The ultimate guide to everything you need to know about Muay Thai

What is Muay Thai?

Muay Thai, also known as the “Art of Eight Limbs”, is a traditional Martial Art that originated in Thailand in the 18th century. Muay Thai translates to Thai Boxing.

Muay Thai is referred to as the “Art of Eight Limbs” or the “Science of Eight Limbs”, because it makes use of punches, kicks, elbows and knee strikes, thus using eight “points of contact”. This is of course opposed to “two points” (fists) in boxing and “four points” (hands and feet) used in other more regulated combat sports, such as kickboxing. A practitioner of Muay Thai is known as a nak muay.

Taking elements from Muay Boran, the traditional Thai martial arts, Muay Thai as a modern combat sport was first formalized in the early 20th century. The sport was influenced by British boxing where codified rules and the boxing ring were put in place. During this period, fighters also ditched wrapping hands with ropes (“Kard Chuek”) and began wearing boxing gloves in competitions.

Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand

How Muay Thai Started

The history of Muay Thai can be traced historically to the Sukhothai dynasty of Thailand around the 13th century. As recorded in Thai history, the first Thai army was born out of a need to defend the kingdom and soldiers were taught both armed and unarmed combat. Over time, the evolution of this martial art gave us Muay Boran and Muay Thai as we know it today.

Due to wars with neighboring kingdoms and tribes over the centuries, Muay Thai became a way of life for the people of Siam (as Thailand used to be called). One of the most famous stories of Muay Thai came via the great Nai Khanom Tom, during the Ayutthaya period. The tale narrates how Nai Khanom Tom defeated 9 Burmese fighters, one after another, during his imprisonment after the Siam kingdom was under siege. The historical event (half steeped in myth) is now celebrated as Muay Thai day which takes place every year on March 17th.

During the Rattanakosin Kingdom era (around 18th-early 20th century), Muay Thai was formally became a national sport where rules and regulations were introduced.

Muay Thai has grown over years since around World War I period to become a combat sport loved and practised all around the world. Modern Muay Thai encompasses elements of traditional boxing including the use of padded boxing gloves, 3 to 5 rounds with time limit, defined rules and take place within a ring (squared platform).

What is the difference between Muay Thai and Kickboxing?

The biggest difference between Muay Thai and kickboxing is that Muay Thai uses an eight-point striking system, allowing the use of elbows & knees which aren’t permitted in kickboxing.

The other main difference is the use of the clinch in Muay Thai, which also isn’t permitted in Kickboxing.

The third difference between Muay Thai and Kickboxing is in the style of the fighters, particularly the way they move and attack. Muay Thai fighters generally have a very solid base and stance and are taught to move forward and to try and not take a backwards step, which can be a negative score in Muay Thai. Counter-attacks are also a fundamental part of Muay Thai, with fighters waiting for the right opening before firing off aggressive and powerful strikes.

The movement of kickboxers generally tends to be a lot more fluid than Muay Thai fighters. Kickboxers will use their footwork and movement to try and create openings and set-up their attacks.

You’ll also see different ways in which fighters strike in Muay Thai and Kickboxing. Muay Thai fighters prefer simple, powerful strikes and are extremely focused on balance and posture whilst striking. Kickboxers tend to use a much wider range of strikes, and fighters will often be rewarded for the variety and difficulty of the strikes they throw, such as spinning kicks.

There’s also a big difference between the way in which Muay Thai fighters and kickboxers throw their kicks. In Muay Thai, you are taught not to kick with the foot or lower part of your shin, whereas kickboxers will use a variety of different kicks which can land with the foot, lower shin or middle shin.

As well as the differences in the two sports, there are some similarities between Muay Thai and Kickboxing, and you’ll often find fighters who fight in both disciplines.

Muay Thai fighters

Are Muay Thai fighters dangerous?

Yes, Muay Thai fighters are dangerous, as are all competitive combat sport fighters.

Muay Thai fighters are often taught the importance of respect to other fighters and will generally keep their fighting to the ring.

Are Muay Thai fighters good boxers?

Some Muay Thai fighters are fantastic boxers, others aren’t. The beauty of Muay Thai is that due the extensive range of strikes that can be used, you’ll often find different style fighters who are good at somethings, and not so good at others, such as clinch-style fightres or kick heavy fighters.

There are several Muay Thai fighters who have made the transition from Muay Thai to boxing and done extremely well. In the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, USA, Somrak Khamsing won a gold medal in Boxing in the featherweight division.

One problem that Muay Thai fighters do have when they try to transition to Boxing is the stance. The boxing stance is much wider and more side-on that the traditional Muay Thai stance, which means that boxers are generally more agile on their feet and can move around the ring better than Muay Thai fighters.

The Muay Thai stance is more upright with the feed squared and closer together. This is to allow Muay Thai fighters to be able to quickly check kicks and throw teeps.

Who are the best non-Thai Muay Thai fighters?

Muay Thai is a sport that is dominated by the Thais, with it being Thailand’s national sport and the majority of the Muay Thai fighters living in gyms and fighting professionally from an extremely young age.

This doesn’t mean that non-thai Muay Thai fighters haven’t seen success in Muay Thai. Some of the best foreign Muay Thai fighters have gone on to win some of the most prestigious titles in the sport, and beaten some of the biggest names in Thailand.

In no particular order, here’s our list of the best non-Thai Muay Thai fighters.

Ramon Dekkers

Ramon “The Diamond” Dekkers is arguably the most well-known foreign Muay Thai fighter of all time.

He was one of the pioneers in the foreign invasion into Muay Thai, making his Thai debut when he fought golden era legend, Numphon Nongkeepayayuth at Lumpinee Stadium in 1990.

Dekkers fought many top Thai fighters of the time including Namkabuan Nongkeepayayuth, Orono Por Muang-Ubol, Superlek Sorn Esarn, Sangtiennoi Sor Rungroj and Jaroenthong Kiatbaanchong.

He is best remembered by many Thai fans for his legendary rivalry and memorable wars against Coban Lookchaomaesaitong.

Danny Bill

Dany Bill is a Cameroonian fighter who grew up in France. A contemporary of Ramon Dekkers, he competed professionally for almost the entirety of the 90s.

If you ask the purists, they will tell you that Bill was the real MVP of foreign Nak Muays in the 90s.

Bill was fearless in his pursuit and took on the best Thai fighters of the time. But unlike many of his peers, he was adept in the Thai style and was well-versed with the rules of the game.

He was one of the most technical foreign Nak Muays of his time, with great precision and textbook sweeping techniques.

The Muay Farang won his first world title when he took on then-Lumpinee champion, Den Muangsurin at the prestigious King’s Birthday event. Bill went on to defend the title on 6 different occasions.

Over a decade, Bill fought and won against Thai champions like Sangtiennoi Sor Rungroj, Orono Por Muang-Ubol, Vichan Chorrotchai and the late, great Nokweed Davy himself. He has also challenged Sakmongkol Sittchuchok, Coban Lookchaomaesaitong, Kaolan Kaovichit.

Bill also faced Ramon Dekkers in 1997 where he outscored The Diamond for a unanimous decision victory.

Damien Alamos

Damien Alamos is notable as the second non-Thai fighter to win a Lumpinee champion title following Mourad Sari.

Alamos started training Muay Thai at 10 and arrived in Thailand when he was 19, training and fighting full time.

The French legend trained at different camps including Por Pramuk (with Buakaw and Namsaknoi), Jockey Gym, Lukbanyai and Somrak Khamsing’s gym before settling at Singpatong in Phuket.

After a string of wins in Bangkok, Alamos was given a shot for the WPMF world championship belt in 2010. He defeated his opponent at Lumpinee stadium to bring home his first world title.

Alamos then went on to win the Lumpinee Super Lightweight title in 2012 against Kongfah Uddonmuang, and the WMC world title against Kongbeng Mor Ratanabandit in 2013. He defended his Lumpinee title twice and is one of the rare few foreigners to have fought at Channel 7 stadium.

Alamos fought with a classic Thai style, beating the Thais at their game. He held wins against Diesellek Adommuang, Chok EminentAir, and Omnoi champion, Saksongkram Poptheeratam. He also faced champions like Sitthichai Sitsongpeenong, Orono Wor Petchpun and Saenchai over his career.

The French Nak Muay is now a full-time coach in London, traveling around the UK to teach after retiring from competing in 2014.

Liam Harrison

Outside of France, the UK is another European country known for its thriving Muay Thai scene. The most well-known of English fighters must be no other than Liam “The Hitman” Harrison.

Harrison has one of the best left hooks in the sport as well as his notoriously leg-crippling low kicks. His low-kick knockouts are a whole different level.

The multi-time world champion built his career fighting against many of the toughest guys in the sport.

Never one to shy away from challenges, Harrison has taken on Muay Thai champions like Sagetdao Petchphayathai, Malaipet Sasiprapa, Phetmorakot Wor Sangprapai, Pakorn PKSaenchaiGym, Singdam Kiatmoo9, and Anuwat Kaewsamrit.

Not forgetting three explosive meetings in the ring with the GOAT, Saenchai. Saenchai has on record cited Harrison as the toughest farang he has ever fought.

Win or lose, Harrison always goes all-in from the get-go, leaving nothing in the tank. This is what makes him a favorite with fight fans around the world as he continues to compete actively on ONE Championship and Yokkao events.

John Wayne Parr

The finest and most famous Muay Thai fighter from the land down under. John Wayne Parr (JWP) needs little introduction for fans to the world of Muay Thai.

JWP started competing professionally in 1992 at the age of 16. He moved to Thailand in 1996 where he stayed on for 4 years, living and training alongside Sangtiennoi Sor Rungroj.

For over 2 decades, JWP was a prolific competitor, taking part in both Muay Thai, kickboxing and boxing bouts around the world.

Parr was nicknamed “The Gunslinger” for his cowboy antics during his Wai Kru performance. He fought many top Thais during the years in Thailand.

Some of his more memorable bouts were made against names like Orono Por Muang-Ubol, Superlek Sor E-sarn, Sakmongkol Sittchuchok, and Lamsongkram Chuwattana.

However, he is remembered for his bouts against Buakaw Banchamek (then Buakaw Por Pramuk) and of course, Yodsanklai Fairtex. JWP’s claim to global fame came in 2007 from his appearance on The Contender Asia reality series, where he was the runner-up in the contest after losing to Yodsanklai.

But much more than his fight record, Parr’s all-out fighting style helped end half his wins by knockouts as well as a generation of international fight fans.

Fabio Pinca

Yes, it’s another French and one of this generation’s finest. Fabio Pinca has fought the best, beaten many of the best, and owns accolades of the highest honor.

Pinca’s long list of championship titles include WBC world welterweight, Lion Fight, ISKA, Thai Fight tournament, and of course his prized Rajadamnern Stadium title in 2017.

A striking powerhouse in his own right, Pinca excelled in using all weapons of the 8 limbs. He started training Muay Thai at 15 and was heavily influenced by European Nak Muays like Ramon Dekkers and Dany Bill.

Pinca’s fight record reads like a who’s who list of Muay Thai. He has fought modern legends such as Kem Sitsongpeenong, Attachai Fairtex, Sitthichai Sitsongpeenong, Saiyok Pumpammuang, and pound-for-pound great, Nong-O Kaiyanghadao.

Pinca beat many at the top of the game including champions like Sudsakorn Sor Klinmee, Petchmankong Petchfocus, Malaipet Sasiprapa, and Liam Harrison.

The crown jewel of Pinca’s fight record is no doubt his win against Saenchai in 2012. He may be best known as being the only foreign fighter to have won against the living legend.

There is no dispute when it comes to Fabio Pinca’s well-deserved place on the list.

Who are the best Muay Thai fighters?

Samart Payakaroon

A Muay Thai legend, Samart’s prowess in the ring saw him win 4 Lumpinee belts as well as becoming a WBC world boxing champion. Along with his skill in boxing, his masterful use of the side teep kick in attack and defence was key in seeing him achieve success, as it both started attacks and ensured his opponents couldn’t get close enough to hurt him. Known as the “Muhammad Ali” of Muay Thai, many fighters both past and present laud Samart as the greatest to step inside the ring.

The most prestigious titles and achievements that he won during this era were:

  • Pinweight (102 lbs.) Championship of Lumpinee Stadium (1980)
  • Junior Flyweight (108 lbs.) Championship of Lumpinee Stadium (1980)
  • Junior Bantamweight (115 lbs.) Championship of Lumpinee Stadium (1981)
  • Featherweight (126 lbs.) Championship of Lumpinee Stadium (1981)
  • Sports Writers of Thailand Fighter of the Year (1981)
  • Sports Writers of Thailand Fighter of the Year (1983)
  • Sports Writers of Thailand Fighter of the Year (1988)

He took on and conquered some of the best at the time. Among those that he beat were Chamuakpetch Haphalung, Bangklanoi Sor Thanikul, Namphon Nongkee Pahayuth, and Jaroenthong Kiatbanchong.

Dieselnoi Chor Thanasukarn

A tall, gangly Muay Thai fighter, Dieselnoi’s unusual height for boxing became one of his greatest strengths, as it allowed him to perform devastating strikes with his knees that were feared throughout the sport. During the mid-1980s, he took on all comers at Lumpinee Stadium — including Samart — and was never defeated. Whilst he faced stiff competition to be the greatest Muay Thai fighter of all time, he’s certainly considered one of the best muay khao, or knee fighters, in the sport’s history.

Saenchai

Fighting as recently as last year, Saenchai is very much a living legend of the sport. Arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sports history, his willingness to move up weight classes to find worthy opponents deserves a lot of merit, often fighting opponents as much as 15 pounds heavier. A fighter blessed with a telepathic sense of what his opponent will do next, he won the Lumpinee title in four different weight classes, and even invented his own move, the cartwheel kick, which is said to be inspired by the sport sepak takraw.

Saenchai PKSaenchaiMuayThaiGym (formerly Saenchai Sor. Kingstar) is without a doubt one of the most well known Muay Thai fighters in the world today. The living legend has been entertaining fans for more than a decade with his unique style and incredible blend of agility, technique, power and evasive defense. And now, even at 35-years old, Saenchai is still as impressive and captivating as ever!

History has shown time and time again that a fighter’s legacy is not determined by the amount of wins he has, but by the quality of fighters he has beaten. Saenchai has beaten everyone there is to beat in the world of Muay Thai and kickboxing.

In fact, he has beaten every Lumpinee title holder in and around his division for over a decade. These include legends like Singdam Kiatmuu9, Orono Wor Petchpun, Petchboonchu F.A. Group, Sagetdao Petpayathai, Attachai Por Samranchai and many more.

With an incredible fight record of 284 wins in a total of 338 fights, Saenchai’s achievements are unlike any other in the sport today. He is a multiple-time Lumpinee Muay Thai World Champion in four different weight divisions, a Toyata Cup Tournament and Marathon Champion, WMC World Champion, WBC Diamond World Champion, and a two-time recipient of the prestigious Sports Writers of Thailand Fighter of the Year award.

Tongchai Tor Silachai

The only fighter ever to knock out Saenchai, Tongchai’s skills in the ring are revered by many. As well as winning the Lumpinee title five times, he was also crowned boxer of the year three times by Thai sportswriters, a prestigious award of recognition by those in the know. A run-in with the police for selling drugs in 2008 might have marred his reputation, but since then he’s been working for various gyms as a trainer, imparting his wide-ranging skills and knowledge onto the next generation.

Sagat Petchyindee

Another Muay Thai fighter with an aptitude for boxing, Sagat was well known for his high ring IQ and his extremely powerful punches and kicks that were often impossible to defend against. A former Lumpinee and world champion, he defeated ultra-talented Dieselnoi twice and was immortalised as the inspiration for the character Sagat in the wildly-popular Street Fighter video game. Like Tongchai, today he spends his time working as a trainer, with his well-earned reputation no doubt inspiring his young charges.

Pud Pad Noy Worawoot

Nicknamed “Golden Leg”, Pud Pad Noy began fighting in Isaan at the age of 14 and has terrorised his opponents ever since. A southpaw fighter with extremely effective left-sided kicks, Pud Pad Noy may have only been small but fought opponents from various weight divisions and was successful more often than not. After winning the Lumpinee title five times, he went on to study in the US and coach Muay Thai in Paris, before settling as a judge, trainer and referee back in Thailand. A fighter lauded by Thailand’s great King Rama IX, he’s worthy of gracing any list of Muay Thai fighters.

Somrak Kamsing

Somrak Kamsing, or Somluck Kamsing as he’s also known, might have never won a title at Lumpinee, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. A fighter who was ranked #1 at Lumpinee, Somrak was never entered into title fights by promoters despite beating champion after champion, yet is still widely regarded as one of the best ever. Turning to boxing after Muay Thai, it was in this discipline that he received his greatest honour, winning Thailand’s first ever Olympic gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics.

Apidej Sit-Hirun

A fighter who fought in the 1960s, Apidej’s success and performances in the ring no doubt inspired the golden era of Muay Thai in the 1980s. Regarded as one of the most powerful strikers in the history of the sport, his kicks were known to be particularly potent, famously breaking an opponent’s arms and causing him to retire after the fight. Heralded as the fighter of the century by the late Rama IX, his place in the annals of Muay Thai history is more than assured.

Namkabuan Nongkee Pahuyuth

For most people, growing up in the shadow of a famous, Thai-boxing brother might be difficult, but not for Namkabuan. His nickname “the ring genius” points to his intelligence in the ring; having only achieved two knockouts during his career, it was his masterful technique and tactics that earned him victories. Fighting and beating many champions in his career, he held his belt for six years, before retiring and opening a restaurant.

Nai Khanom Tom

Despite his Muay Thai heroics happening over 250 years ago, there’s little doubt that Nai Khanom Tom could have more than handled himself in any era of the sport. A prisoner of war in Burma, the Burmese king wished to see which was superior; the martial art of his country, or that of Thailand. Well-renowned for his skills, Nai Khanom Tom was the choice amongst the Thai prisoners, and one by one he dispatched of 10 fighters from Burma, causing the Burmese king to remark on the venom of the champion before giving him his freedom. A national hero, there’s little doubt he’s amongst the greatest the sport has ever seen.

Muay Thai Training

What are the main techniques in Muay Thai?

While many people associate Muay Thai with elbows and knees, there is a wide range of techniques that are available to Muay Thai fighters. While not all techniques are created equal, it is important to understand the different types of offensive and defensive weapons that are available for a fighter.

Muay Thai techniques range from basic punch combos to advanced moves that you rarely see executed in the ring.

The core techniques in Muay Thai are:

  • Boxing
  • Kicks
  • Elbows
  • Knees
  • Clinching

How do professional Muay Thai fighters train?

Can Muay Thai build muscle?

Skills training in terms of striking in Muay Thai can build muscle but it is more endurance work. Heavy bag work and pad work in Muay Thai are HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) workouts that are cardio-intensive.

While it also promotes muscle growth, Muay Thai training burns lots of calories in the process. This makes it better suited for fat loss overall and on skinnier individuals, it can create a more tone look.

Can Muay Thai be self thought?

Muay Thai can be self thought. If your a complete beginner, we do recommend attending classes to help you better understand the core fundamentals of Muay Thai. If you worried about attending your first class, You can read our blog post What you need for your first Muay Thai class.

If you are looking to teach yourself from home, then checkout our blog post the best online Muay Thai training courses.

Is Muay Thai easy to start?

Muay Thai is extremely easy to start. There are gyms all over the world which are great for you to start training at and all are extremely welcoming to new students

Alternatively, you can use online Muay Thai training course websites to help you start to train from home.

Do I need to be fit to start training Muay Thai?

You don’t need to be fit to start training Muay Thai, although it does help

Muay Thai training is a brilliant way to help you loose weight and get fit, so rather than waiting until you are fit, take the first steps and start training Muay Thai right away.

What are the best Muay Thai gyms to train in?

There are several gyms all over the world which are world renowned for training in Muay Thai. Some of our best rated Muay Thai gyms are:

Yokkao Training Centre, Bangkok, Thailand

In 2016 the Yokkao Training centre opened its doors in the heart of Bangkok’s famous Sukhumvit district. Yokkao was founded in 2010 as a brand that sold Muay Thai gloves and apparel. Since their creation, they have immersed themselves in the global muay Thai scene putting on Muay Thai events around the globe.

AKA Thailand, Phuket, Thailand

AKA Thailand is one of the original gyms in Thailand to offer high-level MMA instruction. The gym was founded by former UFC middleweight Mike Swick. AKA is owned by Mike Swick, AKA head coach Javier Mendez and businessman Blair Speers.

Fairtex Gym, Pattaya, Thailand

Fairtex Pattaya is one of the original Muay Thai camps in Thailand. The gym opened its doors in 1971. Over the years, Fairtex Pattaya has grown into a large fitness complex that has a pool, accommodation and Muay Thai gym.

Bad Company Gym, Leeds, England

Bad Company Gym in Leeds was founded by Richard Smith in 1993. It has since become one of the biggest and most successful gyms in the UK. We have always had a friendly family atmosphere and cater for all ages from children to adults and all abilities from beginner to world class fighter. The senior instructors and founders of the gym are Richard Smith and Lisa Houghton-Smith.