American Muay Thai? That is bullshit!


This blog flowers from my my love for fighting (I am a pro Muay Thai and MMA fighter) inseminated by my fascination for human emotion and mind (Why I became a psychologist).

But before I dig deeper into the mental aspects of the fight game, I have to speak about American Muay Thai because I feel it is ridiculous! Every time I come to the States, Muay Thai enthusiast asks me: What is the difference between American and European Muay Thai?

On one of my trips, I heard a Dutch born fighter answer this question with: European Muay Thai fighters use much more foot movement, box – kick combinations and do not kick to the body nor clinch and knee as much as Thais do. They are particularly dangerous at the intermediate distance. The Traditional Muay Thai stylist works more at long or real close range. Generally, their boxing defense at the intermediate distance is less developed but they stay out danger by stopping the incoming opponent with teeps and roundhouse kicks or by stepping into the clinch and smother their opponents to stop the power of their fists.  He said: “American Muay Thai is like Thai Muay Thai but on a much lower level.”

I say: On one level he is right but it is a bluntly explanation.

First of all, Pro Muay Thai is still in young in the States and the level is flying up in the air like a boxer’s tooth who forgot his protection. I’d bet, for example, that Kevin Ross could give every European and much Thai fighters one tough run for their money. So wait a few years, when the sport gains popularity and compare the level than.  Off course, the lack of many experienced Muay Thai instructors is a problem. But that is a topic for another time.

Second of all, what are European, American and Thai Muay Thai?

Bullshit, bullshit and buuuul…shit. [N V2] 

Suppose you would ask Thai fighters: What is Muay Thai?

You can rest assured that you’ll probably get as many interpretations as you have fighters. I mean, Muay Thai as a fighting art is a complex dance performed by two creative entities that go into battle for a variety of reasons. For some, it is their chance to honor their gym, their ancestors, their king, country and family. For others, it is just a way to make money to take care of their families and life. Then you have those who will explain you how the sport is tied to Thai history, the army and king Rama. Others will go into depth about techniques, tactical choices and how the game works.

So, this question will help you not much further. Now, let’s ask them a more probing question: “How would you describe the Thai fight style?”.  Depending of the region and gym the fighter grew up in; he will give you very different answers.  Just take a look at the very different ways of fighting you can see in top stadia.

Compare for example the legendary technician Saenchai ( grrr ;) ) and strong  punching Anuwat and tell me what is “real” Thai style. Different gyms equal different interpretations. Kaewsamrit, the physical and toughness oriented gym probably has an entirely different way of looking at Muay Thai than the technical Khamsing gym.  And also each trainer has his own viewpoint, which often differs from other camp instructors. When I trained at Kaewsamrit, I training with “Thai”, “JPN” or “Red” was a completely different world. Even in one gym, there seems to be different viewpoints. Every fighter has different attributes and so has to develop a distinct style, as does every trainer in a gym and it is important to find you the right match.

However, there is one aspect that binds them all and that is the scoring and judging that govern the fights. For those who do not know how the scoring goes in “traditional Muay Thai”, I can refer you to Tony Myers ‘article “How to score a Muay Thai fight.” You can find this clearly written essay at: www.jamesgoyder.com/muaythai/issue_seven.pdf . I will call this scoring system “Traditional Muay Thai”. For those who want the quick fix, stay with me.

Muay Thai is scored differently than boxing. The judges do not simply add up all the points but judge the fight based on the entire battle.  So, in a close fight, a fighter can lose four rounds by a bit, win one round very dominantly and take the victory home. 

Generally, the first rounds are scored equally (10-10) but the judges take mental notes for later reference if the later rounds were very close. From there on, it is a domination game. If you dominate clearly (for example by knocking an opponent down) your opponent will lose two points. But if he fights back hard, he will lose just one point. Majority of decisions given by the judges determine the outcome of the match. So, if two judges give your opponent a 50-49 victory and one judge gives you the win by 47-50. You will have an added total of points that exceed those of your opponent but you still will lose.

Your balance and the relative effectiveness of your techniques are taken into account. In theory, all techniques can score equally. In practice however, technical clean kicks and knees to the body, head or neck score, even when there is no clear physical effect on the opponent.  If you kick the legs, throw elbows or box you’d better make sure you move or damage your competitor if you want to score.

The last part that is really important is ring presence. The way you act is of great importance. If your opponent has landed more than you but you do not seem to care, you still have a chance. So, if that happens: Look secure, stand proud and ready for more. Then, if you throw just a few good hard and technical attacks that move your opponent, you could take the fight. It is a control game. So never, ever, show that you are hurt, tired or even worse scared. If you would: say goodbye to the victory or sell your body to pay the judges under the table.

Some fighters specialize in defense and balance. They do not do that much but are specialists in distance control, evasion, defensive maneuvers and a strong counterattack every once and a while and they collect victories. However, to become a crowd favorite in this style you have to be a genius. The main lesson here is: make your opponent show weakness, extreme tiredness or evidence of not wanting to fight and you’ll take the fight from him.

Last, but not least, the will to fight is important in Thailand. When I visited Lumpini, I saw how a fight was stopped by the referee because one of the fighters did not perform up to his level. A trainer that accompanied us explained to me that this is done to avoid foul play. Like that, they make it harder for fighters to sell their fights to the gamblers. 

However, it took me a while to understand the Thai way of scoring fights. I come from the Flemish part of Belgium, which means we speak a kind of Dutch. Yes, I am from the land with the world-class chocolate, the tasty Flemish (indeed, they are not French) fries, Brussels waffles and the best beer in the world. And still thin, you ask? My body has gotten accustomed to all that good food, I guess.

But back on topic, In Flanders, Germany, certain leagues in France, Scandinavia, Switzerland and, off course, the Netherlands, we have a completely different way of scoring the fights.

Here, we call Muay Thai : “Thaiboxing” and indeed, there are clear differences in the way most fighters act in the ring . Here, I come back to the distinction made by some Dutch people, I mentioned  in the beginning of the article.

Indeed, when you think about Dutch all time greats like:

, you can see a clear difference in style with the top Thai fighters like

Do you see a difference?

Off course, with time I chose to admire the Thai way the most because of their calm control and technical superiority. (And also because they are ass lard ass as me and in my weight they are the best in the world. Off course, you also have top Thais who’ s fighting style lies somewhat closer to the Dutch like Anuwat and Bovy. But still, the difference in style and ring tactics is obvious.

Now it is clear why I do not agree with the concept of “Thai” Muay Thai but Thai style scoring. In my next blog we will get to the notion of European (or like some guys out of Holland proudly call: “Dutch”) Muay Thai.

But that is for next time. See ya.

Now it is clear why I do not agree with the concept of Thai Muay Thai, we will get to the notion of European (or like some guys out Holland proudly say “Dutch”) Muay Thai.

But that is for next time. See ya.

 Nico Verresen


2 comments on “American Muay Thai? That is bullshit!

  1. Khemphill says:

    Enjoyed this very much, thank you.

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