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After being down in Thailand for about three years, it’s pretty obvious that the weakest part of the Muay Thai game here is the boxing.
I do know that outside of Thailand in Europe, Australia, and North America, there is more emphasis placed on using hands in a Muay Thai fight, and as such, the level of boxing is higher. But in Thailand, especially among Thai’s, their boxing is often quite weak as applied to Muay Thai. This means they often have a limited arsenal of simple hand combos used in a Muay Thai fight that may or may not have a kick or knee thrown in at the end. These are usually one of the following:
To be fair, if you fight in Thailand, punches are not really scored so this likely has a lot to do with it. If you fight with your hands and don’t get a knockout, you will likely lose the fight on points if the other guy opts to kick or knee more than you do. This is probably why Thai’s don’t emphasize hands as much because, well, the scoring system here does not at all favor throwing punches.
However, I’ve seen some very effective Muay Thai fighters who utilize strong boxing skills to deliver win after win; strong boxing can particularly be an advantage against more technically sound Muay Thai fighters.
Landing vicious combos with the hands can completely throw a better Muay Thai fighter off his game allowing you to land kicks, knees, and elbows. It can also make your opponent hesitant to engage in close fighting. And of course, if you have strong hands, you can at any point in the fight win by a hand KO.
You can often smash your opponent with your hands and land blow after blow IF you use some of the more rarely used (or seen) combos in Muay Thai. These ‘rare’ combos in Muay Thai, however, are some of the mainstay combos of boxing, which means if you have a boxing background, you should have no problem using these when needed.
If you don’t use these combos, then it would benefit your Muay Thai to start to practice them in sparring.
This is the third article in my three part Boxing for Muay Thai series:
- Boxing vs. Muay Thai (examines the subtle differences in movement, stance, hand position between the two sports
- How to Use Boxing Effectively in Muay Thai (looks at how to apply, adapt, and modify a pure boxing style for Muay Thai fighting)
- Best Boxing Combos Wickedly Effective for Muay Thai
13 of the Most Effective Boxing Combos in Muay Thai
Some combos are more effective than others. Here are some of the most effective boxing combos that work in Muay Thai. I haven’t ordered this list, but every single one of these I’ve seen used many times to devastating effect. And quite a few of them I use myself and can verify often will catch your opponent by surprise.
SINGLE JAB COMBOS
The Jab is the most bread and butter way to start any combination. Why? Because it works! You’ll find in Muay Thai, most hand combos start with the jab BUT are either JAB – CROSS or JAB – CROSS – HOOK or JAB – RIGHT KICK or JAB – CROSS – RIGHT LEG KICK.
Nak Muay will often be ready for these type of combos, so unless your timing is bang on, you probably won’t land many clean shots. However, if you pair a Jab with some rarely utilized strikes, like the UPPERCUT, you can often land a vicious power shot at the end of the combo because your opponent won’t expect it. This is particularly true if you fight in Thailand against Thai’s.
1. JAB – CROSS / OVERHAND RIGHT
Yes, it’s the most basic combo out there, but in Muay Thai it can be highly effective if you time it right. To make it work, you really have to lunge forward hard with the overhand right to punch through the high Muay Thai guard.
I would say due to the sheer simplicity of this combo; the standard JAB-CROSS is probably the most effective combo in Muay Thai — IF timed perfectly.
If it’s not timed well (i.e. it is blocked), then the JAB-CROSS is a great way to set up a leg kick or body kick as your opponent will have their hands up high if they block it successfully. Check out any highlight knockout reel about Muay Thai, and you’ll find a number of the knockouts with hands happen with this simple combo.
I have found that the Thai boxers tend to throw more of a power overhand right than a standard ‘boxing style straight right cross’ after the jab. To make this combo land on your opponent’s unguarded face (and you can look at some of the clips below to verify this), the key is to hit them with a hard JAB first (not a light tap) which will push their gloves and head down a bit THEN follow up with a full power overhand right where you drive the full force of your right hand up and then downward, curving your glove down.
You REALLY want to push forward with your lead leg and drive your whole body. This will have your overhand right often punch through and land a clean shot. I’ve seen many a KO this way. If you just throw a light jab and half-hearted overhand right, your combo will be blocked!
You can find any number of examples below of how effective this simple, yet devastating combo is.
Masato gives this combo to Buakaw during their K1 rematch:
Another example from an Australian friend who fought this match (Leigh):
The Legendary Somrak showing how effective the basic jab + cross combo is in Muay Thai if timed right:
Sudsakorn Sor Klinmee giving a good example of the basic jab + cross combo:
And Sudakorn showing again how effective the most basic of basic combos can be by modifying it slightly with a leaping jab followed by the overhand:
2. JAB – CROSS – LEFT UPPERCUT
This one is not as common as the JAB-CROSS-LEFT HOOK, and as such, it can be effective as the opponent doesn’t expect the left uppercut, especially if you have been throwing jab-cross-left hook combos first. If you fight in Thailand and wear the small 8 ounce gloves, the uppercut can easily ram through the Thai-style guard. This combo is best done when the opponent is backpedaling and near the ropes.
You can see an example of this combo with the addition of a 4th punch, the power overhand right (JAB-CROSS-LEFT UPPERCUT-OVERHAND RIGHT ) used against a Lumpinee champion by a Chinese Muay Thai fighter with superb boxing:
Note this JAB-CROSS-LEFT UPPERCUT-OVERHAND RIGHT is a combo is also used in western boxing as witnessed here:
3. JAB – RIGHT UPPERCUT (one of the most effective boxing combos in Muay Thai)
I’ve seen this one used VERY effectively in Muay Thai fights. The Jab + Right Uppercut combo is most effective when your opponent is MOVING TOWARDS YOU AGGRESSIVELY as he will run into the uppercut. It’s often used in boxing when the opponent comes into aggressively engage with hands held high up in a high guard.
Well, it just happens that in Muay Thai, the boxing ‘high guard’ is the normal hand position, which is the perfect target for this combo. Don’t try this combo IF your opponent is moving AWAY from you or too far or you will end up out of position. It’s also very effective if you back your opponent near the ropes so they can’t move back.
The key is to pop a hard jab, so your opponent covers up then quickly tilt slightly to the right for an angle and then slam a hard uppercut to the face.
The traditional Muay Thai hand position keeps the hands high with the elbows pointed out and toward the opponent with a big gap in between the forearms; add to this the fact that most fighters down in Thailand wear small 8 ounce gloves and you have the perfect invitation to slam a full powered right uppercut right through the guard, between the forearms.
If you time this combo right, you can smoke your opponent with a powerful uppercut.
And in this famous K1 fight, Masato lands punch after punch on Buakaw with the JAB + UPPERCUT combo. Considering Buakaw is a high-level Thai boxer, Masato’s fight is a master course in how to throw a good Thai boxer off his game with strong boxing skills.
Especially note that it’s mostly Masato’s vicious inside left and right uppercuts that land on Buakaw, in part due to the rather unconventional combos leading with an uppercut or ending in an uppercut:
Masato pulls this combo off yet again against Baukaw:
4. JAB – RIGHT UPPERCUT – LEFT HOOK
Another variation on the basic JAB + UPPERCUT, but it can work wonders. Chances are, either the Uppercut or the left hook will punch through. There really is no reason why not to finish the JAB – RIGHT UPPERCUT with a left hook if you can get away with it.
Watch Masato unleash this on Buakaw:
5. JAB – OVERHAND RIGHT
This one is the power combo. You jab then come straight with a looping overhand right at full power, leaving forward to punch through the guard. If you angle your fist over, you can sometimes hit behind the ear, even if your opponent has their guard up.
But ideally, you can throw both shots and hit cleanly which might result in a KO. This is the main punch combo you’ll find used in Muay Thai.
Watch Buakaw pull this one off in one of his K1 fights:
6. JAB – STRAIGHT RIGHT TO BODY
In the later rounds when your opponent gets tired, this combo can end the fight in a body KO. You set it up by jabbing to the face. This will have your opponent raise both hands; then you shoot forward keeping your body straight and punch down HARD to the center of the stomach, in the solar plexus area. If you catch your opponent right, you can KO them.
You still have to be very careful when you go in for this shot. The risk is that you will take a right kick as you come in or exit from the body shot or you will eat a knee. It’s very important that you do NOT bend your head and waste downward as this will leave your head vulnerable to a knee. Keep your body straight which will keep the head higher than the knee level.
Qui Jianliang gives a good example of this against Lumpinee champion Saketdao Sor.Yingjalernkanchang in the 2014 Max Muay Thai tourney in China:
Samrak showing a good example of the Jab to face followed by a hard body punch:
My brother beat a very good opponent with this shot: (watch the full fight here):
DOUBLE JAB COMBOS
Double jabs are rarely utilized in Muay Thai. Starting off your combos with a double jab can seriously confuse your opponent in Muay Thai sparring or fights. Starting a powerful combo with a double jab is of the BEST ways to land some clean follow up shots, especially if you finish with a devastating power uppercut or overhand right.
7. JAB – JAB – RIGHT UPPERCUT
The double jab is not a common punch attack in Muay Thai. As such doing a double jab will completely mess up your opponent’s expectations (it’s usually a JAB – CROSS or JAB – CROSS – LEFT HOOK that Thai boxers throw) making it easier for you to land a hard right uppercut. Like the JAB – RIGHT UPPERCUT combo, it’s best used when your opponent moves towards you as he will walk right into the uppercut.
Samart, the Thai boxing legend, shows you how this combo is done right against someone coming forward:
And watch Masato teach the Assassin from Bangkok a lesson about boxing as the Thai warrior pushes forward:
8. JAB – JAB – CROSS
Again, making use of the unconventional double jab to set up a power shot with the right-hand throws will throw off your opponent’s timing, especially as the double jab is not used often. Watch Masato do it to Buakaw:
LEADING STRAIGHT RIGHT COMBOS
It’s not common in Muay Thai to start off a hand combo with a straight right. Because your opponent will not expect this, you can often land a clean hit with the first punch. As such, starting off a combo with a well-timed straight right can be an effective way to land a string of clean combos to the face. I’ve seen a number of KO’s happen this way in Muay Thai fights.
9. STRAIGHT RIGHT – LEFT BODY HOOK
Most people expect a jab and are taken by surprise if you lead with a straight right. It’s likely your opponent will cover up with both hands (especially the Thai style guard which is high), and you can immediately drop in for body hook to the liver. I’ve seen a number of KO’s happen like this.
10. STRAIGHT RIGHT – LEFT UPPERCUT
You drive a hard straight RIGHT into the opponents face then follow up with a LEFT UPPERCUT to the face. The same principle applies as in the above combo — your opponent will expect a jab to lead NOT a straight right. You can often land a clean uppercut right after if you get the timing just right.
Watch Somrak pull this one off with an added kick after the uppercut:
11. STRAIGHT RIGHT – LEFT CROSS
Another combo that takes your opponent by surprise by starting out with a straight right. Since your opponent expects a leading JAB first, not a powerful straight right, you can often land a clean shot with your right hand on the first go then a clean show with your LEFT CROSS as again your opponent doesn’t expect you to throw a LEFT CROSS.
Look at how Masato does it to Buakaw here.
Note that Masato does a slight fake right hand before actually throwing the right. This confuses Buakaw and helps the leading right get through:
LEADING UPPERCUT COMBOS
It’s unconventional to start a combo, especially in Muay Thai, with either a left or right uppercut. And while you do put yourself in a position to get elbowed by being so close, if you time this combo right, you can often land some clean shots, either with the first or last punch in the combo. If you really get the timing right, you can land both shots clean for a KO or knockdown.
12. LEFT UPPERCUT – OVERHAND RIGHT
Another rather under-used combo in Muay Thai. Your opponent won’t see it coming if you time it right. Best used when the opponent is moving aggressively forward with hands held high looking to clinch with you.
Tilt slightly to the left and throw out a hard, vicious left uppercut followed by a full power overhand right. Your opponent may shell up for the uppercut, but if you throw a hard overhand right, you can often punch right through the guard and deliver a devastating blow.
Masato knocked Baukaw to the ground with this combo in their K1 fight:
Qui Jianliang pulls off a variation of the combo with a lead left uppercut to the body, followed by an overhand right against this against Lumpinee champion Saketdao Sor.Yingjalernkanchang:
Somrak pulls off the lead left uppercut + right cross (not a right overhand) here:
13. RIGHT UPPERCUT + LEFT HOOK
Leading with a right uppercut is NOT common in Muay Thai. If your opponent is coming forward with a high guard, you are in a perfect position to start a combo with a RIGHT uppercut.
Look at this example in the Max Muay Thai 2014 China fight where Qui Jianliang successfully launches into a vicious combo starting with the right uppercut, left hook:
Watch this Jack Siam pull this combo off (watch the full fight here — a good example of ‘Thai style boxing’ in a Muay Thai fight):
BONUS MOVE: You can sometimes slam a single right uppercut if the opponent is coming forward without a follow-up punch:
The Final Word
If you look at the boxing combos above, you’ll see they can all be used effectively in Muay Thai. These combos WORK because they are rarely used in Muay Thai (especially the Traditional style of Muay Thai as found in Thailand). If you (regularly) practice some of these combos, you’ll find your boxing improves dramatically when you apply it to Muay Thai.
Mind you, just because you read about a couple of combos does NOT mean you can actively apply them when you spar or fight. You’ve got to practice them over and over on the heavy bag until you can pull them off without thinking.
It takes boxers a long time indeed to automatically pepper their opponents with beautiful, yet deadly combos. Don’t expect to master your hands with a week of work!
Besides working on the heavy bag, you also have to specifically work on trying to apply them WHILE SPARRING. So don’t think that you are going to suddenly pull off these combos without putting weeks or months of effort into trying to apply them while sparring.
But the good news is that IF YOU DO WORK ON THESE COMBOS, your hands will be much more deadly when spar or fight Muay Thai.
Fight Videos You Must Watch Where Superior Boxing Delivers Wins in Muay Thai Matches
Another fight where a superior boxer (Masato) beats a technically skilled Muay Thai fighter (Buakaw). Yes, I know this is K1, and the rules are not the same with no lengthy clinch, elbows, and knees. But, Buakaw is a Muay Thai boxer and his style, even though he fights K1 Kickboxing is very Muay Thai-ish. Pay close attention to the use of Uppercuts by Masato to land vicious punches on the Thai boxer.
One more example I recently saw at a fight night here in Thailand where a foreign Nak Muay from South Africa comes back from a certain loss with a devastating KO. This guy has beaten a bunch of high-level Thai’s recently. He fights very unorthodoxly, but he has hands that are brutally effective for Muay Thai — especially against your bread and butter style traditional Muay Thai. Watching him fight Thai’s is a master course in how to use your hands to win fights in Thailand:
If you enjoyed reading this article make sure you check out our new books called Muay Thai Strategy and Muay Thai Counters. These books were written to help you develop a complete game in Muay Thai and will teach you how to beat your next opponent.