Muay Thai Vs MMA - Which One is Better and Why? 2021 Guide

muay thai knee to stomach

Muay Thai and MMA are often seen as the best fighting styles. They are both very similar when it comes to how useful they are for self-defense, fitness, or skills they teach. But at the same time, Muay Thai and MMA differ a lot in terms of rules, emphasis, and concepts.

Muay Thai is a fighting style that will teach you perhaps the best striking skills. The goal is to use all limbs as weapons to land punches, kicks, and fight in the clinch using elbows and knees. On the other side, MMA is more versatile as it prepares you to fight in the standup, in the clinch, and on the ground.

In this article, we will look at how Muay Thai and MMA differ from one another and try to determine which one is better for training, fitness, or self-defense.

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Muay Thai vs MMA - What are the main differences? 

Some people tend to mix these two arts with one another mainly because Muay Thai is an integral part of MMA. It plays a key role in the standup aspect of as it is the complete striking style. But let’s not forget these are two separate martial arts that do not share much in common, notably when it comes to the following elements. 

Emphasis and techniques

Muay Thai is a very brutal fighting style that apart from striking, also includes some basic elements of grappling. The emphasis is on landing strong kicks from the distance, fast counters, and dirty boxing in the clinch. Fighters can use various strikes with kicks, elbows, and knees being the main weapons. In fact, those strikes are what make it so brutal to watch. 

As its name suggests, mixed martial arts is a mix of various striking and grappling martial arts put into one fighting style. All fighters must know how to fight in the standup, clinch, and on the ground. But, there is not a single martial art that covers all places. So, MMA fighters must cross-train between these four fighting styles that fit really well in MMA:

  • Muay Thai (Clinch; Standup)
  • Boxing (Standup)
  • BJJ (Ground fighting)
  • Wrestling (Clinch; Ground fighting)

Rules and Competitions

Muay Thai is a very popular sport mainly because fights are brutal and exciting. Trust us, you will rarely come across a boring Muay Thai match without intense action. Here is a list of the most important rules:

  • Matches last from three to five rounds
  • Each round lasts 3 minutes with a one minute break between the rounds
  • Fighters must wear gloves similar to the ones in boxing
  • Each fight includes three judges who are using a 10-point scoring system. 
  • Fights can end in a KO, draw, or decision win. 

MMA is often seen as the fastest-rising sport in the world. The UFC is the leading promotion of MMA matches, and it is the home of the best fighters in the world. Being a UFC champ is a dream of every fighter and they all fight under the “Unified Rules of MMA”:

  • MMA are three rounds (nontitle) and five rounds (for the title)
  • Each round is five minutes long with a one-minute break between the rounds. 
  • Fighters wear open finger gloves that are 4 OZ in size. 
  • Fights can end via KO, submission, decision, or in a draw.
mma takedown

Is Muay Thai more dangerous than MMA?

Many people think Muay Thai is more dangerous because fights look more violent. You can see a lot of vicious kicks and elbow strikes that often cause deep cuts and severe bleeding. But bear in mind that MMA rules also allow these same strikes. So on paper, these two arts are very similar when it comes to dangers, right?

However, Muay Thai fighters fight only in standup, and at a much higher pace than MMA fighters. The matches are 3–3 minute rounds which means that Thai boxers don’t have to worry much about tiring out. You will see a high pace action and hundreds of strikes landing in just about every match.

MMA matches are less dangerous since they last longer and often go to the ground. Fighters must be very tactical and avoid trading wild strikes since that burns a lot of energy. And this also exposes them for a takedown.

In our opinion, Muay Thai is more dangerous than MMA since fighters absorb more strikes on average. Not to mention that the emphasis of Muay Thai is on those wild elbow and knee strikes that can cause much damage. In the long run, Muay Thai will probably take a bigger toll on your body than MMA. But, this stays open for debate.

thai boxing ring

Muay Thai vs MMA – which one is better for self-defense?

Both of these arts are great for self-defense and you won’t make a mistake choosing any of these two. They will teach you all you need to know about real fighting and how to defend yourself on the streets. But, we must say that MMA might be better as it is more versatile.

As said earlier, Muay Thai is a brutal martial art that teaches you how to land every strike with power and violent intention. First, you learn how to fight at distance using punches and various kicks. But Muay Thai really shines in the clinch where you can land vicious elbow and knee strikes. Or, you can use various trips and throws to take the attacker down and buy some time to run away. Still, MMA offers you much more.

MMA is more versatile and it prepares you for most fighting scenarios you may face on the streets. You will know how to fight standing, in the clinch, or on the ground. This is crucial because street fights are chaotic and often all over the place.

For instance, knowing how to fight on the ground is really good for self-defense. This is because, as humans, we can all throw a punch right? But most average people don’t know how to fight on the ground. MMA allows you to quickly take the attacker to the ground and finish them using various BJJ techniques.

muay thai sparring body shot

Which one is better for fitness and weight loss?

In recent years, we can see more and more people joining martial arts classes for fitness. The most popular choices are, in fact, Muay Thai and MMA gyms as they offer some amazing benefits. Both of these arts are good for fitness, health and will get you in top shape in a very short time.

Muay Thai puts a lot of emphasis on endurance and strength. In Thailand, pro fighters often run 6 miles just to warm up which gives you an insight into how intense training can be. It is widely known that two hours of Muay Thai training burns around 1000–1500 calories on average.

MMA training differs a lot but the benefits are the same. In a single week, you will split your time training in wrestling, BJJ, and striking classes. It’s really a full-body workout as a mix of grappling and striking improves your upper and lower body strength. It will activate the muscle in your body you didn’t know exist.

Muay Thai and MMA share similar benefits when it comes to fitness and weight loss. They are both cardio intense and include strength exercises. Which one is better really comes down to the type of training you like, which leads us to the next section.

Muay Thai Fitness

Which one is better or more fun to train?

Both of these arts put a lot of emphasis on hard training that will push your mind and body over the limits on a daily basis. But the concept of training differs a lot between Muay Thai and MMA, and it’s very easy for you to realize which one suits you better.

MMA training brings more fun in our view since it is a more versatile style. In a single week, you will grapple in BJJ and wrestling classes, and throw strikes in boxing and Muay Thai. This dynamic structure of the training is why so many people are joining MMA as classes can’t become boring.

Muay Thai is a pure standup style and training focuses entirely on striking. As said earlier, the emphasis is on endurance, which is not fun for most people. Training is made of endless drilling of techniques on the heavy bag, hitting the pads, and sparring. And bear in mind that classes usually look the same and can get boring over time.

muay thai self defense

Is Muay Thai good for MMA?

Muay Thai plays a key role in MMA and its techniques fit perfectly within the rules. It is often seen as a complete art that covers all the aspects of the sport when it comes to striking. Here is what it brings to the table.

Arguably the best weapon are vicious kicks that are very effective. You can learn similar kicks in other arts like karate, but the ones in Muay Thai are special. This is because you can generate huge power to land with the shin and do huge damage. A single, well-placed leg kick can generate the same force as hitting a person with a baseball bat.

That’s why we can often see MMA fighters with strong Muay Thai skills scoring the finish using kicks only. The best instance is when Dustin Poirier put Conor McGregor out with low calf kicks.

The other great weapon is the clinch. In MMA, fighters are allowed to fight in the clinch as much as they want. This is where Muay Thai comes into play with sharp elbow strikes and knees to the stomach. A single elbow can open a large cut and cause severe bleeding which often results in a doctor’s stoppage.

Who are the most famous Muay Thai fighters in MMA?

In MMA history, there have been many fighters who came into the sport from Muay Thai. Some of them fought in pro matches and even won world titles. And as we are going to see, they used their strong Muay Thai base to achieve the same in MMA as well.

  • Anderson Silva - often seen as a GOAT, Silva was one of the first fighters who showed how effective Muay Thai is in MMA. In his prime, his timing and accuracy were out of this world which allowed him to score many great finishes using Thai Boxing techniques. He defended his UFC title 10 times and holds many other great records.
  • Valentina Shevchenko - is one of the scariest female fighters the world has ever seen compete in MMA. She is the former Muay Thai world champ in multiple organizations like IFMA, WKC, and WMC. In MMA, she was able to win the UFC flyweight title and defend it many times.
  • Jon Jones– is perhaps the best example of how Thai clinch works in MMA. Although he doesn’t have a Muay Thai background, Jones likes to be in the clinch where he can land elbows and knees. He is also a master in using his high reach to blast his opponents with vicious kicks.

Muay Thai vs MMA — which one is better for you?

First of all, we must say that both of these arts are great. Whether you want to learn self-defense, get in shape or compete, you won’t make a mistake choosing any of these two arts. But as we know, the devil is always in the details, and here is our final opinion of which one might be better for you.

If you are a fan of striking then Muay Thai is an option for you as it will teach you the best striking skills. It is also a great option for people who want to get in shape and lose weight as it burns more calories than MMA. But bear in mind that this comes at a certain price as training is often exhausting.

MMA should be your choice if you like a dynamic way of training and want to develop all-around fighting skills. Each week consists of wrestling, BJJ, boxing, and Muay Thai classes (in most gyms), and you will have a ton of fun training.

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Sawasdee krap!
I'm Timmy and I'm the chief-editor and co-founder of Muay Thai Street. When do you don't see me kicking pads of heavy bags, you can also find me training BJJ and functional fitness. I created Muay Thai Street as a passion project and also to help grow the community and share this sport with the world.

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