Muay Thai Boxing, is Thai boxing better than traditional boxing?
by Jack Corbett

Two Thai kick boxers going at it.

Muay Thai Boxing.  This video proves conclusively that traditional boxing
 is far more effective than Thai kick boxing

As Grandpa Timmerman used to tell me, "Think about it--the
shortest distance to an adversary’s head is with one’s fist.  
A 190 pound Jack Dempsey only needed six inches to
knock 260 pound opponents off their feet."

 

Suppose we put two fighters in the ring. One is a highly skilled, perhaps even a champion martial arts expert, whether his credentials are in Karate, Taekwondo, Muay Thai, etc. and we pit him against an excellent boxer. Who’s going to win?

 

Now if one watches enough movies and believes what he watches, he’s probably going to give the nod to the Martial Arts expert who's been schooled in one of the exotic Martial Arts disciplines, and certainly not plain ordinary boxing. Why? Because it seems different, and more sensational than boxing. On screen all those kicks and strange hand blows simply look prettier or at least more sophisticated.

Now, I’ve had my own ideas on the subject, from the time I was about ten years old. Provided the boxer has good strength, speed, and punching power, he’s going to kick the martial arts expert’s ass provided the two fighters are of roughly equivalent physical ability–or at least that’s my opinion. I’ve always felt that Martial Arts has gained popularity and notoriety for the following reasons–1. It appears more spectacular in the movies and on television, 2. The concept of a weak person (eg. A small female against a large male) overcoming a much larger and stronger opponent is alluring (particularly to those not gifted with size and strength or speed), 3.  It is both portrayed and advertised as being more scientific. and 4. So called exotic forms of martial arts training sells lots of martial arts classes and equipment with lengthy curriculums that oftentimes lasts for years. But a lot of people have disagreed with me. But now, thanks to my recently having moved to Thailand I have some rather outstanding visual evidence that support my theories in the form of a video in which three Thai Muay-Thai boxers faced three Western boxers. Actually there were four Western boxers against four Thais, but I never got one of the fights in the video because this particular fight only lasted a few seconds and because I was busy getting digital stills of the action before I had the chance to get the camcorder into action. So bear with me as I give you the reasons why I believe boxing is superior to the other martial arts, then watch the video.

 

The Grandpa Timmerman Days

Western fighter Staunton, Illinois where I grew up was a tough town. A few years before I had been born Staunton was having its heyday when the coal mining had reached its peak , numbering over 7000 residents. Most of the residents came from families that had emigrated from Europe, many having come over the pond from places like Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary which had provided the source for their Slavic names. From the time I was in the First Grade it seemed I was always fighting. My first grade nemesis was a bigger boy named Henry Porter Lloyd. Henry had a small gang of boys as followers. I’d wind up beating up all the boys in his gang only to wind up having to face Henry who’d then blacken both of my eyes. But by the Second Grade I could usually take Henry, but in the Third Grade he’d wind up beating me again. Henry was tough–tough enough to wind up being a Green Beret and finishing three tours of duty in Vietnam.

My second nemesis was Sanford Bloemaker.  I don't think Sanford ever was more than about five foot six, but he was two years older than me.  And when you are only twelve or thirteen those couple of years can mean an awful lot.  Sanford loved to take on anyone foolish enough to put the gloves on with him in our Junior High PE classes.  By then I was very fast with my hands, but Sanford was in a class by himself.  And he was extremely coordinated.  I'd often tease Sanford who after having enough would beat the snot out of me.  Back in our Junior High no one could beat Sanford.  Years later he'd serve as a tunnel rat in the Vietnam War.

But Henry and Sanford's  fighting prowess would soon pale  compared to other Staunton boys. The man who would teach them how to fight was my Timmerman.

I met my Grandpa Timmerman when I was ten. That was the year he married my Grandmother on my father’s side. George Timmerman was superintendent of the Staunton Coal Mine. He was seventy when he married my grandmother. One of the first things he did was to take our family on a tour of the mine on one of those little underground trains I never got to ride on again.  The second thing I remember him doing was  knocking my Dad down  twice in succession in just a few seconds after the pair put the gloves on in our basement.

My Grandpa Timmerman had just installed a platform bag setup and heavy bag in our basement. Now my Dad was no sissy, and from what I have heard about him, he won most of his fights as a boy or young man. He was a Captain in the Army during World War II, and people who knew him best said, he never was afraid of anybody. But George Timmerman at seventy could keep a speed bag moving at a high speed blur using just his elbows. Dad who was twenty-five years younger, could not begin to match Grandpa Timmerman’s speed. I don’t think he landed a single blow.

Grandpa Timmerman used to be an amateur boxer who fought in a number of unpaid matches. Part of his training was to box a few rounds with his friends after which he would run eighteen miles. He had also served a few times as a referee for both professional boxing and wrestling matches. In his day he knew quite a few professional fighters and even knew a champion or two.

He had a gym in his basement. It included a platform bag setup just like mine and a heavy bag along with a few interesting gadgets such as a short segment out of a broom handle to which he had tied a rope to which he had tied a twenty pound weight on the other end. Its purpose was to build up forearm strength by twirling the broom handle in both hands which would wrap the rope around it while he pulled the weight up. His house was modest in size and simple inside.  He had old furniture in his living room but that really didn’t matter because what he did have was a collection of books on boxing and Ring Magazines and of even greater importance, he had the knowledge and the boxing skills that he was all too willing to share with others.

Mutai fighter about to be knocked outI’d wind up spending an hour each day working out on his punching bags;  then I'd run five miles as summer training for my college cross country running team. But that was after I was nineteen, and by that time there were plenty of other young men visiting Grandpa’s gym. When I was nineteen I had breathing problems from my nose, and after having the serrated septum operation that took care of the problem I felt weak as a kitten. I had a date with one of the most beautiful girls I had ever seen and ended up walking her through a bad area in St. Louis after a ball game.  I felt very vulnerable because I was too weak to defend her if a troublemaker should suddenly surface.   So as soon as I felt strong enough I started working out for the College Cross Country running team and putting in that hour of boxing time. 

I got good enough to be able to spin the speed bag with my elbows although I never got as fast on it as Grandpa Timmerman. And the heavy bag workouts doubled my punching power.  At that time I felt I could deliver a punch to the point of a man’s jaw or chin quickly and accuracy with the force of a baseball bat.  Just imagine having heavy baseball bats for arms and being able to unleash their power in a microsecond at your opponent's left or right eye.  I cannot begin to describe that feeling.

Mutai live action in the ringI was afraid of nothing. But I was not even close to being as good with my fists as some of the young guys from Staunton Grandpa had in his gym. Grandpa once told me of a top ranked professional prize fighter he had in his basement once. Present also were a couple of good Staunton amateur boxers. The prize fighter was holding a little child in his arms and while holding the child he dared one of the amateur boxers to try to hit him in the head. The young amateur boxer tried and while he tried the professional just started twisting his head back and forth to one side or the other or pulling it backwards, which made the young man appear as if he was punching at shadows because not once was he able to land a single punch.

I fought on the playground or the streets often between the ages of ten and fourteen and I won most of my fights . Except for when I fought Sanford.  I was pretty quick for one thing and had learned the basic boxing skills from Grandpa and working out on the punching bags. But I also had the gift of being able to put the other kid down.

 

Tha boxing arena
Practice ring behind the main ring with heavy training punching bags in the background

 

While getting to know my step grandfather I started following the upcoming professional heavy weight match between the champion, Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston. It was around then that Grandpa took me to a professional boxing match in St. Louis. While watching that fight I noticed a grim looking muscular black man sitting  behind me. The man never smiled. He was terrifying. It was Sonny Liston.

“Liston will kill Patterson,” grandpa predicted. Which is exactly what happened. Patterson who weighed 190 or so was going up against a man thirty pounds heavier at around 220, a man who had developed a formidable reputation as a crunching puncher.

Thai boxing

The bar complex surrounding the main boxing ring here in Pattaya

Grandpa never had much use for a boxer who couldn’t punch very hard. He told me about Jack Dempsey, telling me that at less than 190 pounds, Dempsey’s fighting weight while in his prime, Dempsey could take a man out with a short punch measuring no more than 6 inches no matter what the man’s size.

Thai Boxing RingHis favorite of them all was Joe Louis, another heavyweight champion who could punch a man out with a single punch that measured no more than six inches. But Louis was also the supreme boxer, a man who possessed all the skills of the ring, hitting power, defensive prowess, speed, and finesse.

He never seemed to think much of Muhammed Ali and that was because he didn’t think Ali could punch with the best of them. But Grandpa Timmerman died before Ali really hit his stride.

Back when I was a kid, I was nearly taken in by all the magazine ads making exaggerated claims of Karate.  I nearly signed up for mail orderMartial Arts courses that would in just a few hours make an unholy killer out of me.

Thai boxing fightSo I asked Grandpa what he thought about Karate and other Martial Arts. And Grandpa would just scoff and say that a good street fighter would cream any Karate expert in the world.  Then he told me: “Look, all that karate and kicking is no good. The shortest distance between two points is between a man’s fist and the other man’s head. Dempsey would knock a man’s head clean off with a punch he could deliver 6 inches from the guy's head.

He also told me that a good wrestler would get in close to the Martial Arts expert, and that once he had grappled with him it would be all over.

He then showed me a maneuver by which I would place my hand on my opponent's head while I placed my foot and leg behind his body as I shoved the man's head backwards. “See. If you are fighting far away and he moves in on you just do this. Once you got him he’s got to go down. There is nothing he can do except try to protect himself. He can’t kick or punch you or do anything.”

Later I used that simple manuever in a real street fight  in my Junior year of College.  I didn't want to fight the other guy after I had been shoved out the bar's entrance by several members of the football team.  As I tried to walk back into the door, my attacker punched me so hard that the blow broke my eardrum.  I let into him and drove him back a few feet with a floury of punches, but he didn't go down.  Outweighing me by thirty or forty pounds he tried to get in close, and then I sprung the simple maneuver on him.  He went down with me on top of him.  Then I started to pound his head into the concrete sidewalk with every intention of killing him.  But the police came and his football pals pulled me off of him.

All the Martial Arts training in the world would not have stopped my eardrum from being pierced.  And nothing short of the quick reactions of the police and his pals would have saved him from getting his head shattered against the sidewalk.

******

It seems all the guys who could fight wound up down at Grandpa’s gym at one time or the other. But by the time I was 19 I was nearly five hundred miles away–in college. I’d work out there during the summers but somehow I missed out on meeting and working out with the best boxers from the area.

My grandfather told me about a guy named Myron Spencer who was around six foot two and two hundred pounds. Myron could have cleaned up in the Illinois Golden Gloves, Grandpa told me, but for some reason Myron didn’t stay serious long enough. But I heard about a couple street fights Myron got into. During one of them he knocked out two adversaries who had doubled up on him. From what I had been told, Myron  had wondrous speed and the punching power to take practically anyone off his feet with a single punch.

I finally met Myron just five months ago. Both of us were fifty-eight. We met at the Staunton Class of 1965 reunion. And Myron looked in great shape at 58, and still able to more than hold his own.  I also ran into Sanford Bloemaker at the reunion and I asked him who was the toughest kid he knew during his late teens after I had moved away from Staunton.  Without hesitation Sanford told me Myron Spencer was the finest boxer he ever knew.  "He was at least as fast as me," said Sanford, "but he was over two hundred pounds and much taller, and he could really punch."  But from what I could see of Myron at the class reunion reminded me of Gary Cooper, the movie actor, Myron being quiet spoken and not the sort to start a fight with anyone. But  Staunton was a tough town then. As a boy you learned to fight and you fought often.

For a short period of time they had Golden Gloves boxing matches in Springfield, Illinois. It only lasted a couple of months and I was around forty by then. But I do remember two fighters pretty well. They were light heavy weights. Around 170 pounds or so. One was a very quick black boxer with a great jab. The other was a Hispanic, but he looked Caucasian to me. The black fighter was showing off his considerable skills, coming off as the far flashier of the two. But the Hispanic guy held his ground as he coolly stalked his flashy opponent across the ring. In spite of all his speed the black fighter never landed a single telling blow on the Hispanic. After a few minutes the stalk was over when the Hispanic fighter caught up with the speedster and leveled him. Later I found out the Hispanic was one of the best golden gloves fighters in the nation.

Thai boxersI saw him again, this time against another fighter. The pair got in close to each other at times as they pummeled each other’s bodies. I thought then and there that not one of the martial arts fighters I had ever seen could have stayed in there with these two. It was a battle royal in that ring. One never sees it on t.v. Or in the movies for that matter. Neither medium begins to capture the speed at which a good boxer’s blows are delivered or the quick little moves of the head that keep him from being knocked out by his opponent.

And if for some reason all that speed and prowess is not being captured for a television or movie audience it is not going to sell very well. Believe me, seeing a couple good fighters box in real life is far different from watching it on the screen. The difference is as in night and day.

Think about it one more time—the shortest distance to an adversary’s head is with one’s fist. The foot is simply too far away to begin to match the kind of speed that can be delivered by the hands at close range. So consider what I am going to say. If a man has good punching power–that is if he is a legitimate puncher and he has the necessary speed, he has some serious potential as a boxer. If he doesn’t have both he might as well not even get started.

More Thai boxingI think that the Martial Arts is considered by many as the equalizer. That is, if you are not strong, or not all that fast, that provided you work hard enough at it, you will somehow emerge as a champion. And perhaps you will. Because it’s a lot of hard work getting your feet off the ground into a man’s face. A lot harder than punching with the fist.

And why is it that in the televised kick boxing matches I’ve watched that fighters get considerably more points when they deliver a blow with their feet than with their fists? It’s because it’s considerably harder to land a punch on one's opponent with the feet, that’s why. A good puncher does not need his feet to take the other guy out and the fist provides him with the greatest chance of ending the fight quickly and efficiently. But that doesn’t sell tickets, does it? So the fighters are encouraged to do the flashy stuff audiences like, and audiences love those wonderfully coordinated round house kicks flying through the air.

The Boxing Videos

Let’s now see if I’m right. If common sense does not persuade you, basic empirical evidence certainly should.

Thai boxersThe first video footage shows two Thai boys parrying off. One thing I’ve noticed about how the U.S. differs from Thailand and most European countries is in the U.S. there is far more emphasis on the hands than the foot in sports. Soccer is not big in the U.S., but it is in England, France, Germany and in Thailand. In the U.S. football is a misnomer because it is a player’s prowess with his hands that counts–in passing the ball for example, handing off, etc. Or with the shoulders and arms--blocking by linemen for example. And in boxing all the blows come from the hands, not the feet. Even in basketball, basic hand eye coordination rules.

Thai boxing ringBut just watch a bunch of Thai boys out on the playground. The kids are doing a lot with their feet whether it’s practicing soccer or kick boxing. But in Thailand the sport of kick boxing is Muay Thai, a blend of boxing with the hands combined with kicking with a good measure of elbowing thrown in. Many believe that it’s the addition of blows with the elbows that make Muay Thai more effective than other forms of kick boxing.  Muay Thai was developed for the military by the military, which is part of the reason so many Thai youths learn it.

Thai boxingIn the first match shown on the video between adults the Western fighter outweighs his opponent by a huge margin. The fact that the much larger Caucasian fighter is easily able to dominate and then knock out his opponent should be no real surprise to avid students of the ring. History proves that the larger man has a tremendous advantage over the smaller guy. Thai boxersIn championship heavy weight matches there have been quite a number of excellent light heavy weights–eg. Bob Foster and Billy Conn, but when they moved up to the heavy weight ranks after outclassing their division, they fell to two legitimate heavy weights, Joe Louis and Joe Frazer. It is interesting to note that both Heavy weights were not only two of the best of their era but also legitimate punchers with a devastating ability to take their opponents out in short order.

Thai boxersHowever, closer study of the bout on the video shows that when it came to putting away his opponent the Western fighter relies on the punching power of his arms which was easily up to the task. The end comes swiftly for the smaller man. It is as if he has run into an earthquake.   Do keep in mind, however, that I clearly have the advantage over those who are watching the video on You Tube.   While editing this video I could run the footage in slow motion.  I could also run it one frame at a time so I could tell exactly how a man went down and what type of punch delivered the final blow. 

This particular falang or Westerner is a legitimate heavy weight with good hand and eye coordination. He is able to land his punches consistently which are powerful enough to literally take a man off his feet.

In the first knockdown, the Westerner uses his hands to deliver a flurry of punches that ultimately takes his opponent down after two or three seconds. His Thai opponent is kept off balance during this series of blows which sets him up for the one that takes him off his feet. In the second knockdown the Westerner delivers a solid kick as he almost simultaneously lands a quick punch to the head. It is this punch to the head that knocks the Thai boxer down. The final knockdown is accomplished in much of the same way. Although a kick is landed it is the fist that is decisive. A solid shot to the right side of the Thai’s head from the larger fighter’s left hand is the punch that ends it.

Thai boxing
The second Westerner to fight a Thai boxer in the video

In the 2nd fight that pits Westerner against Thai the two men are pretty much evenly matched. The Westerner appears to me to be a Middleweight at between 160 and 170 pounds. Unlike the first Westerner, this man does not seem to me to be a devastating puncher. But his technique is good. But so is his Thai opponent’s who is about the same size.

The Westerner tries a few blows with his feet which are easily avoided by the Thai fighter who is simply too quick to be successfully knocked about by the other man’s legs. Towards the end of the fight the Thai fighter takes the offensive. Interestingly enough he goes after the Westerner with his hands, not his feet. But he’s quickly knocked out when he runs right into his opponent’s right hand. The end is quick. Up to this point both men seem evenly matched.

What I noticed on this video to this point is that the hand to head punches from both Westerners are so quick that they can barely be seen on the video. For instance in the first fight, in the final knockdown the Westerner lands a kick but in much less than a second later he flashes his left hand at the Thai boxer’s head. I had to advance the video frame by frame in order to determine which punch put the Thai boxer down. It is right after the Westerner’s left hand connects with the Thai’s face that the Thai boxer starts to go down, but not away from the kick. The direction of his descent to the canvas is directly away from the flow that had just connected to the right side of his head from the Westerner’s left hand.

The video which I outputted at 30 frames a second was nearly not fast enough to catch this. This substantiates my theory about traditional boxing matches to be much more exciting to watch in person. Video is often not fast enough to accurately depict the action. But it’s definitely quick enough to capture the much slower punches with the feet. The camera picks up the arc in a fighter’s legs and then it records the instant of contact. Unfortunately it’s simply not up to doing as good of a job with the much faster hand to head punches.

My Thai girlfriend with professional fighter
The Western boxer not shown in the video with Spicy

There is a fourth fight that is not on the video. Over in about thirty seconds I was too busy getting good digital stills with my Nikon D-1 X to have a chance at getting any video of this fight. However, the Westerner easily won, and like the other Westerners he got the job done by a KO with his hands, not his feet.

Western figther delivering kick to Thai opponent.In the final fight the Western and Thai boxers definitely seem to be equal in weight. What is very conspicuous about this fight it that neither boxer manages to land a single kick to his opponent. I’m sure that after viewing several of those roundhouse kicks that a few out of the audience gasped while thinking: “What would have happened if that kick had landed?” But the point is, it didn’t land.

The Thai fighter in particular seems to have given up on kicking his opponent. So far he has managed to jump away from every kick from the other man or to pull his head out of the way. So when he goes after the Westerner he goes after the man in a big way, going all out with his arms and fists to get in the killing shot. Finally he gets knocked out, his trip to the canvas the result of a quickly delivered one two punch in which the Westerner quickly delivers a shot with first one fist before delivering a nearly simultaneous blow with his other hand.

And so there we have it. Four fights with four Ko’s, with every single knockout the result of a blow by the hand, not the foot. The knockdown punches in most cases thrown by the hand are so swift that they fail to be recorded by my video camera. It is only by putting the video back into the Windows Movie maker in edit mode that I am actually able to see the landing of some of the knockout punches when I advance the video footage frame by frame, one frame at a time. The bottom line is if you are a real fighter, with solid punching ability you are going to be able to stop your opponent with a single punch to the head. This punch will oftentimes be delivered in a span that measures just twenty-four inches, perhaps even less. Good boxers after sufficient training learn how to avoid most of these blows. So if they can avoid a swift punch that travels twenty-four inches or less they are going to easily be able to avoid a kick traveling along a much longer arc. So given two fighters of roughly equal ability it’s going to be no content. The boxer wins, and it’s best to leave all that kick boxing for the movies.

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