Many events around the world feature both kickboxing and Muay Thai shows. ONE championship have recently become one of the largest productions to showcase both forms of striking, as well as mixed martial arts. Despite this, there are still confusions over the differences between the sports. Here, we are breaking down the key differences between kickboxing (K1) and Muay Thai.

No Elbows

The first key difference is a lack of elbow striking. In Muay Thai, elbows are allowed to be thrown and are a vital weapon for fighters to end bouts; mainly through cuts over the eyes or mouth. When landed cleanly on the chin, elbows can also cause devastating knockouts. This means that in Muay Thai, particularly in the clinch, you have to be very careful with your guard as to avoid elbows. In kickboxing, the threat of elbows isn’t there, and so it suits range fighters or Muay Mat style such as Rodtang or Liam Harrison. Rodtang recently made his kickboxing debut on ONE and his style hardly altered, as he utilises heavy punches and low kicks to debilitate his opponents. Liam Harrison has also previously stated that his style is more suited to Kickboxing than Muay Thai. It should be noted that whilst elbows are banned, spinning backfists are allowed  under K1 rules.

Clinch Time

The clinch is an art form in Muay Thai, and where Thai’s in particular specialise when they face westerers. The ability to manipulate an opponents body weight so that knees and sweeps can be utilised effectively takes years to master. Whilst there is a clinch component in Kickboxing, it is not nearly as prominent as in Muay Thai. In Muay Thai fighters can constantly engage in a clinch, as long as they are actively throwing, looking to attack or develop their position. In kickboxing, the clinch time is limited to throwing knees only and these shots must be thrown immediately and with continuous activity otherwise it will be ruled as “holding” (which is considered a foul). If shots are thrown continuously, the referee may allow this to continue for up to 5 seconds, at which point they will step in and separate the fighters.


Sweeps are a high scoring technique in Muay Thai. To catch a kick, throw, trip or any other attempt to off balance your opponent demonstrates control and skill. In K1, these techniques are strictly against the rules. Whilst catching kicks is allowed, this is more as a defensive manoeuvre, not to sweep or throw a kick and throw power punches. In Muay Thai it is not uncommon to see fighters catch a kick, throw it and use the momentum to generate more power in a hook to the body or head, however this cannot be done under K1 rules. 

There are the key differences between kickboxing and Muay Thai. Is there a particular format you enjoy watching more? Do you have favourite Muay Thai and K1 athletes? Are there any athletes you want to cross over into another format?

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