In Muay Thai there is a constant battle that often takes place in the ring between skill and aggression.
The first thing you might assume when you see this word Skill vs. Aggression is that one fighter has skill and the other doesn’t, however, this is not the case.
When I say Skill vs Aggression, I am talking about a fighter’s fighting style. Aggressive fighters push forward and try to force the fight on their terms, while Skill fighters prefer to stay at distance and outscore their opponents with points.
In Thailand, fighters who demonstrate a high degree of Skill are referred to as ‘Muay Femeu‘. This simply translates directly to Boxer (with) Skill. Classic examples of legendary Muay Femeu fighters are Samart Payakaroon, Somrak Khamsing, and Saenchai.
On the other side of the table are aggressive fighters (Muay Mat, Muay Khao, Muay Bplam, Muay Sok). These are aggressive fighters like Buakaw, Pornsanae or Wanchalong, who like to come forward and pressure opponents. They do not sit back and try to outpoint their opponents, they charge forward looking to hurt their opposition (Something that Western fans love).
While Buakaw has good technical abilities, his fighting style utilizes aggression to beat opponents. Heavy punches, elbows, kicks and knees are used to pressure opponents and look for knockouts.
The words Skill vs Aggression are simply broad terms used to categorize a range of fighting styles.
Just because a fighter might be labeled as a ‘Skill’ Fighter or ‘Aggressive’ fighter, doesn’t mean they can’t balance both roles. If Buakaw wanted to, he could sit back and outpoint most of his Western competition, however, foreign fans want to see knockouts, not technique.
This being said, if Buakaw tried to play the role of a ‘Skill’ fighter and outpoint his opponents, he would not be nearly as effective. He often has a mental edge over his opponents because of the fear he instills in them with his aggression.
In Thailand, most high level fighters are able to play the role of skill and aggressor, depending on the pace and score of the fight. If a fighter is down on points heading into the third and fourth round, it is expected that he will push forward with aggression (clinching, knees, elbows, punches) to try and win.
Conversely, if an aggressive fighter is ahead on points going into the 5th round, his corner will tell him to use “Skill” to sit back and win on points.
It often depends on the matchup to determine which role a fighter plays. If a fighter is a ‘Skill’ fighter, but is being outmatched in the fight by a more technical fighter, that fighter needs to switch his strategy to have a chance at winning.
While most Thai fighters can play both roles if a fight demands it, every fighter is better at playing one of those roles more effectively. Just because a fighter can play the role of a ‘Skill’ or ‘Aggressive’ fighter, doesn’t mean they have an advantage in that area.
When two Aggressive fighters face off in the ring, that is usually a recipe for fireworks. Conversely, when two Skill fighters are matched against each other, it is often a much more technical fight.
Comparing Thailand to the West
While a lot of Thai fighters can learn to play both the roles of the Skill and Aggressive Fighter, most westerners stick to a single role.
If you take a typical aggressive fighter and try to make them play the role of the ‘Skill’ fighter, they will be outscored easily. Conversely, if you ask a ‘Skill” fighter to push forward and be Aggressive, they are more likely to get knocked out or be ineffective.
Why can’t Western fighters play both roles?
Fighters from Thailand often have hundreds of fights, compared to the average Western fighter with under 20 fights. After a few hundred fights in the ring, fighters need to be adaptable if they want to beat different types of opponents. When a Thai fighter faces a fighter who has more ‘Skill,’ they have to use aggression (punches, clinching, elbows, knees) to win.
Secondly, it is often not advantageous for fighters to fight another role. If you are a very strong puncher, then you would lose your advantage over your opponent if you sit back and traded kicks.
Ideally, fighters can interchange the role between skill and aggression. This gives them the ability to have more options to counter different types of opponents. However, that requires fighters to have the experience and technical abilities to pull it off.
In my book Muay Thai Strategy, I talk about the difference between Skill and Aggressive fighters. These terms are simply used as labels to classify the type of fighter, not to take away from a fighters talent. Both ‘Skill’ and an ‘Aggressive’ fighter can be very effective in the ring depending on the matchup.
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