Is Muay Thai more dangerous than boxing?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that sports where the end goal is to separate your opponent from his consciousness are dangerous. Boxing and Muay Thai are both legacy fighting sports with a rich history and traditions of controlled violence and inherent danger to the health of anyone who dares to enter the ring.

Judging which of the two is more dangerous than the other is a tricky task, and we will have to look into the topic from a few different angles. Let’s get going.


What do you mean by dangerous?

Let’s first define dangerous. It’s obvious both are far from safe. After all, the goal of the contest is to hurt the opponent to a point where he can’t continue, or at least outpoint him in the attempt. On that account, both sports inevitably wear the body down.

Aside from that, we need to define what “more dangerous” means to most people. Most people mean a higher risk of death or life-altering injuries, not just bumps and bruises. And, in that regard, boxing is the more dangerous of the two.


Pugilism vs The art of eight limbs

The rules of boxing only allow punches to the head and upper body above the waist. Muay Thai is known as the “eight-limb art” because it employs the majority of the available weapons in the body-punches, kicks, elbows, and knees. 

At first glance, Muay Thai seems immeasurably more violent. Knees can break ribs like twigs, elbows can open gross cuts on the face and roundhouse kicks carry bone crushing power.  Punches with padded gloves seem less dangerous than them, but in boxing the overwhelming amount of strikes are directed to the head. And brain damage is what can cause death in the ring or a couple of days after a fight. 

Muay Thai judging heavily favors kicks and control, so head strikes are much less common. In boxing, the primary target is the head. Repeated hits after the initial concussion are another factor that contributes to severe concussions and head trauma.

A fighter in boxing can be knocked down and continue fighting multiple times, which is the most damaging thing for the brain. This is also possible in Muay Thai, but the length of a boxing match multiplies the amount of head punishment a fighter can receive. 

In Muay Thai, fighters suffer significantly more damage to the body, legs, and arms, while in boxing, most of the trauma is to the head. Extensive tests and research have been conducted on boxers and many of the older generations suffered from CTE symptoms which can be life altering.


Medical standards

According to the official statistics, boxing has more deaths than Muay Thai.  But in reality, this is a number we cannot really compare.  Boxing, both at amateur and professional levels, is a very strictly sanctioned sport where all competitors go through extensive tests before and after fights if needed.  There is also a lot of publicity, which leaves little chance of covering up incidents.


In Thailand, the situation is the opposite.  Many fighters fight in unsanctioned fights, and the overall politics of the sport remain undisclosed to the general public.

It’s rare to see physicians and ambulances near fights, and there have been some well-documented deaths inside the Muay Thai ring, while the official statistics of the governing body state there are zero deaths in the sport.  So a real comparison of numbers between boxing and Muay Thai can never be done.