but you’ll mostly be able to work a regular 9 to 5 job after a successful Thai boxing career. Brain issues are rare. Unfortunately, the majority of boxers deal with some neural issues in the later stages of their lives, which makes professional Muay Thai safer than professional boxing.

I am glad you learned something new today. One lives and learns.

Last Updated on May 21, 2022 by Deni

Picture of Deni


Hi, I started training Muay Thai back in 2016 and fell in love with it. So I decided to create this blog in the pursuit of this passion and share my experience with you.

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