Why do Thai Boxers Dominate Kickboxing?
This is the second of two articles about kickboxing and Muay Thai, and why kickboxers don’t succeed in Muay Thai the same way Thai Boxers succeed in kickboxing. Last time we looked at kickboxers and their lack of success in Muay Thai, in this article we’ll look at why it’s not a two way street.
We looked last time at kickboxing, and how the tools and pace of kickboxing doesn’t adequately prepare you for Muay Thai competition. So, what about the Thai boxer, who chooses to swap to kickboxing? Why do they fare so much better, today we have Petpanomrung, Sittichai and Superbon who all left professional Muay Thai to pursue lucrative careers in kickboxing. Being the top fighters in their division with wins over all the best names. Not to mention the great Buakaw, one of the top 5 greatest kickboxers of all time, who did the same thing in the 2000’s.
What obstacles to Thai Boxers Face in Kickboxing?
Thai Boxers have to adjust to having fewer weapons. While legal in Muay Thai, kickboxing prohibits unlimited clinching and elbows, and the fights are contested in a short span of time. Meaning that fighters such as Muangthai, who rely on clinch and elbow work, are ill fit for kickboxing, which focuses on the striking aspects of Muay Thai those fighters don’t excel at.
However, in practise, those clinch and elbow based fighters rarely enter kickboxing competition to begin with. Instead, we get the fighters who excel at kicks, punches and knees entering the sport instead, and they comparatively have to adapt very little in order to succeed in the sport.
The main obstacle they have to overcome is adapting to the faster pace of the sport. This doesn’t mean that they have to fight at that quicker pace, but they do need to be aware of it in order to adequately shut down faster fighters. Muay Thai famously starts slow, as gambling was until very recently a very big part of the sports culture. The first two rounds would be contested slowly to allow for gamblers to continue to place their bets. The third and fourth rounds would be where the real fight would start, before the fifth round typically would see the pace slowed.
Kickboxing is all action for three short rounds, and Thai Boxers have to be ready to control their opponent for that span of time. Last time we spoke about how kickboxers were ill prepared for longer fighters in Muay Thai, Thai Boxers on the other hand can benefit from the shorter rounds; they already have the cardio for it and are typically technical enough that they do not need to fight at a fast pace in order to win, they can simply shut down their opponent’s quicker work rate. This means Thai boxers are normally quite good at outlasting their opponents and picking up the win later in the fight.
While clinching is not strictly speaking legal in kickboxing, all Thai boxers have enough familiarity with the clinch that they are able to tie up their opponents, and land a few legal knees in the time allowed. This has proved controversial in the past, when Petchmorrakot’s win vs. Giorgio Petrosyan was over turned for excessive clinching. Excessive clinching that, while he should have certainly been warned about, and should have seen Petrosyan awarded the decision, still did not warrant a post change in decision.
Clinching and kickboxing have long been the source of controversy mind you, with Buakaw able to dominate all his opponents in the clinch, which lead to the clinch being limited to only a few seconds in K-1 (which was carried over by Glory and ONE Championship).
The Difference in Opposition
Last time we detailed how Thai Boxers train for twelve sessions a week, not including personal training for their entire lives and how this results in far better trained, more experienced opponents than what you find in kickboxing. This also means that they are far better equipped to enter kickboxing, than kickboxers are to enter Muay Thai – as they will have more experience kicking and punching than the majority of their opponents, with far more ring time under their belts. As their skill set is so easily transferable to the new sport you will usually see the Thai boxer referred to as the more experienced fighter.
Cross Over Into Boxing
It’s not just kickboxing, Thai boxers also have a lot of success in Western boxing too. Although they typically fight farworse opposition. We see quite a few prominent Muay Thai boxers competing in professional boxing and actually winning titles, the most famous is of course Samart Payakaroon, but there’s also the brutal Yodsanan Sityodtong, known as the Thai Tyson, who’s fearsome knock out power in Muay Thai, spurred an early career shift to professional boxing where he saw a lot of success. He would make infrequent returns to Muay Thai, where he amusingly enough made more use of his teep than he did his terrifying punching power – showing how smart he really was when it came to Muay Thai.
It's easy to read these articles as being particularly negative towards kickboxing, but I don’t’ feel that way. Kickboxing is a brutal sport that needs to be respected – for its athletes are bold, and skilled fighters. There is just an X-Factor to Thailand, however. There are many martial arts that claim to be the ‘best’ or ‘most effective’. Muay Thai never claims it. In truth it doesn’t need to as when it comes to cross style competition, from kickboxing to MMA, it has been consistently proven to be the best.
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