Muay Thai vs Wrestling - Which One Is Better?

mma fighter training

Muay Thai and Wrestling are both seen as the best in their disciplines. Muay Thai is a king in the striking world while wrestling has been the best grappling style since ancient times. But what would happen if we match them together? How would Muay Thai vs Wrestling match look like?

This is a really good question as these two arts differ in just about every single aspect of fighting. It is a pure style vs. style matchup in which the winner would be a fighter who manages to impose their game. Muay Thai fighters would have few, if not just one chance to stop the wrestler on the feet before they get mauled on the ground.

But, things are not black and white in the fighting world. That’s why we will explore how Muay Thai and wrestling differ from one another and match them to see which one is better in various aspects.

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What are the differences between Muay Thai and Wrestling?

To find out which style is better, Muay Thai or Wrestling, we must take a brief look into how they differ from one another. Since these are two totally different styles, we won’t dig deep into details. Here are the main differences you should all be aware of:

Concept and emphasis

Muay Thai is also known as “the art of eight limbs” as it includes kicks, punches, and knee and elbow strikes. But it will also teach you the basics of grappling like trips and throws. The main weapon of its fighters are vicious kicks and fighting inside the clinch using knees and elbows. It is a pure striking style where the grappling aspect is not that important at all.

Wrestling is the most popular grappling art where the main focus is on scoring a takedown and using pins to subdue the opponent. It doesn’t teach any striking techniques at all and it is entirely focused on grappling. It has many forms out of which the two are the most popular ones:

  • Freestyle wrestling
  • Greco Roman wrestling

History and Rules

Muay Thai is a much younger sport than wrestling which origins date back to the Siam kingdom (16th century). Over time, notably in the 20th century, Muay Thai became a really popular sport and a part of Thailand’s culture. The rules are very simple and similar to the ones in kickboxing:

  • Matches last from 3 to 5 rounds
  • Each round is 3 minutes long with 1-minute rest between
  • Three judges use a 10 point scoring system to score the fight
  • Fights can end via KO, a decision win, or a draw.

Wrestling is a much older art with the earliest origins dating all the way back to ancient Egypt, 15,000 years ago. In ancient times, it was also very popular in Greece where it was a part of the early Olympic Games. It’s important to note that Wrestling rules differ between the different styles and organizations.

  • Freestyle wrestling - in this form, wrestlers can grab the opponent both above and below the waist to take them down. The most popular techniques are single and double-leg takedowns. The matches include two periods of three minutes each with a 30s break in between. Wrestlers compete in the open mats and the goal is to score a takedown and pin the opponent’s shoulders to the mat.
  • Greco-Roman– the rules are similar to the ones in freestyle wrestling. But in Greco Roman, wrestlers are not allowed to grab the opponent below the waist. The focus is on scoring takedowns using throws and trips.
wrestling match

Muay Thai vs Wrestling – which one is better for MMA?

Both Muay Thai and Wrestling play a big role in modern MMA fighting. In fact, we dare to go even further saying you can’t expect to succeed without having at least basic skills in these two arts. Still, we think wrestling might be a better base for MMA and here is why.

According to modern data, most UFC champs in history have had a strong wrestling background. Regardless of the weight class, wrestlers are clearly dominating in MMA. Here are some of the most famous ones:

  • Daniel Cormier
  • Khabib Nurmagomedov
  • Randy Couture

But what makes wrestling so good in MMA? First, wrestling is the only style that allows you to change the place of the fight using takedowns. Once on the ground, wrestlers can hold the opponent on the bottom for the entire round, tire them out, and win. And, wrestling matches well against other arts like BJJ or even Muay Thai.

On the other side, Muay Thai is also a good base for MMA and its techniques work really well. What it brings to the table are vicious kicks and fighting in the clinch using elbows and knees. These strikes like calf kicks, knees to the stomach, or elbows to the side of the head can do huge damage. Here are some of the best Muay Thai fighters in MMA:

  • Anderson Silva
  • Edson Barboza
  • Donald Cerrone
muay thai kicking bag

Which one is better for Self Defense?

Both of these arts are great for self-defense. But, we must point up they differ a lot when it comes to damage you can do to the attacker. Muay Thai is a savage style and people who mess with them on the streets usually end up looking like they have just survived a car crash. Wrestling on the other side uses a much safer and less brutal way.

You see, we can all throw a punch and knock someone out cold. As humans, we all have that ability. But most average people don’t know how to defend a takedown and things get even worse when the fight hits the ground. Most average people would look lost.

This is what makes wrestling great for self-defense. It teaches you how to take the attacker down in a split of a second and secure the top position. You will spare both the attacker and yourself brutal damage.

Muay Thai is, to some extent, even better for self-defense. Each technique you learn works in real life, and it helps you stay or escape any troubles on the streets. And it’s not just about the skills, the art puts a lot of emphasis on generating a huge power in every strike and throwing with violent intentions. You can really, really hurt the attacker with these skills and you should be careful.

We are always for the safer and less brutal options, so in our opinion, wrestling is better for self-defense.

muay thai training with head gear

Muay Thai vs Wrestling - who would win in a street fight? 

This is a really tough question simply because these two arts differ too much. For sure, Muay Thai fighters can beat wrestlers in a street fight and vice versa. Fighters from both sides have all the weapons and tools to do that. But who would win also depends on what type of fight we are talking about?

If the fight is in an open area, then Muay Thai fighters have a good chance of winning. First, they can use footwork to stay at distance and keep their range. Next, long-distance strikes like kicks and straight punches can do much damage. Even if the wrestler steps into their range, Thai boxers can catch them with a wild knee or elbow strike. But this is all in theory.

In a small space like a bar or room, wrestlers can beat Muay Thai fighters without much effort. This is because they can level change quickly and Thai boxers would not have space to move away. The last thing any striker need is to stand in the wrestler’s line of attack. The only outcome in that scenario is you going for a ride down.

On paper, Muay Thai fighters know how to defend against some types of takedowns like trips or throws. But these skills are simply not enough as any skilled wrestler would walk right through that level of takedown defense.

muay thai knee to stomach

Muay Thai vs Wrestling - which one is better for kids?

In modern times, martial art classes have become a very popular among kids. This is mainly because martial arts teach them all about respect, discipline, and how important it is to work hard to achieve your goals. Not to mention that it keeps their minds and bodies strong and healthy.

Even Though Muay Thai matches look brutal on TV, classes are actually very safe for kids. They all need to wear protective gear when doing anything that can get them hurt. And we don’t have to bring up they do not use elbow and knee strikes. This keeps the risk of injuries really low.

But wrestling is a far better and more popular option for kids. In fact, it is a part of the school program both in the eastern and western world. In the US, for instance, high school and college wrestling events are huge and aired on big TV networks. But, why is wrestling great for kids?

Above all, wrestling doesn’t include any type of striking so the risk of injuries is very low. In most cases, kids get hurt by accident, which can happen in any sport like soccer or baseball. But on the other side, training is really hard and will make every kid both mentally and physically tough. They won’t gain anything in wrestling without putting a lot of work into training.

Is training in Muay Thai and Wrestling a good combination?

As said earlier, Muay Thai and wrestling are the best martial arts when it comes to striking and grappling. So mixing them together will make you an all-rounded fighter and prepared to fight in all elements. This is why most MMA fighters put a lot of time and effort into learning how to mix these two arts together. 

In some way, Muay Thai and Wrestling complement each other. The biggest issue with wrestling is the lack of striking skills. You won’t learn how to throw strikes or how to block them which is bad for both MMA and street fighting. Every fight begins on the feet where there is a high chance for wrestlers to get caught and knocked out. That’s why adding Muay Thai skills on top of their grappling base makes them really scary. 

As a skilled fighter, the last thing you want is to face a wrestler who also has good striking skills. These types of fighters are usually a tough matchup for anyone in MMA. Here are some MMA fighters with a strong base in wrestling who also had good striking skills:

  • Daniel Cormier
  • Cain Velasquez
  • Tyron Woodley

Muay Thai fighters usually focus on training in one aspect of wrestling: Defense. They don’t need to spend much time learning how to score takedowns as their main goal is to keep the fight standing. A Thai boxer with great takedown defense is really a tricky matchup for any type of grappler. Here are some Muay Thai fighters who had good takedown defense:

  • Paul Felder
  • Thiago Santos
  • Max Holloway
Muay Thai and MMA

Which one is better for you?

This really depends on what you want to achieve with your training. Do you want to learn martial arts for fitness, weight loss, self-defense, or fight in MMA?

Wrestling is great for people who like hard training and want to learn all about grappling. It also should be your choice if you want to shift to MMA later. But bear in mind that people usually enroll in wrestling at a very young age. If you are in your late 20s or early 30s, you might have a hard time fitting in as there are not many hobbyists. Wrestlers train mainly for competition, not to learn how to fight or defend on the streets.

Muay Thai training is more open to newcomers. It really doesn’t matter if you are in your 30s or even 40s and it is a better style if you want to learn self-defense. You will develop all-around striking skills that you can transfer to MMA later as well. It is also very good for fitness and it will get both your mind and body in top shape in a very short time span.

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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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