This is an introduction to my new Muay Thai for MMA series.
This is a subject I’m personally interested in and I’ve been meaning to write some in-depth articles about the topic. I’ve trained ‘pure’ MMA for a number of years and while I never competed at a professional level in the sport, I used to compete and do well in the amateur circuit. I’ve also trained and fought Muay Thai up here in Thailand for a number of years, so I feel I have a good perspective of Muay Thai, both from the MMA perspective and from a pure Muay Thai perspective.
As a purist in Muay Thai, but one who has also spent time (on the dark side as some Nak Muay would call it) training and competing in MMA, I’ve noticed that while some of Muay Thai’s techniques are represented in MMA world, there is still a LOT of effective Muay Thai weapons that are still underutilized or completely unused in MMA. This, more often than not, is because many MMA fighters do not have enough traditional Muay Thai training (and Muay Thai fights) to confidently apply these techniques against a resisting opponent. But just because you don’t see Muay Thai techniques used in MMA doesn’t mean they can’t work. The Thais, after all, have been utilizing them for nearly a century of ring combat.
This series is an attempt to address that shortcoming and introduce to readers some Muay Thai techniques that CAN work effectively in MMA. For other Muay Thai techniques that do make an appearance in MMA, a case will be made for how applying the proper technique (i.e. do the technique more like Thai’s do) can improve the effectiveness of those strikes in MMA matches under certain circumstances.
This upcoming series will consist of six articles:
- Muay Thai for MMA: Introduction (Part 1)
- Muay Thai vs MMA: The Differences (Part 2)
- Muay Thai For MMA: Effective Elbow Strikes for MMA (Part 3)
- Muay Thai For MMA: Landing the Low Kick (Part 4)
- Muay Thai for MMA: (Real) Thai Clinch Strategies (Part 5)
- Muay Thai for MMA: Knee Strikes That Work (Part 6)
The Popularity of Muay Thai in MMA
Muay Thai is the popular choice when it comes to choosing a striking art to MMA because it delivers a huge quantity of striking tools that can be exploited in MMA matches with devastating results. Quite simply, by training Muay Thai over other striking arts for MMA, you get the best ‘bang’ for your buck time-wise by learning how to utilize ALL 8 limbs as weapons in MMA matches. Compare this to a standup art like boxing (which I personally love) and rather than just learn how to punch, you learn how to punch, kick, knee, and elbow — and clinch to boot!
Muay Thai’s huge bag of deadly tricks work in standup situations; they’ve been working for centuries for the Thai’s, being tested and improved over and over through countless full contact fights.
Muay Thai strikes Work Because They’ve Been Tested…on Thousands of People in thousands of real fights…over centuries
Thai Boxing delivers an arsenal that works simply because the stuff that doesn’t deliver results in full contact standup fights has been effectively filtered out of the sport over the many long years Muay Thai has been practiced. Unlike many of the other Martial Arts, Muay Thai is in essence a fighting art MEANT to be used in real fights. If you come train in Thailand, the Thai people often don’t understand that foreigners want to train Muay Thai just for the passion and health benefits it brings to the table. Why? Because Thai’s train Muay Thai is to FIGHT in the rings of Thailand. To train Muay Thai is to fight Muay Thai.
Muay Thai Techniques in the Cage
Over the (brief) history of Mixed Martial arts we have seen different Muay Thai techniques used by MMA fighters — some more successfully than others.
- The ‘Thai Clinch/Plum’ (which in fact is NOT the Thai clinch but only one small aspect of the proper Thai clinch game)
- Elbow Strikes
- Low Kicks
- Body Kicks
These are all techniques that regularly make appearances in high level MMA fights. As such, each article in this Muay Thai for MMA series will examine ONE of these categories and explore how to BEST implement the different types of strikes in the context of MMA.
Not All Muay Thai is The Same
If you examine the ‘Muay Thai techniques’ used in MMA (specifically during fights) you’ll see the techniques are often quite different than you see pulled off in pure Muay Thai matches. To those who do not train strict Muay Thai, those differences may not be so obvious.
An elbow or a knee or clinch are all ‘Muay Thai’ right?
In fact, no. This is not the case. Just because you throw and elbow or a knee or put both hands behind someone’s neck does NOT mean you are doing Muay Thai. It’s not just about what techniques you perform but HOW you perform them. It’s the HOW you perform the techniques, combined with the perfect timing, that deliver the results.
Proper technique and perfect timing are two areas that Thai’s learn to master. Both require years of training Muay Thai AND lots of experience fighting.
Muay Thai in MMA Doesn’t Look the Same as Muay Thai in Pure Muay Fights
There’s solid reasoning as to why the Muay Thai moves pulled off in MMA fights doesn’t (often) look like the Muay Thai you see pulled off in, well, Muay Thai matches.
Fighters May Lack Muay Thai Experience
MMA fighters typically don’t have the understanding to apply the whole range of Muay Thai techniques in MMA fights because they lack the breadth of experience training and competing under Muay Thai rules that Nak Muay (Muay Thai fighters) have. This can make a difference in HOW you perform the technique and what techniques you are capable (or even know about) of pulling off in a fight.
You can’t really compare someone (a typical MMA fighter) who spends two to three sessions a week working on Muay Thai techniques (often from a Muay Thai coach of suspect qualifications who himself has not lived, trained or fought in Thailand) and has zero Muay Thai fights to someone who trains ONLY Muay Thai for 10-20 years straight, 6 days a week, 5-6 hours a day and regularly fights Muay Thai bouts once a month.
The typical MMA fighter is at most just touching the surface level of Muay Thai in their MMA training while the Thai’s fully and completely master the art. There IS going to be a very big difference in the level of technique and timing between someone who has NO Muay Thai fights or a handful of them and someone who has had 200-300 fights.
As some who has been training up in Thailand full time for a couple years, I can personally verify it takes YEARS of hard training every single day, and many many fights before you actually get decent at Muay Thai. Unless you have that experience and level of practice, it’s hard to pull of the full range of Muay Thai techniques in a fight, be relaxed, and look effortless while you do it. The Thai’s who actually master the sport start training when they are kids and by the time they are in their early teens can have somewhere south of a hundred fights already! Most MMA fights have had 10-20 fights, which is a drop in the bucket compared to Thai boxers.
Let me tell you the number of MMA guys coming down to Thai boxing camps in Thailand only to have to completely re-learn EVERY single technique from zero is very high. It happened to me too when I first came. I thought I knew Muay Thai but I quickly found out the variety of Muay Thai I learned during my MMA training was so bastardized it didn’t actually resemble what the Thai’s taught!
MMA fighters need to master MORE than just a standup art to actually get anywhere in the MMA world, they simply can’t devote the time required to Muay Thai to become competent in the sport. The ones who are (and there are very very very few in the MMA world who are) have their background in Muay Thai rather than using it as supplemental training.
Still, there’s a LOT MMA fighters need to learn from Muay Thai — they are leaving a lot still on the table that can be brought into the MMA world. Some fighters like Jone Jones are introducing ‘new’ techniques to MMA fights that people are unfamiliar with. Or at least attempting them (and granted, the man is able to actually land a good number of them). But if you watch Muay Thai fights in Thailand, you see many of these ‘new’ techniques are regularly used in Muay Thai.
Muay Thai techniques often need to be adjusted to work effectively for MMA fights. The same techniques work for the same positional situations, but the TIMING of when you can apply those techniques (safely) are (sometimes) different between Muay Thai fights and MMA fights.
You can’t simply walk into an MMA fight as a Nak Muay and fight like you do in Muay Thai. You will absolutely lose by getting taken to the ground unless you get lucky. The stance, the movement, and many of the strikes do not lend themselves well to the pace and nature of MMA.
But this is an area that’s fertile for improvement for MMA guys. Just because a Muay Thai technique is not often used in MMA does NOT mean it can’t be used. It’s just a matter of timing, of knowing WHEN you should and shouldn’t use it.
There is often room for a lot of improvement in the way MMA guys do perform Muay Thai technique which can add more speed and power to the strikes.
Different Muay Thai Styles
Fighters who do bring a Muay Thai background to MMA might come from one of the different schools of Muay Thai: Traditional, Dutch, or Brazilian. These styles have a different fight philosophy and look quite a bit different at times.
Brazilian Muay Thai (Chute Boxe)
The most popular style of Muay Thai that appears in MMA. Fighters like Jose Aldo, Anderson Silver, Wanderli Silva, Shogun,and Thiago Alves are all examples of UFC fighters who come from the Brazilian Muay Thai school. This style emphasizes a lot of leg kicks and lots of hands (especially hooks), lots of clinch style knees and lots of pressure. Clinch is not technical as in Thai style and in the context of MMA, it’s used to throw knees to the face.
Compared to Traditional Muay Thai, it looks very wild; but this same wildness makes it effective in MMA.
Look at Jose Aldo and Thiago Alves for examples of Chute Boxing / Brazilian Muay Thai style used in the UFC.
Dutch Muay Thai
A style of Muay Thai that incorporates strong boxing with a lot of flurries, footwork, and brutal leg kicks. Very common is a hand combo followed by a leg kick.
The Dutch style modifies leg strikes so the the shin is turned in more while the fighter is leans to the side to maximize the chopping force. Dutch Muay Thai is utilized by some strikers in MMA.
Look at the legend Ramon Dekkers for a very aggressive, hand-heavy Dutch Muay Thai style:
Traditional Muay Thai (Thailand Style)
The pure style of Muay Thai as practiced by the Thais and one that incorporates all 8 limbs (elbows, kicks, punches, knees). Emphasis is placed on generating as much power as possible with each strike by torquing the hips. Each kick is with hip torque; Elbows utilize hip torque to add more power to the strike; Knees are thrown with the hips thrust forward. Punches are thrown in simple 1-2 or 1-2-3 combos with the intent to KO but boxing is not emphasized as much as kicking (punches are not scored in matches). Elbows and knees are thrown from various angles and positions (and regularly utilized). Clinch work is highly developed to the point of complete mastery. Movement and defense usually consists of standing, blocking strikes with shins or gloves and trading with your opponent with little in the way of defensive moment. Traditional Muay Thai rarely makes an appearance in MMA because many of the movements need to be modified to work in MMA matches.
Look at the a typical style Muay Thai fight:
Here’s Cosmo Alexandre, one of the best traditional Muay Thai boxers who has turned to MMA fighting a pure Muay Thai match.
Here is Cosmo fighting an MMA match using some Muay Thai. Notice he’s modified his stance, the way he moves and even his strikes for MMA:
In our next article, we will look at the specific differences between Muay Thai and MMA Standup. Be sure to read our follow up article, Muay Thai vs MMA: The Differences.
If you guys are missing all those image breakdowns I normally give in my articles to clarify points, fear not, the next article is packed with illustrations!