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Muay Thai Vs Lethwei: A Head-To-Head Comparison

muay thai vs lethwei comparison
muay thai vs lethwei

Also known under the name “The Burmese boxing”, Lethwei is probably the most violent stand-up martial art in the world. Headbutts are allowed, there are no gloves. Your goal is to knock out your opponent or hurt him badly.

But I bet you’ll be surprised with Muay Thai vs Lethwei comparison, as there are so many similar elements. Yes, Thai boxing doesn’t allow head strikes, but kicks, punches, elbows, and knees are pretty much alike, while you have to behave way differently in the clinch.

Thai boxing is all about attacking, while Burmese boxers tend to transition from defense to offense and vice versa because there are no gloves and it’s way easier to turn the lights out on your opponent. Please read on to get to know the critical differences and similarities between Thai and Burmese boxing.

What Are The Greatest Differences Between Muay Thai And Lethwei?

Muay Thai is the “Science of Eight Limbs”, which means you can harm your foe via punches, kicks, elbows, or knees. Yet, Lethwei is known for the brutality of headbutts. I’ve noticed that head strikes are more likely to cause a cut than, for example, slashing elbows or even uppercut elbows.

Headbutts were allowed in the early stages of the UFC, but rules were changed and one of the most brutal strikes was buried in history. Yet, diehard fans of bloody five-round wars can still travel to Myanmar and enjoy the power of headbutts.

Furthermore, you must wear Muay Thai gloves in a Thai battle, which means fewer chances of breaking your fist bones. Big counterpunch isn’t necessarily a knockout blow in a Thai bout, but there are fewer toe-to-toe exchanges in Lethwei because one punch to the head can end the fight. Especially against a very aggressive rival who constantly marches forward. Fighters only wear gauze and tape in a Lethwei battle.

The third huge difference is the ruleset. In Lethwei, when the fight goes to judges’ scorecards or decisions, it usually ends in a draw when there’s no blood on the fighters’ faces. The level of blood is the most important parameter when the judge determines the winner.

In Muay Thai, injuries on your opponent’s face are less important, the number of clean strikes and ring control is way more significant.

For example, if you end up with a nosebleed and a cut on your forehead, but land away the bigger amount of clean strikes and remain active throughout five rounds, you’ll win the match. Yet, you can push the pace all the time in a Lethwei fight, but if you were unable to cause a cut on your enemy’s face, there will be no winner.

Also, in Lethwei, when you’re knocked out cold, you can ask for a 2-minute timeout (only once per fight) and if you’re ok, the referee will let you continue. In Muay Thai, you must beat the count (1 to 10) or the ref stops the match (the same rule applies in Lethwei after the first 2-minute recovery period).

Can You See The Muay Thai Vs Lethwei Stance Difference?

Well, yes and no, and it somehow depends on a fighting style. Let me elaborate. Lethwei fighters tend to change stance a lot, especially when the opponent gets close, while Thai warrior blindly sticks to hands above the level of forehead because it helps them to block body kicks and check leg attacks.

Let’s get to know stance differences:

  • Both martial arts tend to shift weight on the rear foot, keeping their front foot light and ready to react. But you’ll see a Lethwei fighter hunching back and tilting their head more often because it is a defensive maneuver against headbutts.
  • Muay Thai fighters tend to keep their hands above the level of their forehead. In Lethwei, your arms are lined with your forehead or at the level of your eyes.
  • In Muay Thai, your leading leg is almost always on the balls of the foot, ready to react and counter or check a kick. In Lethwei, defensive-minded fighters don’t raise their leading leg too much off the floor.
  • Counter-strikers are so rare in the world of Muay Thai because judges don’t like ring warriors who fight on their back foot. The defensive fighting style will probably lead to a decision loss, the crowd comes to watch toe-to-toe warriors. In Lethwei, rules focus on the level of blood and the amount of damage, plus there are no gloves to serve as an additional layer of protection. I am telling you, many fighters counter and turn the lights out via headbutts!

Which Martial Art Is More Dangerous And Why?

Easy answer – Lethwei. Yeah, you can hurt the opponent with a Muay Thai badly, but head-to-head bombs will easily make your foe bleed, which leads to a potential stoppage. This is a favorite position for Lethwei specialists when hoodlums wanna teach them a lesson.

Lethwei offers more options in close combat. Thai boxer can go for a sweep, elbow, or knee from close-range, while Burmese boxer uses his head as the ultimate weapon. For example, if you’d like to land a big right spear elbow from over-under, you must change the position and put your left palm behind the opponent’s neck or under his rib. In Lethwei, you can lock both under-hooks in and still make a significant amount of damage to your opponent’s face.

I am not underestimating the power of Muay Thai, but it is way more dangerous to take part in a Lethwei bout. You have greater chances of ending the bout with a massive cut, broken nose, or jaw injury. Leg breaks and internal organ injuries don’t happen that often in Burmese boxing, but you’ll probably have to stay away from the public for a week or two after the fight.

Are There Any Trademark Differences Between Muay Thai And Lethwei?

Aw yeah! Both martial arts are beautiful but fighting styles differ. Lethwei’s trademark is a headbutt, while Thai boxing is mostly recognized in the world of martial arts by stunning knees and elbows from the clinch.

In Lethwei, almost every 4th or 5th strike is a headbutt, which is prohibited in Thai boxing. Lethwei fighter is trying to piece his opponent up or cut him open with a head strike from the clinch or close range. Here’s how the Burmese boxing trademark attack looks like (this is a basic strike, there are many ways to modify it to your needs).

Two months ago, I watched an impressive match between two counterstrike specialists and I saw a lot of counter-headbutts that served to intercept the opponent’s advancing!

In Muay Thai, the majority of fighters are trying to go for Muay Thai pummel (or plum, double-collar clinch in America), press the opponent’s carotids, and unload a barrage of violent straight or diagonal knees to the face and end up the fight.

You’ll also see great spear, slashing, or horizontal elbows from the single-collar clinch. But the first thing that comes to the mind of the majority of martial arts fans when you mention the syntax “Muay Thai” is KNEES. In their minds, Muay Thai vs Lethwei usually means headbutt vs knee or elbow.

Do You Know The Difference Between Fighting Styles?

Casual fans don’t know the answer to this question, for them, there’s no difference. But some things are so obvious, and I will provide a decent explanation. Please keep reading.

Muay Thai is all about attacking and pressure. Thai fighter retreats only when he has no other option left, counters are rare, unless it’s a high-level athlete with a huge experience. Toe-to-toe fights are normal until one of the warriors is unable to continue. Speed and level change are usually more important than power.

But there are no gloves in Lethwei, so every single punch or head strike can be lethal. You’ll see a lot more tactics in Burmese boxing, some fighters even circle and try to confuse their opponents, then attack fast as lightning. Fighters usually stick to one or two big strikes, because they value “power over speed”. You won’t see much level change because of so many headbutts.

Muay Thai Vs Lethwei – Why You Must Pay Attention In The Clinch?

I’d never thought I’d say this, but I know a martial art with a way more dangerous clinch game than Thai boxing. You’ll be shocked after reading Muay Thai vs Lethwei clinch comparison.

I will try to analyze every single Muay Thai and Lethwei position:

  • Double-collar clinch. I already described this as the best spot for a Thai boxing specialist because it lets you unload dangerous knees and end the fight. Yet, this is an ok position in Lethwei, but you’ll hardly knock your foe out because a headbutt to his forehead can’t create a significant amount of damage.
  • Single-collar clinch. While a Thai fighter goes for elbows, punches, or knees to the body from here, a Lethwei expert loves this position as it gives him the greatest number of options. All kinds of headbutts are available, the opponent’s nose, temple, and mouth are not protected.
  • One under-hook in. When you compete in a Thai boxing battle, this position limits you to knees and some elbows. It’s hard to end the fight, but in Lethwei, one step to the side, different angle, and the headbutt hurts your opponent!
  • Over-under. One of the worst positions in Muay Thai (sweeps and rabbit knees), but a fair position in Lethwei. Unless the opponent holds his head 1 to 2 inches from your face, you can easily break his nose or cause excessive bleeding.
  • Crossface defense. Great position for Thai fighters with good lateral moves as it creates a lot of angles for powerful knees and elbows. Even better for a Lethwei fighter because your headbutt could land to the foe’s temple (greater chance of causing the cut and getting the advantage on the scorecards).
  • Head-to-head collision. It’s illegal in Muay Thai, the referee would stop the fight and potentially give you a warning. Head-to-head collisions happen very often in Lethwei, especially when you try to counter an aggressive opponent. After a head-to-head clash, you can repeat headbutts or grab your foe and bring him into a bad position, which could also lead to the end of the fight before the final bell.

Why Does Muay Thai Fighter Change Levels Better?

Well, it is hard to destroy an opponent who covers his head all the time in a Muay Thai bout. You can try to chop him down, but he can check kicks and hurt you. Even if you try to deliver a barrage of bullets to his head or grab his arms, gloves can still give you a hard time and your strikes won’t land clean.

Muay Thai fighters tend to score points via attacking various areas of the opponent’s legs and body. No matter how good the foe covers up, one area must remain open. It is usually the body or leg because Thai warriors keep their hands high.

In Lethwei, there are no gloves, so you can simply grab the opponent’s hands and deliver a fist or a headbutt to the weak areas of his face. Burmese boxers attack different areas but they don’t focus much on leg and body kicks. Muay Thai vs Lethwei level change champ is – Thai boxing!

Are There Any Foreign (Non-Burmese) Lethwei Experts?

There are few notable names, but one guy stands out – it’s a French-Canadian fighter Dave Leduc. Many call him “The GSP (Georges St-Pierre) of Lethwei”. He is the current WLC Cruiserweight World Champion, an undefeated Openweight Lethwei World Champion under traditional rules, and the most successful Burmese boxer born overseas. His professional score is 6-0-6.


Muay Thai Vs Lethwei comparison is way more than just “a headbutt versus brutal knees”. These two sports have some similar areas, but clinching and combinations are way different.

For example, Muay Thai stance is going to work in a Lethwei fight as long as your opponent doesn’t move your hands and slams you with a headbutt. Lethwei fighters are way more cautious and defensive, while Thai fighters can attack your head, body, and legs in the same combo. Thai fighters are quicker, but Lethwei masters can hurt you very quickly. Which martial art do you prefer, Muay Thai or Lethwei?

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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