Despite the meteoric rise in popularity of mainstream mixed martial arts over the past decade, boxing has arguably remained the premier combat sport of the Western world for the past century. As a testament to this, Floyd Mayweather Jr. had been listed as the “World’s Highest-Paid Athlete” consecutively between 2012 and 2015. With the rise of the UFC and other MMA fight promotions, even Pretty Boy Floyd has expressed interest in becoming an MMA promoter at the end of his boxing career. Other boxers, such as Britain’s Amir Khan, have considered a transition into MMA, while some, like former UFC champ Holly Holm, have already done so with great success. In terms of training and technique, the most logical step from the ‘sweet science’ to MMA would probably be what is commonly referred to as the ‘science of eight limbs’ or Muay Thai kickboxing.
The ancient fighting style, which is a staple of Thai culture as well as modern MMA, used to employ very simple hand techniques but gradually adopted many tenets of Western boxing (jabs, straight punches, hooks, uppercuts, etc.). The ‘eight limbs’ is in reference to the eight primary striking points of the Muay Thai fighter’s repertoire: left and right punches, kicks, knees and elbows. As these elements make Muay Thai a much more varied style of fighting than Western boxing, there are many technical differences between the two that should be considered before one transitions from the ‘sweet science’ to the ‘science of eight limbs.’ Here are some of them:
One major thing that sets Muay Thai apart from boxing is its close quarters fighting. The use of elbows allows fighters to use effective techniques at close range, including upward, downward and horizontal strikes. Incorporating elbows into punching combinations can make them less predictable and much more dangerous than boxing alone, as a bent elbow can wield great knockout power as well as an ability to cut and open up wounds.
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A bent knee can be a very effective tool for offensive and defensive fighting. Unbent, the knee is a considerably vulnerable part of the human anatomy, making it easily injured and difficult to repair. But when it is bent, it is quite useful as a weapon and a blocking mechanism (a good example is Chris Weidman’s famous kick-check in his successful title defense against Anderson Silva, albeit very gruesome). Knee strikes are useful in the clinch, in combinations, and can sometimes quickly close distance and achieve knockout results (as in the flying knee).
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Footwork and Kick-Checking
Footwork is very important to both Western boxing and Muay Thai kickboxing, but for distinct reasons. Both art forms require a command over movement, angles and positioning. However, the boxing stance tends to be relatively wide with the lead foot angling inward, whereas the Muay Thai stance is more narrow with the lead foot pointed toward slightly to the outside. This is mostly because of the need to check kicks (i.e. bending at the knee and raising the shin to block). Either the shin or knee can be used to block, with the latter method generally posing more danger to the opponent (as in the aforementioned Silva-Weidman 2 TKO).
Western boxers are separated when caught in the clinch. Muay Thai, on the other hand, embraces the clinch as a fighting technique unto itself. Clinch fighting is somewhat similar to grappling, but in a standing position, with the main objective being to control the opponent, leaving them open for close quarter offense such as knees or sweeps. It looks a bit like BJJ pummeling, and similarly interweaves opponents’ arms to leverage one’s balance against another.
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Since elbows and knees are allowed in Muay Thai and not in Western boxing, the manner in which fighters exercise head movement differs drastically between the two disciplines. One of the most important things to consider in this regard is that, since there is no kneeing allowed in Western boxing, bobbing and weaving can be done much more liberally than in Muay Thai, where careless head movement can cause a fighter to eat a knee.
Photo credit: MartialArtsNomad.com
Cover photo: Mith Huang