Let’s face it, you will never be good enough to beat a fighter like Saenchai, and that’s ok. However, with enough training, you can learn to beat fighters who are technically better than you with better timing. A number of fighters have made careers off being able to take down fighters who are better than them on paper.
One of the things I’ve learned from watching countless live fights in Thailand is that the better fighter doesn’t always win. I’ve witnessed fighters who had bad technique, scrape out wins against opponents who were technically much better than them. Just because a fighter has more experience and should win on paper, doesn’t actually mean that fighter ends up with his or her hand raised.
The beautiful thing about the fight game is that there are many factors that go into winning. Skill and technique are one aspect of the equation, but there are other important factors like conditioning, power, size, and heart that can also play a significant role in the final outcome.
The uncertainty that exists in competition is what makes Muay Thai the perfect sport for gambling. If the best fighter always won, there wouldn’t be anything to bet on.
A good example of this is Panpayak’s KO loss in Thai Fight against Henrique Muller. Even though Panpayak was the heavy favorite in the fight and should have won with ease, he lost by KO. While trying to hunt for a knockout against his opponent, he ended up getting caught with a left hook to the chin. Lights out.
There is a reason they say that anything can happen in the ring. Superior skill and technique can tip the scales heavily in a fighter’s favor and will result in that fighter winning the majority of the time, but don’t underestimate a scrappy fighter with a lot of heart.
Before I break down a few key factors to winning a match against a superior opponent, it is important to know that the level of skill difference matters. You can have the best stamina, power, and biggest heart, but if the skill difference is too great you will lose. To beat a better opponent, your skill needs to be within reach of your opponent. Put a beginner against an experienced fighter, the beginner will get destroyed.
I wrote an article that describes the different skill levels in Muay Thai (read it here). If you want a shot at beating someone, you need to be within two levels of your opponent. If the gap is too large, no fighting strategy will be enough to overcome the skill gap unless you win by a lucky punch. Those are the facts.
How to Beat Someone Who Is Better Than You
Step 1. Have Superior Cardio
Cardio matters in fighting. If you have enough cardio to last 4 rounds in a 5 round fight, you better pray that your opponent has the same level of cardio as you.
One of the best advantages you can have against a more skilled opponent is to have the superior cardio. You achieve superior cardio by putting in the extra work before, during and after your training. Those 10k runs you do in the morning and evening are going to pay dividends in the fourth and fifth rounds of the fight.
Nothing is more disheartening than being tired in the later rounds and seeing your opponent looking full of energy and ready to go. Your mind will start to panic when you realize you have another two full rounds to go against someone who can sustain a much higher output.
Regardless of skill and technique, when a fighter gets tired, they fight differently. Even Saenchai, the greatest fighter in the world, is a different fighter when he’s tired. The difference between him and other fighters is that he knows his gas tank like a fine-tuned car engine. This allows him to conserve just enough energy to make it all 3 rounds (he only fights 3 rounds these days) without fading at the end.
Example: Toby Smith is a fighter who possesses endless cardio and applies lots of pressure. He has beaten some very skilled Thais because of his insane cardio.
Step 2. Constant Pressure
Let’s assume that you have the better cardio than your opponent, now you need to make sure you exploit that cardio advantage. How can we take advantage of superior cardio? Make your opponent tired.
The best way to make your opponent tired is to come forward with pressure.
Most skilled fighters like to fight at a distance. Ideally, they will outpoint you with well-timed kicks, punches, elbows, and knees. Their goal is to pick you apart and break your spirit with their superior skill.
Fortunately, you have the stamina to push the pace forward. By coming forward with relentless pressure, you will start to wear down your opponent. A great example of this pressure is when you watch Yolanda Schmidt fight high-level Thais. Even though her opponents have great skill, Yolanda’s relentless pressure wears them down and they end up looking completely different in the later rounds of the fight.
If you are good in the clinch, use that to your advantage also. Clinching is extremely tiring if you are going back and forth with an opponent. By swarming your opponent in the clinch, you will wear down their muscles and slow down their kicks and punches.
Example: Yolanda Schmidt is another high-level fighter who has beaten some very skilled opponents. Her constant pressure wears down opponents who are unable to keep up the pace throughout the fight.
Step 3. Have a Strong Defense
An underlying trait that you need to beat more skilled opponents is the ability to take damage. If you face someone who is better than you, they will land a lot of shots on you. If you walk forward with your chin up and exposed to the sun, expect to be put to sleep.
The only way you can survive a hard fight with a superior opponent is to be able to protect your vital areas throughout the fight. While you will take a lot of damage against good opponents, you will absorb damage where you can take it.
There are certain areas of the body that you should avoid taking damage. For example, avoid head trauma is one area where you should be extra cautious.
Example: Rafi Bohic is a two-time Lumpinee champion who often beats opponents that have better timing and speed. He often relies on his defense to get close to his opponent and utilize his strong punches and clinching skills. This fight against Bobo Sacko showcases his defense in the first few rounds before he turns on the heat and demolishes Bobo in the clinch later on.
Step 4. Turn the Fight into a Scrap (Punches in Bunches)
Trying to have a beautiful Muay Thai fight against a more skilled opponent is a recipe for a loss on points. They will outpoint you throughout the fight and you will be left wondering what you could have done differently when the fight ends.
When you fight someone who is better at kicks or even in the clinch, you need to know how to Box effectively. Letting your hands go in a fight can help give you an edge in a fight, even if you end up losing in the end.
Fighting ugly can throw a technical fighter off his game. You have to understand that technical fighters want to play a back and forth game of cat and mouse. They want you to strike, so they can counter. They want to stay in rhythm and control the fight from the outside, while you try your best to land shots on them.
Turning the fight into a scrap doesn’t mean swinging recklessly. By throwing caution to the wind, you are greatly increasing the chances that you end up on the canvas asleep.
Fighting ugly means that you smother your opponent, swarm them and use any techniques you can to constantly pressure them. You don’t need beauty to win a fight, you just need persistence and the ability to keep going.
Example: Even though Chad Collins loses the fight, in the end, he does enough to make the fight close in the end. His opponent Manachai is a highly skilled Muay Thai assassin who is deadly in the clinch with his knees and elbows. Chadd relies on his scrapy punches to hurt Manachai has he tries to engage with knees coming forward.
Step 5. Be Mentally Strong
Mental toughness is the final recipe needed to beat a superior opponent. If you don’t have the mind to keep going when you feel like you can’t win, you will not win.
There will be moments in the fight when you feel that your cause is hopeless. No matter what you throw at your opponent, they seem to block everything you do. However, there will be a few moments where suddenly your opponent starts to fatigue. In the later rounds of the fight, you superior cardio will start to reveal itself.
All of those extra hill sprints and conditioning drills you did after training will start paying off.
Mental toughness is required because fighting is about highs and lows. You will have moments of brilliance and you will have moments of doubt. The key is to keep pushing forward and believing that you can win the fight.
Example: Even though he lost this fight, Chris Shaw showed huge heart in this battle against Superlek. He was sliced and diced in the first round by elbows, but he kept coming forward and didn’t give up the entire fight. While this could have easily been a KO, he took Thai champion Superlek the distance with his relentless heart.
Bonus Factor: Possess Knockout Power
There are some fighters out there who possess natural knockout abilities. If you happen to be one of those fighters, you don’t have the be the most skilled fighter in the world because you just need to land one punch to end the power.
I threw this in at the end because most of the people reading this won’t ever possess any of that power.
There are a number of fighters like Yodlekphet who make a living off knocking out tough opponents in the ring. Even though they are often out skilled in every match, they walk forward and hunt for that one big shot to end the fight. Some even win on points if their opponents are running away throughout the fight.
While you can improve your hitting power, most fighters are either born with this power or not. You aren’t going to train an average Joe who doesn’t hit that hard, into the next Mike Tyson. Mike Tyson was born with physical gifts that allowed him to hit like a train. Unfortunately, not all of us were born with such gifts.
Yodlekphet is a fighter who possesses devastating knockout power. If you don’t win by knockout, he usually loses on points.
Bonus Factor 2: Be Bigger Than Your Opponent
This is a factor that is completely out of your control but is a factor that a lot of promoters use to balance skill differences. Foreigner fighters will often be given a size advantage against their Thai opponents to help balance out the playing field.
Size matters in fighting. If you fight someone who is significantly smaller than you, they will need to expand more energy trying to keep up. While fighters like Saenchai prove that size isn’t everything, if you are closer in skill level, then the larger fighter can have an advantage if they have a reach and strength advantage.
Try clinching with someone who is 20lbs heavier than you in the clinch and you will see how much more energy it takes to keep up with the larger fighter.
Fighting is a beautiful art. There will be some opponents you face that no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to beat them. You can have the best stamina, heart, and pressure in the world, but an experienced fighter will know how to weather the storm.
The truth about fighting is that you will win and you will lose. Fighters who try to protect their records don’t understand that there are many lessons to be learned from losses. In fact, you will often learn more from your losses than when you win a fight.
You can’t control how good your opponent is or how they fight. But you can control how hard you train for a fight and what you do in the fight.
Remember, fighting is all about learning and improving. As long as you learn something from a fight, you should keep your head high and move on to the next one. Win, lose or draw be proud that you stepped into the ring and gave it you’re all.