MMA vs. Muay Thai

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and Muay Thai are both full-contact combat sports. For the sake of clarity, we’ll look at the similarities, differences and commonalities of both sports/ arts.

Mixed Martial Arts


The term “Mixed Martial Arts” or MMA refers to a martial art that is derived from a mixture of several different martial art disciplines usually with the goal of creating a more effective and more complete hybrid art. The late Bruce Lee is often credited as being the father of modern Mixed Martial Arts. Bruce Lee drew from several different martial arts including Kung Fu, Boxing, Muay Thai, Wrestling, Jiu Jitsu and Judo to create Jeet Kune Do. However, by no means was Bruce Lee the first to cross train in several different martial arts in order to become a more well-rounded fighter.

Mixed Martial Arts the Combat Sport

In November 1993, The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) helped to popularize MMA with it’s first “no rules” event on Pay Per View television. However, modern MMA competitions (like in the UFC, Pride, WEC etc.) are not the first martial arts competitions to allow striking, wrestling, throwing and submissions in a competitive arena. This has been going on all over the world for hundreds or even thousands of years. The main difference is that modern MMA is enjoying media attention and the prize money and sponsorship dollars have grown to the point where it’s more lucrative to be a professional fighter. Greek Pancration, Brazilian Vale Tudo and Japanese Shooto are just a few examples of combat sports allowing striking and submissions that predate the UFC.

Muay Thai and MMA Similarities and Differences

Muay Thai also predates the UFC by thousands of years. In the old days, Muay Thai had very few rules just like MMA. More rules were introduced in 1929 including the use of boxing gloves instead of hands bound with rope. Ancient Muay Thai illustrations show the use of grappling moves used in Muay Thai before boxing gloves were mandated.

Modern Muay Thai includes striking with punches, elbows, knees and kicks as well as grappling from the standing position and throws. However, grappling on the ground is not allowed. The lack of grappling, striking and submissions on the ground is the main difference between modern Muay Thai and MMA. In fact, Muay Thai is generally considered the best striking art for MMA competitions. Most MMA fighters today train in Muay Thai as well as boxing, wrestling and Jiu Jitsu. Another difference between Muay Thai and MMA is the open-fingered glove used in MMA. MMA gloves make it possible to grab and are better for grappling and submission fighting than a boxing glove.