Is Lethwei better than Muay Thai?

Of all the violent striking martial arts Muay Thai and Lethwei sit on top of the mountain. The two sports have very similar origins in their Southeast Asian birthplaces, making them much more similar than western kickboxing and Muay Thai.

Thai boxing is very well known around the world, but its close relative, Myanmar’s Lethwei, remains a lot more obscure, despite ramping up the violence even further. In this article we will compare the technical savagery of two of the best striking systems on the planet and see if we can decide which is better.

Arts of 8 and 9 limbs

You probably know that Muay Thai is called the art of 8 limbs because of the use of punches, kicks, elbows, and knees. Lethwei adds the head as a viable weapon, so the sport is called the Art of 9 Limbs. Head-butts are devastating weapons that can be used both offensively and defensively and open up a whole new world of possibilities in close range. This is the biggest dividing factor between the two martial arts.

A more technical explanation of how head butts change the game you can watch here:

All the rest of the strikes in both sports are very similar in technique and execution. The entire focus in both is on dealing damage and hurting your opponent. Aggression is always rewarded in both sports. Clinching also plays a very important role, but in Lethwei the rules are even less restrictive and more wrestling and grappling moves can be used to break deadlocks in the clinch. 

A different level of brutality

To add yet another layer of brutality to the already savage sport of Muay Thai, which uses boxing gloves (and sometimes 4oz MMA gloves), Letwhei matches are fought without gloves, only tape and gauze are used on the hands.

Where Thai boxing fights are scored similarly to western boxing, in the fighting art of Myanmar, the only way to win is by knockout. If at the end of the 3 to 5 rounds both men are standing, the fight is declared a draw. Another rule permits fighters to use 2 minutes to recover after a knockout and continue fighting (a terrible idea for the brain).

This has been recently changed to modernize the sport, and in many modern Lethwei fights, judges decide the winner if there is no KO and the 2 minute rules are removed. Here is a more detailed take on the traditional and modern rules of Lethwei: 

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Which is better then?

It is hard and unfair to determine which of the two is actually better. Aside from the styles even their origins and history are very similar. Muay Thai was born on the battlefield in Thailand centuries ago, while at the same time, Lethwei was developed by the fighting men of Burma in violent times. So it’s only natural that both styles are ferocious and brutal, as they were created for real life conflict.

Lethwei adds yet another weapon to the arsenal, fights are basically barehanded and a knockout is the only way to win. This makes it the winner if we judge which is more brutal and effective in a street fight. On the flip side, Muay Thai is much more refined and technical. The huge popularity both at home and around the world creates an enormous competitive scene, leading to an ever improving overall skill level and a deep pool of talent.