Generally speaking, being taller is going to give you a natural advantage in a fight. Without taking into account other factors like speed, agility, timing, skill, fitness etc., if you take two fighters who are the same level, the fighter with more reach will be able to land more shots.

In our last article in our Short vs Tall series, we discussed specific techniques that shorter fighters can use to counter a tall opponent’s reach advantages.

This follow-up article, however, is designed for tall fighters who are facing shorter opponents.

While you might assume that this guide is only beneficial for taller fighters, unless you are Saenchai’s height (very short), most people will encounter situations when they have reach and height advantages.

This article looks at some specific strategies that fighters can utilize against shorter opponents.

Note, this is the second article in our 3 part Short vs Tall series:

  1. How to Counter Reach and Height Advantages in Muay Thai
  2. Strategies for Maximizing Reach and Height Advantages
  3. Techniques that are Effective Against Shorter Opponents

Natural Defensive Advantages

It is important to realize that the amount of reach and height difference between the two fighters is going to make a difference. The gifs I use in this article show fights that have a big disparity in height between the fighters. The closer two fighters are in height, the less of an advantage for the taller fighter.

Notice the defensive advantage that Damien has against elbows and knees from the shorter Saenchai.

Notice the defensive advantage that Damien has against elbows and knees from the shorter Saenchai.

Taller fighters have a natural defensive advantage against shorter fighters. A perfect example of this is shown in the picture with Damien Alamos vs Saencahi. Notice that Damien’s height makes it difficult for Saenchai to utilize techniques like slashing, upwards or horizontal elbows. Unless Saenchai uses techniques like flying or jumping elbow attack, the taller Damien is simply ‘out of reach’ to use many elbow techniques against.

Another defensive edge that taller fighters possess is against knees. When large gaps in height exist in a match, a shorter fighters knees will not be able to reach the mid section of the taller fighter unless they are jumping. They are much less limited in the type of knee strikes that they can utilize in a fight. Kneeing the leg of a taller fighter is one of the only effective strategies that short fighters can use in the clinch.

The height difference between fighters will determine how much natural defensive advantage one fighter has. If one fighter is only 2 or 3 inches taller that is much less significant than a 6+ inch advantage.

Fighting at Distance vs The Clinch

Fighting at Distance

A common strategy that can be effective for taller fighters is using reach advantage to make it difficult for the shorter fighter to get into striking range. This is a strategy that is very effective in Western Boxing. Taller boxers who have a significant reach advantage will often use their long range to stay on the outside and prevent the shorter fighter from getting inside is strikes.

Given the natural reach advantage over a shorter opponent, keeping the shorter opponent at a distance makes logical sense when you have a very long jab. While this works great when you are only using hands in boxing, it is a different ball game when you talk about Muay Thai – the Science of 8 limbs.

The advantage the taller fighter has at a distance will greatly depend on the skill of the opponent. Fighting a shorter fighter who is quick and agile can make it extremely difficult to land effective strikes in range. Alternatively, there are shorter fighters who are built like tanks, who are often looking to close the distance with big punches.

When it comes to fighting at a distance it all comes down to skill and style matchups over height and reach advantages.

This strategy is effective against inexperienced fighters who don’t how to effectively counter taller fighters. At a distance, a skillful opponent can be very difficult to land clean strikes on because they will utilize quickness and speed to block your techniques. Techniques like lean backs and catching kicks/teeps can allow a short fighter to close the gap and land some clean strikes on taller opponents.

The advantage that taller fighters have at a distance depends mainly on the style matchup. Before I discuss why taller fighters have the biggest advantage in the clinch, here are a couple gifs showcasing how a smaller fighter can beat a taller fighter at a distance.

This Gif captures how shorter fighters will counter you in kicking range

Whenever you have a lot of height you aren’t going to be as quick as the little guys

If the lean back isn’t there the shorter fighter can always just sit down too 🙂

Shorter fighters who have speed and technique can utilize feints and quickness to land clean strikes on taller opponents

Now that you’ve seen how effective shorter fighters can be in range against big reach advantage, let’s discuss where taller fighters shine the most.

Fighting in the Clinch 

Note, if you are kickboxing with no clinching, then the strategies presented below will not work for you. This is a strategy for Muay Thai fighters who are able to utilize all aspects of Muay Thai which include the clinch, knees, and elbows.

This video showcases the advantages that taller fighters have in the clinch.

As you can see from the video above, there is a significant advantage that taller fighters have when facing shorter opponents. The great the height difference, the bigger the advantage they will experience. 

In Saenchai’s last fight his opponent had over a foot height advantage over him. At the start of the first round, Saenchai’s opponent didn’t waste a second before he was all over him in the clinch. Why? Because that is the one place he had a chance to nullify Saenchai’s speed and quickness. This strategy uses the full advantage of your height directly against the shorter opponent. It is the only possible way someone can overcome differences in experience and speed to win a fight.

Kamen doesn’t waste a second before you tries to rope Saenchai up in the clinch. Very smart tactics from the taller fighter

Look how the taller fighter completely overwhelms the very experienced shorter Thai fighter. The leverage from his height is too much.

In Thailand, most of the tall fighters tend to be brutally good in the clinch. Utilizing a combination of knees and elbows to win the fights against shorter opponents they are matched up against. One of the all-time greatest Muay Thai fighters ever was Dieselnoi Chor Thanasukarn. At 6 foot 1 inches, Dieselnoi was a fighter that was abnormally tall for his weight. He went on a 4-year winning streak before he retired because nobody could beat his devastating knees and clinch.

Here are the specific advantages that can be realized in the clinch:

  1. Utilize Natural Leverage – Clinch fighting is perfectly suited for guys who have a big height advantage. Natural leverage allows you to pull your opponents head down easier.
  2. In Range for Elbows and Knees – Two best weapons against short opponents because the angles are difficult to block.
  3. Defensive Advantage – Difficult for an opponent to land elbows and knees on you if you have a big height advantage
  4. Reduce Risk of Error – When you have your opponent tied up in the clinch there will be no tricky haymaker punches or body kicks that are coming your way. The main risk you have is sneaky elbows that can find your chin, but those elbows are difficult to land if you are much taller than an opponent.
  5. Control the Fight – If you have a dominant clinch you can control the pace of the fight. Ensure you score points and win in the judges’ score card.

Anytime you are fighting an opponent that is much shorter than you the clinch is an ideal place to be. Clinching is all about leverage and positioning. Being a taller fighter for a particular weight class gives you that edge whenever you enter the clinch. It is something you can utilize to beat very skilled opponents.

Anyone who has done a lot of clinching will tell you that if a guy has a 4+ inch height advantage, they are going to be harder to clinch with. If you take two guys at the same technical level in the clinch, the taller fighter is going to be at a big advantage.

I’m not saying a short guy can’t beat a tall guy in the clinch, obviously, skill and technique play an important role in clinching, but natural height will allow you to overcome skill differences and impose yourself easier against a shorter opponent.

Being tall gives you a natural advantage in the clinch, but it doesn’t mean you will dominate your shorter opponent. Getting good at clinching requires hundreds of hours of practicing against different types of opponents. Being tall doesn’t mean you will be good at clinching, you still have to work hard and focus on improving your technique.

This is one of the reasons you can often see foreigners with 10-20 fights beat Thai opponents who have 200+ fights in Thailand. The foreigners will utilize their natural size and height advantage and often overwhelm their shorter opponents.

Here is a couple quick visual examples:

Saenchai is the best fighter in the world and he is Struggling in the clinch vs his opponent with much less experience. Why? Because of the huge height/reach advantage his opponent has.

Here’s another sequence of Saenchai having trouble with the taller fighter’s height in the clinch.

Your Biggest Advantage is Up Close

One of the biggest misconceptions in Muay Thai is that being a much taller fighter you want to fight using your reach to keep the opponent away. This stems from the fact that as a PURE boxer, a taller fighter will want to keep his opponent on the outside and the shorter fighter wants to get inside to land shots and get out.

The reality is whenever there is a big height disparity between fighters the clinch range will allow you to realize this physical advantage. Natural leverage will make it extremely difficult for the shorter fighter to reach your head in the clinch, making it easier to get them locked in a good position. Knees and elbows can be utilized to their fullest in these advantageous positions.

If you happened to be a taller fighter for your weight class, master the clinch. Tall fighters have natural leverage and can make it rain elbows from above. If you want proof, then look at Saenchai’s game: he is a short fighter that utilizes his speed and technical wizardry to beat everyone he fights at a distance. The only way to beat Saenchai is for taller opponents to lock him down in the clinch and utilize that natural advantage over the short Saenchai.

Make sure you check out the next article in our Short vs Tall series: Techniques that are Effective Against Shorter Opponents

Muay Thai Counters RESIZEDo you want to learn more?

If you enjoyed reading this article you should check out my Muay Thai Strategy bundle that includes over 18 chapters dedicated to countering different types of opponents. These books were written to teach you how to Counter every opponent you will face in the ring, including an expanded section on Short vs. Tall Counter tactics.

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