When it comes to sparring/fighting people who have a significant reach advantage over you it can be annoying. If you take two Muay Thai beginners at the same level and get them to spar each other, the taller guy will have a natural advantage over the shorter opponent.
I remember when I first started training Muay Thai, I would always get frustrated when I sparred taller guys. Why is there a noticeable advantage? An opponent who has a reach advantage over you will be able to hit you and still maintain a safe distance from you. Now before we discuss how you can counter your opponents reach advantage, it is important to determine what kind of fighting style he has. Is your opponent the type of guy who rushes forward with punches without throwing many kicks or is your opponent the type of guy that will sit back and out strike you from a distance?
The moment the round starts you should take a moment to let your opponent strike you a few times. You can learn a whole lot just by sitting back and analyzing what kind of attacks your opponent throws at you. If the guy rushes at you from the get go then you know you are fighting an aggressive fighter, conversely if he sits back and waits, he is a more technical fighter.
If you are fighting a taller opponent you have to understand you own fighting style and impose your game plan on your opponent. Someone with good boxing skills will want to try and look for opportunities to close the gap get into the punching range. Conversely, a fighter with sharp speedy kicks will be content to stay in kicking range and trade attacks with the taller fighter. Your strategy will be determined by your skill set vs your opponents skill set.
Height and reach is only one aspect of fighting, the fighting style of your opponent will also determine your game plan.
Here are some useful tips for people looking to deal with taller opponents in Muay Thai
Lean Back – The Most Effective Technique
This is probably the most effective technique that you can use against a taller fighter. Because your opponent is taller than you, their kicks are going to be higher up on your body. Whenever you see a kick coming you simply need to lean back and you will see the kick flying over your head. This will ensure that you don’t have to take any damage on your arm from blocking all the kicks.
A good fighter to watch who utilizes this technique extremely well is Saenchai. Saenchai is probably one of the best fighters in the world at leaning back. Given the fact that Saenchai is 5’ 5’’ (165cm), every single opponent he faces is taller than him. If you watch him when he fights he almost leans back on every kick. A well-executed lean back will put you in a position to fire back on your opponent when he misses his kick.
The lean back is probably the most utilized Technique by Thai fighters
Utilize your Teeps (Push Kicks)
A good teep is effective against any opponent regardless of their size. However, when it comes to bigger opponents, a well-executed teep will put them off balance, allowing you to attack at will. The bigger they are, the harder they will fall when you teep them off balance.
The key to using the teep effectively is to be patient and wait. You want to sit back and wait for your opponent to make a move, the second you see his hips start to turn you will then teep him off balance. Executing this technique will put fear in your opponent if you are able to get them off balance a few times. Every time someone attacks they will be offset with a well-placed teep.
The teep is a great defensive tool if you are sparring a taller opponent that is aggressive with his hands. If you notice your opponent wanting to come forward with punches, time your teeps so you hit him when he is about to strike. This will completely mess up his timing and give you and opportunity to strike.
Use Feints (Fakes) before you Strike
If you find that your opponent is blocking and always avoiding your attacks, it is important for you to utilize feints. By faking your opponent out, you will make them unsure of what your next attack will be. This puts you in an advantage when you want to punch or kick because they won’t know what weapon you are going to utilize. Fakes are extremely important for shorter fighters because they allow you to get in close without being attacked. When you fake an attack, your opponent will react with a block, allowing you time to follow through with strikes.
Catch your Opponent’s Kicks
By catching your opponents kicks and teeps it’s a great way to effectively throw them off balance and put them on the defensive. Once someone is off balanced you are more likely to land strikes on them because they are worried about falling over. You are now the person in control and can be the aggressor.
The beauty of catching an opponent’s kicks is that you have a number of options once you catch the kick. You can either decide to sweep them or counter attack them with any of your remaining weapons. I prefer to attack with punches to quickly close the distance because sometimes it is harder to sweep and opponent that is a lot taller than you because of the height advantage.
As reddit user SyvlieMuay pointed out - In Thailand the scoring system favors kicks over punches. This means if you catch a kick the ideal response would be to utilize a sweep or a body kick to get the most points for the technique. I personally like responding with punches after I catch Teeps, but if you want to maximize your points in a fight the kick or sweep will score higher.
You always want to look for opportunities to catch or throw your opponent off balance so you can follow up with a counter attack. Saenchai is a fighter that utilizes the counters extremely well. The moment an opponent lands a kick or a punch on him, he immediately responds with a strike or combination. Counter attacking will often throw your opponent off because they won’t be expecting a strike.
Practice (Sparring) Makes Perfect
Always remember no matter how much theory you know it all goes out the window if you don’t focus on trying to apply it in sparring.
You can’t expect to read this guide and start owning everyone you spar with. The key to beating anyone in Muay Thai is timing and patience. When you travel to Thailand you will notice most of the trainers and fighters are all short. However, this doesn’t stop them from owning most foreigners they spar with. Don’t underestimate the size of an opponent you either fight or spar with.
Experience makes the world of a difference. The more hours you have sparring taller guys the better you will become at it. Always be sure to work on different things every sparring session to ensure you don’t become a one dimensional fighter.
Sparring is a place for you to try to improve your technique and timing, it shouldn’t feel like a battle every time. People who are always trying to win sparring matches won’t be very popular in the gym and often get overconfident in themselves going into a fight. Always be humble and respect your opponent.
Let me know if you have any questions, comments or feedback regarding this topic. If you have an suggestions please let me know at the bottom.