Kickboxing vs Muay Thai | Which is Better Really?

When it comes to striking focused martial arts, kickboxing and muay thai  are up there among the best, we can safely say not too many would argue with that.

However, people still question which one is the better of the two to learn. I guess it’s in our nature to strive to find the best in everything.

Kickboxing vs Muay thai, which is really better?

In this article, we’ll  take a look at each martial art, what they are, the similarities, the differences, the benefits of both and most importantly, try to answer the burning question posted in the title. 

kickboxing vs muay thai

Which Kickboxing Style vs Muay Thai

Before we get into the differences between muay thai and kickboxing, let me clarify one thing first. There are many different types of kickboxing, almost every country has its own variation. Dutch style, Japanese K1 style and American style just to name a few.

In this article we’ll only talk about American style kickboxing, as  K1 or Dutch style is really a hybrid of kickboxing and muay thai.

What is Kickboxing?

American style kickboxing emerged in the 1970s, by mixing western boxing and karate. It was brought into prominence in 1974, when the Professional Karate Association held the first world championships.  

Simply put, kickboxing is basically a stand-up combat sport fought in a ring, using punches and kicks. 

Some of the most famous kickboxers include the Roufus brothers, Rick Roufus and Duke Roufus. More fascinating stories on the Roufus brothers later in the article.

What is Muay Thai?

Muay thai also known as Thai boxing, was developed in Thailand with roots in the art of Muay Boran which was the fighting art used by Siamese warriors against other tribes in Thailand.

Also known as the art of eight limbs, muay thai in brief is basically a combat sport fought in a ring(sometimes in a cage, ie One Championship Muay Thai), using not only stand-up strikes like punches, kicks, knees and elbows, also various clinching techniques. 

Some of the most famous muay thai fighters include Saenchai, who is truly a master of the art, with his unique fighting style and showmanship. And of course Buakaw, two time K1 champion, who is probably one of the most popular fighters with his aggressive style. 

kickboxing vs muay thai

What’s The Difference Between Kickboxing and Muay Thai?

Kickboxing and muay thai share many similarities. For example both are ring sports, where fighters wear boxing gloves and strike each other under a certain set of rules, within a specified time limit.  

But there are also very distinct differences between the two arts. Here are some of the biggest differences between kickboxing and muay thai. 

Striking Arsenal

The first thing you may notice is that the muay thai fighters strike with punches, elbows, kicks and knees. Whereas in kickboxing, you’re only allowed to strike with punches and kicks. 

This is because kickboxing is a four point contact striking system, while muay thai is an eight point contact striking system, hence muay thai is also called “the art of eight limbs”. 

Clinch Fighting

Another main difference that’s quite easy to notice is clinch fighting. You may have seen muay thai fighters striking with their elbows and knees during a clinch, while clinch fighting is not allowed in kickboxing. 

Striking Style

One major difference between kickboxing and muay thai is their style of striking. Kickboxers tend to utilize more boxing, elusive head movement and creating angles using sleek footwork, throwing punching and kicking combos. 

Whereas the muay thai fighters rely more heavily on kicks and single power shots. They also do not use as much head movement, and their footwork is not as sleek as they move around riding the rhythms of Sarama

Fighting Stance

The kickboxing stance is more sideways, leaving smaller target for the opponent. While in muay thai, fighters stand more squared to make blocking/checking powerful roundhouse kicks easier, which brings out the next difference between kickboxing and muay thai. 


Muay thai kicks emphasize on turning the hips over to generate as much power as possible, also to make contact with the strongest part of your shin (the sharper part of tibia). Kickboxers also turn their hip, but they mostly make contact with their feet and lower shins. 

One of the main reasons kickboxers don’t stand more squared like the muay thai fighters, is that they don’t have to worry about powerful low kicks to the leg. As low kicks are not allowed in kickboxing (American style). 

Speaking of low kicks, there’s an interesting story related to the Roufus brothers as mentioned in the earlier in the article. Rick Roufus was one of the best American kickboxers back in the 80’s.

The Roufus brothers believed their kickboxing style is the most superior and trumps all the rest. To prove this, in 1988, Rick Roufus went on to fight Changpuek Kiatsongrit, a muay thai fighter from Thailand, who is known to be one of the first thai fighters to fight outside of Thailand, and showcase the effectiveness of muay thai to the world.

Here is the video of that famous fight between Rick Roufus and Changpuek Kiatsongrit, a kickboxing vs muay thai fight that changed history. 

Kickboxing vs Muay Thai for Weight Loss

Both muay thai and kickboxing are great for weight loss. In fact, most if not all martial arts are good for weight loss. Muay thai and kickboxing training involves a lot of HIIT (high intensity interval training), which is one of the best exercises when it comes to weight loss.

I have tried all sorts of different exercises over the years, and trust me, nothing beats a workout you get from a combat sports training, especially if it involves sparring as well. 

What Are the Benefits of Kickboxing and Muay Thai?

Here’s a list of some of the most amazing benefits that comes along with muay thai and kickboxing training:

  • Great physical exercise and improves cardiovascular health
  • Enhances you self discipline
  • Boosts your self confidence
  • Relieves stress and improves mental health
  • Widens your social circle with like minded people
  • Teaches you self defense

Kickboxing vs Muay Thai for Self Defense

Again, both of these arts are highly effective for self defense. In fact, together with boxing, kickboxing and muay thai are some of the best martial arts for self defense, especially when it comes to striking art. 

The easiest way to tell if a martial art is effective for self defense, is to check if that martial art training involves frequent sparring with fully resisting partners. 

The best way to prepare for something, is by training and drilling it over and over again, until it becomes part of your muscle memory, and this is what both kickboxing and muay thai offers. 

Another important aspect of both kickboxing and muay thai training, is that they teach you how to react after getting hit. This is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome for most people, as our natural response system without training would put us in a state of shock, and freeze for a moment. 

In a self defense situation, how you react to attacks in a split second is critical.  


So kickboxing vs muay thai, which is better for you?

Truth be told, they are really two different sides of the same coin. Although there are some key differences between the two, they both offer some amazing benefits, and both are great martial arts to learn. 

Overall I think muay thai is a more complete fighting system, therefor the better one to learn if you had to pick one. But kickboxing is the better art when is comes to punches, head movement and footwork.

We suggest to try both out in your local clubs, see which one you prefer and stick with it. One thing for certain is, you can’t really go wrong no matter which one you choose!