How the fight game works: An explanation of fighting and Muaythai

Okay, so I’ve been asked by a friend to write a post about how this whole fight stuff works.

It didn’t occur to me that not everyone who reads my blog is a fighter or is involved with this sport, so I can appreciate where my friend is coming from and will definitely do my best to explain things.

Here it goes.

About Muaythai


I’m going to begin by giving a brief explanation of what Muaythai is. When people ask me what sport I’m involved in, I give them the answer only to be met with a look of confusion. I then change my answer to ‘kickboxing’ but that’s still not 100% correct.

Often referred to as ‘the art of eight limbs’, Muaythai is like kickboxing only you can knee, grapple (standing), and elbow as well as punch and kick (hence the eight limbs expression). To put it straight, Muaythai is to Thais as Rugby is to Kiwis – it’s their national sport. Like Kiwi kids with rugby, many Thais learn Muaythai from a very young age.

It’s a sport that’s ingrained in Thai culture, and based on values of tradition, honour, respect and sportsmanship. I’m not about to explain the origins of Muaythai, because quite frankly I don’t know enough about the history to give an enriched explanation. Just know that it’s awesome, and has become a great passion for not only Thai fighters, but for many Westerners as well.

Does Muaythai have a grading system?


If by grading you mean blue belts and/or black belts, then no. I’ve known of some Muaythai gyms that have implemented belt grading systems, but traditionally Muaythai doesn’t operate that way.

Some gyms have internal gradings in the sense that students move from beginner to intermediate and so on, with a certificate of achievement to acknowledge this progression. I think this is a great idea for students who want to advance and have goals they’d like to work towards.

Overall, Muaythai is kind of like boxing in that you just train and fight (if you want to be a fighter). No belts, unless they’re the shiny ones you get when you’re fighting for a title.

How do fights work?


Western Muaythai fights don’t really operate like tournaments where you fight several times in one day, weekend or week within a division or pool, unless you’re competing at the IFMA World Games or in a four-man / eight-man competition.

Again, Muaythai is similar to boxing when it comes to fights and it usually goes like this:

  • A promoter (person who decides to run a fight show) calls your trainer and asks if you’re available to fight, or a promoter puts the word out there that they’re having a show and they’re calling for fighters. Your trainer then puts your name forward, along with your weight and fight record. 
  • Promoter receives name from another trainer who has put their fighter’s name forward to fight on the show. If you’re weight and experience matches that of the other person whose name has been put forward, you’ll be locked in to fight each other. 
  • You train for your fight till fight night/day. 
  • You weigh in (night before or same day) and do the awkward stare down thing. 
  • You fight and someone wins (hopefully you, then you get a nice new shiney and parade it around the house, your workplace, your friends house, parents house, etc).

Fights can take place nationally or internationally – it’s usually the latter for professionals. If you’re lucky enough, you could sign a deal with a major promotion like Lion Fight, Enfusion Live, Glory Kickboxing or Bellator Kickboxing. These are like the UFC’s of Muaythai, Kickboxing and K1.

What are the rules of engagement for a fight?

Mel's fight 187

This depends on what type of fight it is. If it’s straight Muaythai, you’re allowed to kick, punch, grapple (standing up), knee and elbow. You can strike pretty much anywhere, except for the back, back of the head, and of course the family jewels.

If it’s K1, you can kick and punch but you can’t elbow and you can’t grapple like you do in Muaythai. If you get into a lock or grapple, you can knee once but you must then let go. Kickboxing is a more modified version of Muaythai, and usually involves no elbows or knees to the head. However, there are different forms of Kickboxing with different rules, like WAKO, and I can’t give an in-depth explanation on these rules because I don’t know.

A lot of fighters switch between these codes to stay active. Oh, and you’re obviously not allowed to bite, choke, eye gouge or anything like that – just FYI.

Are you padded in a fight?


Again, this also depends. In New Zealand, your first three to five fights can be padded, unless you decide to go straight into non-padded fights. Padded fights involve wearing shin guards and 16oz gloves (the larger gloves make for cushier striking). Padded fights such as these are referred to as Novice fights, and sometimes there is no decision (winner or loser) in the end. They’re mainly an opportunity for new fighters to gain experience.

When fighters are ready to move on from that, no padding is used and the glove size changes to 10oz – a more light-weight glove. If the fight weight is under a certain limit, the glove size changes to 8oz. This is based on amateur fighting though, however from what I understand professional fighting in New Zealand is relatively the same in terms of glove size etc, instead you get paid and the rounds can be longer (i.e. 3min instead of 2min).

Some other countries operate differently though, pitting fighters against one another depending on what class they’re in (i.e. A Class, B Class or C Class). From what I understand, B Class and lower fight fully padded with shin guards, head gear and sometimes body guards but don’t quote me on that one. Perhaps someone who knows that particular system a bit better can elaborate in the comment box below.

If you’re fighting IFMA rules, you wear shin guards, 10oz gloves, body guards (for B Class men and junior fighters), breast guards (for women), head gear and elbow pads.

How long are the rounds?


For amateur Muaythai fighters, the rounds are usually three, 2min rounds with 30sec rest in between. This is just for a regular fight. If it’s an amateur title fight, the rounds are five, 2min rounds with 30sec in between. When you turn pro, and you fight for a title, the rounds turn into five, 3min rounds and if it’s a regular fight the rounds might be the same but without a title, or they might be three, 3min rounds with 1min in between.

K1 I think is three 3min rounds with 1min in between, and same for adults fighting in IFMA events.

What are sanctioning bodies?


These are the organisations that govern the sport and enforce the rules and regulations promoters and fighters must adhere to.

If a promoter decides to hold a fight night / event, they might ask a governing body to sanction their event. If they’re offering titles under that particular sanction, the ‘sanctioning’ of the event is pretty much a given.

In New Zealand, there are a number of sanctioning bodies. Some include:

If I refer to boxing again, which I will, you’ll see they also have sanctioning bodies like World Boxing Organisation (WBO), World Boxing Council (WBC), International Boxing Federation (IBF), and each body offers titles under their banner.

Some say it’s difficult to be an ‘undisputed’ champion when there are so many sanctioning bodies, but I reckon if you fight for, and attain, titles under each sanction then that makes you undisputed.  


So there you go! I hope that made things as clear as mud, and I hope that gave some explanation as to what our sport is about. If you have any questions about things I haven’t covered in this post, please feel free to ask in the comment box below.

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