Taking Thailand out of the equation, the surge in popularity of Muay Thai has a lot to do with the massive rise of MMA as a sport. That is because Muay Thai centers on superior striking, making it a vital component of an MMA stand-up.
As a form of martial arts in its own right, Muay Thai has a lengthy history of technique development. Its striking ability has evolved into something so pure and precise that some Muay Thai purists consider the striking prowess of MMA fighters to be subpar. In theory, under the rules of Muay Thai, this should make them fall short against anyone who is a pure Muay Thai striker.
With that said, what discipline should you get into? Let’s discuss various aspects of these two sports and compare them with each other. This way, you can make an appropriate decision on which one to choose.
Muay Thai in MMA
Aptly named, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a sport that combines the best elements of the different martial art forms, of which Muay Thai is no exception. For this reason, many who want to become complete and well-rounded fighters aim to master it.
There’s no shortage of proof suggesting MMA is a comprehensive martial art form. You can see it in the complete skill set its practitioners have and the different fighting approaches it looks to ingrain in its students.
From striking to stand-up grappling and ground grappling, there isn’t a combat angle that MMA doesn’t address. Though, it’s in “striking” where the inclusion of Muay Thai elements is most vital. Today, Muay Thai has become an indispensable component of MMA stand-up training.
With MMA’s growth, Muay Thai trainers are becoming more and more in demand in places outside of Thailand as schools seek to progress their training programs.
As much as Muay Thai is a part of MMA, there are areas in which the two diverge. These points of “divergence” center on tradition and culture, set of rules, and proficiency in techniques, of which the following factors are involved:
Stance and Footwork
One key difference between Muay Thai and MMA is in the stance. The Muay Thai stance is particularly distinct that it’s easy to identify just by looking at it. This uniqueness is true for MMA, which brings us to the sets of rules governing both disciplines.
Differences in Posture
In Muay Thai, the typical athlete takes an upright stance with forward-facing hips, positioning themselves squarely against their opponent. On the other hand, an MMA fighter takes a stance that’s a little bit closer to the ground, with the knees taking a more bent position and posture lowered to ensure a better transition into a defensive or offensive takedown.
Differences in Footwork and Movement
Typically, a Muay Thai fighter does not back away from an incoming attack to block it or stand ground. This attitude ties into the scoring system and culture of the said form of martial arts.
Conversely, for MMA practitioners, fluidity is usually the main feature of their footwork and movements. Training in MMA regularly involves moving in and out of range, switching stances, and circling and angling your opponent.
From a defensive standpoint, MMA requires you to back up in response to an oncoming attack. It also involves a lot of defensive footwork practice. This propensity for evasion in MMA is because of the MMA gloves’ structure, which is smaller and more damaging.
Generally, the striking elements of MMA have been adapted from Muay Thai and kickboxing. You see this in how practitioners deliver their round and straight punches and their variety of kicks. Certain MMA striking techniques are an exception to this, though. Oblique kicks and spinning kicks, for instance, are also about martial arts that are popular in the world of MMA.
While kickboxing, boxing, and Muay Thai are the major contributors to MMA’s striking components, striking elements from other fighting styles can also be adapted. The fact that “striking” is front and center in any Muay Thai match tells you that it has more developed and varied knee and elbow striking techniques than MMA. In MMA, striking using these parts of the body is usually more limited, with straight, up-knees, and horizontal elbows being the typical go-to moves.
Lastly, in pure Muay Thai, striking usually centers on beauty and precision, while in Muay-Thai-influenced MMA the focus is more on the damage. You’ll see this in how fighters execute their striking techniques—heavy with the intention to knock an opponent down.
Which Is the Better Martial Art Form?
If you’re looking to become a great MMA fighter in the future, your best course of action would probably be to enroll in an MMA gym. Still, experts recommend that you master one base style and cycle your learning time with other martial art forms to become a better-rounded fighter.
Muay Thai is still one of the most popular base styles for MMA these days. Having a strong foundation in it or any base style you choose can only help you progress further as a martial artist.