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

muay thai vs mma comparison
muay thai vs mma

Muay Thai predominantly served to protect the homeland, then transitioned into a sport. The first-ever Muay Thai MMA fighter was Orlando Wiet at UFC 2, who destroyed Robert Lucarelli with a barrage of clinch knees to the head, but lost the second bout to Remco Pardoel via the ground elbows.

Yet, the introduction of MMA in 1993 brought the development of Thai boxing to a halt because the first few UFC events were stacked with grapplers, kickboxers, and street fighters. Yet, the Muay Thai influence in the MMA world exploded with the arrival of Georges St-Pierre, the first French-Canadian champ who brought the best Muay Thai moves into the fastest growing sport in the world.

The majority of fans believe Muay Thai vs MMA comparison consists of differences between stand-up and ground game, but there are so many top-notch Thai boxing elements in mixed martial arts. It is super easy to land an elbow or a knee from any position.

Please read on to get to know the most dangerous Muay Thai MMA moves. Believe me, Thai boxing is present in every aspect of mixed martial arts. When somebody tells Muay Thai = stand up and clinch, he shows that he knows nothing or very little about one of the most popular sports in the world.

Does Stance Matter?

Well, Muay Thai stance is undoubtedly better for a stand-up game as it allows you to check kicks and protect yourself with elbows. There’s not much head movement but the opponent will have a hard time hitting you if you move and change angles regularly.

MMA stance offers hunched back, lower center of gravity, and open palms because of grappling and clinching. Movements are different, the MMA fighter will have a hard time dealing with Muay Thai kicks, knees, and elbows. Yet, Thai boxing is one of the worst choices when the good wrestler drags you against the cage or ropes, limiting your options. You will have less than a 10% chance of defending a takedown or slam attempt.

Both stances have good and bad sides:

  • Clinch – Muay Thai stance offers way more damage via strikes, but the MMA fighter can easily transition to back control or trap your legs, which leads to a takedown.
  • Movement – Thai boxing is not the most famous martial art when it comes to footwork, as Thai warriors are trained to march forward and destroy. Moving forward is good and it undoubtedly goes in the favor of Thai boxing, but defensive moves (especially side steps and circling) massively go in the favor of MMA. Oh, there’s not much head movement in Muay Thai too.
  • Counters – again, Thai boxing is not the greatest choice. One or two counterstrikes can land, but Thai dudes are having a hard time against pressure fighters. The MMA fighter can easily intercept a toe-to-toe striker or a fighter who constantly spams punches or level changes.
  • Damage – one point for Muay Thai, it is very easy to change the angle and improve the position of your feet, which leads to harder strikes. MMA fighters usually tend to hurt you with one or two big strikes, while Thai combos are very lethal, plus you’ll see level change very often.
  • The transition from defense to offense and vice versa. MMA stance rocks here, as their fighters quickly switch from attacks to counters. Muay Thai fighter is good for pressure and pushing the pace but the lack of lateral moves and weight on the rear foot leads to big problems against an offensive opponent.

Which Stand-Up Techniques Are The Most Dangerous?

You are not allowed to kick or knee the downed opponent in a Muay Thai fight, but MMA has some limits, depending on the promotion.

For example, UFC doesn’t allow soccer kicks or knees to the head of the opponent when one of his hands touches the floor. ONE FC is fine with all kinds of knees from every single position, while Brazilian Vale Tudo has no restrictions towards hitting your foe on the canvas.

I am telling you, any Muay Thai technique is going to work in MMA, even downward elbows as long as you don’t aim to the back of the opponent’s head. I will share attacks to long-mid range strikes and clinch kryptonite.

There’s only one massive stand-up difference – MMA allows the oblique kick to the knee, while Muay Thai referee will sometimes warn you because of this.

Long-Mid Range Strikes

Undoubtedly the most devastating blow is Muay Thai low kick (downward roundhouse kick to the leg). It is extremely hard to block and checking won’t work every time. Jose Aldo destroyed Urijah Faber with this strike despite “The Californian Kid” was doing everything he could to create an obstacle between Aldo’s leg and his thigh. A set of crotches was required after the fight.

Roundhouse kicks are dangerous but the opponent can easily catch your leg if you aim to the body. It is superb for a Thai bout but you should be cautious in MMA.

Yet, a lot of knockouts were seen via a roundhouse Muay Thai kick in the world of mixed martial arts. For example, Donald “The Cowboy” Cerrone is known for a huge number of fight-ending head strikes. Muay Thai blows to the head are powerful because you move your standing leg to the opposite side to create a bigger angle and add power.

Hooks and uppercuts are the third on my list of the most dangerous Muay Thai strike for an MMA bout. Let me elaborate. Strikers from other martial arts usually keep the same stance width while marching forward. Yet, Thai fighters modify stance width when they connect. It leads to less speed but more power. These strikes can create a serious amount of damage, especially when you unload a combo on the defensive foe.

The final bombastic strike is Superman punch. Travis Browne showed his real power against Stefan Struve, despite Struve being 5 inches taller. Browne was dealing massive reach advantage but one jump neutralized it and found a way through Stefan’s guard.

Clinch Kryptonite

Clinch is the trademark of Muay Thai. A good clincher might finish the bout thanks to so many lovely possibilities. Yet, you’ll have to be cautious because a wrong move leads to dragging to the ground and huge trouble for a stand-up specialist.

Muay Thai plum is undoubtedly the best position for a Thai fighter. It lets you hurt the opponent and end the fight via straight or diagonal knees to the head or body. Also, don’t forget about the power of elbows and uppercuts.

The second most dangerous weapon is a sweep. Before Loma Lookboonmee, this was a taboo topic, but the best female Thai UFC fighter brought a lot of revolutionary moves which are giving a hard time to wrestlers and grapplers today. Sweep specialists are a nightmare for ground experts.

For the third kryptonite set, I will transition to cage control defense. Imagine that you are pressed against the fence. The opponent is trying to take your down with a double or a single-leg takedown. Well, Muay Thai works here perfectly.

The first example is Travis Browne’s 12-6 elbows, which put BJJ expert Gabriel Gonzaga to sleep. Some fans claimed the elbows were not legal, but you can judge on your own. Victory is a victory, isn’t it?

Yet, the second example was perfectly legal, according to the referee Dan Movahedi. Modestas Bukauskas met Andreas Michalidis. Greek BJJ expert tried to drag the Lithuanian to the ground.

Modestas didn’t stuff a takedown, he let Andreas attempt a double-leg, then countered him with 10-4 (Modestas’ elbows). Nobody has ever seen that kind of move before, but it showed the real defensive power of Muay Thai against offensive wrestlers and grapplers.

What Are The Best Ground Muay Thai Techniques For MMA?

This paragraph makes a difference between casual and diehard fans, please keep that in mind. I met many people who claim Muay Thai is good for striking offense and nothing else. The most lethal ground and pound injuries in the world of mixed martial arts were happening thanks to the brutality of Thai elbows.

I must divide this into two parts – UFC rules and Pride/Vale Tudo/ONE FC rules. The second part describes even more dangerous areas of ancient Siamese martial art.

UFC Rulebook Strikes


UFC allows the majority of elbows on the grounded opponent, as long as you don’t strike to the back of the head or land 12-6 elbow strikes.

The most dangerous ones are slashing, horizontal, upward, and spear elbows from the full mount. Side control and crucifixion are generally good positions for a Muay Thai fighter as it lets you unload a barrage of a spear or horizontal elbows to the head or body, plus it is one of the easiest ways to cut your opponent open.

Half-guard also leaves some potential options for big elbows. Yet, a full guard is not a good position for a Muay Thai fighter as it limits elbows, so you’ll have to focus on hooks and overhands, which are easy to block.

But you can destroy your opponent from the bottom too. For example, Anderson Silva was famous for landing spear elbows on the foe off the top. Also, Niko Price made a revolutionary move against Randy Brown by a hammer-fist finish from one of the weirdest positions ever!

Muay Thai strikes are very lethal on the ground, you just have to know to use them well. Short-range is good for elbows, but you must modify to punches as soon as the distance increases.

Pride/Vale Tudo/ONE FC Rulebook Strikes

My favorite moves are knees to the head of the grounded opponent. Mark Coleman invented this move against Igor Vovchanchyn and finished that bout pretty easily. Look at the effectiveness of straight knees from north-south.

Kevin Randleman pushed it to a whole new level versus Kenichi Yamamoto. Even the UFC champion Demetrious Johnson was finished at ONE FC by Adriano Morais thanks to powerful ground knees.

What Are The Greatest Muay Thai Vs MMA Differences?

Well, Muay Thai is a striking martial art, while MMA allows an all-around game. But there are a few more minor things you should pay attention to.

My Muay Thai vs MMA guide explains it all, please continue reading:

  • Calf kicks. I’ve never seen fighters kicking under the knee in a Muay Thai bout unless the opponent tries to check the kicks and eats a shot to the calf. This is a common MMA strike in the last few years, for example, Volkan Oezdemir stopped Aleksandar Rakic’s movement and earned a razor-close decision win thanks to those strikes.
  • Oblique kicks to the knee (or popular knee stomps). Muay Thai referee will not sanction you for this every time but you won’t see this strike in a Thai bout. Yet, it is very often in the UFC. For example, Khalil Rountree finished Modestas Bukauskas by attacking his lead leg’s knee, which lead to a second-round TKO victory.
  • Ground game. Muay Thai strictly prohibits attacking grounded opponents. You’d get a warning instantly, while the MMA allows fighting on the canvas.
  • Inactivity time. You’ll rarely see a referee allowing inactivity in a Muay Thai bout. If there is no action for more than 10 seconds, the ref will warn fighters. In MMA, the referee has the right to freely decide whether he’s going to stand or break the fighters up or not.

Georges St-Pierre – Why One Can Call Him An Innovator?

Muay Thai fighters were striking-oriented before Georges St-Pierre, but he’s the first all-around UFC fighter who took the best from every single martial art. Interestingly, “GSP” comes from Kyokushinkai Karate, but he brought one of the most original level-change combinations that later became the trademark of MMA Muay Thai.

St-Pierre created the lead arm Superman punch which later became the symbol of many Muay Thai warriors. He shifts stance while unloading leading fist strike which creates an opening for a brutal low kick to the thigh (very hard to defend because the opponent focuses on head-body protection).

Georges St-Pierre brought a lot of new “angles” in the MMA by combining Kyokushinkai with Muay Thai. When he decides to march forward, St-Pierre sticks to diagonal steps, which adds more power to his punches and kicks.

If you take a look at Muay Thai MMA fighters of a later age, especially Cris Cyborg, you’ll notice that they mostly tend to modify the stance width. It gets wider during the attacks. But as soon as the fighter decides to transition from offense to defense, it gets narrower than a normal Muay Thai stance. The back is hunched and elbows are tucked against the ribs to prevent the damage. Oh, man, “GSP” was so much ahead of his time!

How To Maximize Muay Thai Effect In MMA?

Muay Thai Vs MMA comparison doesn’t have to focus only on differences. Thai boxing is extremely beneficial for the world of MMA, especially if you took part in professional competitions. It will help you control the clinch and end the fight via brutal hits or potential doctor stoppage. But you will have to modify some skills.

Here are my pieces of advice:

  • Stance/ striking modifications. First, learn to play smart, please. Stay away from teep kick, unless you have to, because the opponent could grab your leg and take you to the ground. Other dangerous categories are body kicks and sidekicks. I am not saying you should forget about them, but be cautious, once the foe catches your limb, the stand-up game is over.
  • Shifting. Muay Thai dojos don’t like shifting, but creating angles is extremely important in MMA, especially when defending takedowns. You must learn to change the width of your stance, this will put your MMA game to a whole new level.
  • Movement. The majority of Muay Thai fighters tend to move forward and backward, but lateral moves and side steps are crucial because the aggressive wrestler or grappler is going to press you against the cage. If you can switch stance during your defensive moves, you’ll become an even harder target. Think about this.
  • Takedown defense. It is hard to sprawl from a Muay Thai stance because your weight is shifted on your rear foot. Please learn to shift your weight from your rear to your leading foot in the split of a second. Explode with your hips quickly. When you stuff the takedown attempt, your foe wastes a lot of energy.
  • Combinations. The philosophy of Muay Thai focuses on chasing the opponent and destroying him with high pace and endless combos. In MMA, you must know when to stop and feint, because even an average fighter could intercept your greatest barrage of bullets with a reactive takedown. I don’t recommend you to throw more than three strikes per combination.
  • Counters. This is the most important area for modification. For me, Muay Thai Vs MMA = offense vs counters plus combos. Yeah, I’m dead serious. There are very few counters in Thai bouts, but countering is super important in MMA. The good knee will stuff takedown attempt, great sweep helps you evade the clinch, while big slashing elbow stops wide hooks and overhands (watch the fight between Mark Munoz and Chris Weidman, that Thai elbow counter KO was epic).

Who Are The Most Dangerous Muay Thai MMA Fighters?

Well, there are many top-notch Muay Thai names in the MMA scene. But they did at least three important modifications in their game – counters, movement, and stance. Yet, fighters who worked hard on the six categories mentioned above scored the greatest results even won the championship belt.

The most successful Muay Thai MMA names are Jose Aldo and Cris Cyborg. When it comes to the most technical aspect of Thai boxing in MMA, I am choosing Gaston Bolanos and Loma Lookboonme, despite they didn’t score superb results.

Many fighters modified their Muay Thai skills and became legends because of their creativity. Those names are Jon Jones, Johnny Walker, Tony Ferguson, and Donald Cerrone.

There are also Octagon warriors who combined Muay Thai with Taekwondo and turned themselves into Thai warriors with extremely lethal kicks. I bet you heard of Valentina Shevchenko, Anthony Pettis, Anderson Silva, and Edson Barboza – Muay Thai clinch, mid-range fists and Thai kicks under the belt, and long-range Taekwondo kicks from hell!


Muay Thai is a vital part of MMA. You’ll hardly become a great MMA fighter if you don’t know Thai boxing but you can’t be a good fighter if you know “Muay Thai and nothing else”. Muay Thai vs MMA reminds me of Bonnie and Clyde – they depend on each other.

Despite ground strikes being prohibited in Thai boxing, a good fighter will be able to work on modifying his elbows on the downed opponent and create a significant amount of damage. It’s not hard to become an MMA legend when you come from Muay Thai.

I have already explained – work hard on your takedown defense, stance modifications, counters, and movement. You can’t press all the time, you must know when to stop and transition from defense into offense into defense and vice versa. Wise Muay Thai fighter can win UFC title – just take a look at Jose Aldo, he’s an example of superb Thai intelligence inside the Octagon.

Last Updated on May 21, 2022 by Deni

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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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