Lethwei vs Muay Thai

Lethwei vs Muay Thai

The lethal combat sports of Muay Thai and Lethwei are bigger than ever. Since Lethwei is now being introduced, fans are curious about who would win a match between Lethwei vs Muay Thai.

Let’s match them up and see how a bout between Lethwei vs Muay Thai would go. Read below to learn about these two combat sports’ histories and similarities and differences.

Lethwei vs Muay Thai: The Histories

Let’s start by going over the histories of these effective striking styles. Here are the histories of Lethwei vs Muay Thai.

The History of Muay Thai 

The sport of Muay Thai dates back a little over 100 years, but the martial art is far old. Muay Thai was developed from the older Thai martial art called Muay Boran.

Muay Boran was developed from even older styles that date back thousands of years. During the 1600s, the King of Thailand held an annual festival.

His best soldiers competed in friendly sparring matches to entertain the guests. These sparring competitions would become a tradition and continue til today.

During the 1900s, Thai martial art started becoming introduced to Westerners. During this cultural exchange, Thais were introduced to the sport of Western boxing.

They would take the format of Western boxing back to Thailand and began developing the sport of Muay Thai. From then on, Thai boxing bouts were held in boxing rings with gloves.

Governing bodies would begin creating official rules for Muay Thai and adding weight classes. Over the century, Muay Thai would steadily grow as people from other countries were introduced.

Fast forward to today, and Muay Thai is one of the world’s most popular and practiced combat sports. Millions more are now watching Thai boxing and learning this incredible martial art.

History of Muay Thai 

The History of Lethwei 

While Muay Thai gets all the attention, the style’s Myanmar cousin, Lethwei, is just as exciting and effective. Lethwei, like Muay Thai, has a history that goes back thousands of years.  The ancient Burma warriors went to battle with ancient Thai warriors for centuries. 

The name “Lethwei” in Burmese translates to boxing and developed like the Thai and Laos styles. Lethwei was developed through war and evolved into a martial art and combat sport.

Historians have dated the origins of Lethwei to around 2 A.D. during the Pyu empire. Like Muay Thai, Lethwei was developed for war.

Ancient Burmese militaries traditionally created fighting tournaments between a village’s strongest boys. The best fighters were taken into the army and trained.

Just like Muay Thai, Lethwei would eventually separate itself from the art of war to a combat sport. Lethwei bouts were originally held in dirt or sand circles before the introduction of rings.

Early Lethwei promoters developed their own style of combat sport. Bouts remain without gloves to separate Lethwei and Muay Thai while keeping the tradition of its roots.

It took Lethwei longer, but the combat sport has finally found an audience. More people are watching Lethwei than ever, and it is set to blow up.

Lethwei History

The Techniques

From a glance, the techniques of Lethwei vs Muay Thai are identical. Both practice the same punches, kicks, knees, and elbows.

The big difference between the two styles is the headbutts of Lethwei. Muay Thai is the art of eight limbs, while Lethwei is the art of nine.

The brutal headbutts in Lethwei are unique to the martial arts. It is one of the only martial arts in the one that teaches and encourages headbutts.

Some martial artists disapprove of using headbutts, but you can’t argue against their effectiveness.

Fight Attire 

Regarding permitted fight attire, Muay Thai and Lethwei are about the same. But between Lethwei vs Muay Thai, Muay Thai includes one important fighting attire that isn’t used in Lethwei.

Muay Thai


  • No Gloves
  • Shorts 
  • Mouthguard
  • Cup

Some Muay Thai promotions hold bouts without gloves, like in traditional bouts. However, the more popular form of Muay Thai is done with Muay Thai gloves.

Match Formats

When it comes to match formats, Muay Thai and Lethwei have a lot of similarities and some differences. Here is an explanation of the match formats of Lethwei vs Muay Thai.

Muay Thai Match Format

  • 5 Rounds/3 Mins Each
  • 2 Minute Breaks Between Rounds
  • Way To Win: KO/TKO/Decision

Lethwei Match Format

  •  5 Rounds/3 Mins Each
  • 2 Minute Break Between Rounds
  • Ways To Win: KO/TKO
  • Knockout Timeout

In Muay Thai, promotions use a scoring system to decide who wins the decision. A Lethwei bout can only be won by KO, TKO, or doctor stoppage.

If a knockout is earned within the time limit of a Lethwei match, the match is declared a draw. The other big difference between the formats of these combat sports is the knockout rule in Lethwei. 

When a Lethwei fighter gets knocked out before the fifth round, they are given a 2-minute KO timeout. In this time, the fighter’s corner will try to revive them to continue the fight.

If they fail to get up in the 2-minute limit, the bout is ruled a KO. Lethwei also has a 4 knockdown rule and 3 knockdowns per round rule. In the event a fighter successfully knocks their opponent down 3 times in a round or 4 knockdowns overall, they win.

Some Muay Thai promotions implement different knockdown rules but no knockout timeout.

Why is Muay Thai More Popular

Muay Thai dwarfs Lethwei in popularity. Have you ever wondered why this is? There are two reasons why Muay Thai is more popular than Lethwei.

  • Myanmar isn’t a free nation.
  • The violence.

Historically, Myanmar has not been a free nation. For most of this country’s existence, they have been closed off and don’t participate in cultural exchanges.

This made it difficult for Lethwei to grow and reach a wider audience. For decades, all Westerners had were old tapes and stories of Lethwei fights.

It wasn’t until recently that Lethwei received global exposure. This was due to Myanmar finally opening its doors to foreigners in, which let to Lethwei growing.

Much of the popularity was due to the success of the King of Lethwei, David Leduc. But unfortunately for Lethwei, a combination of a military coupe and the global pandemic halted the growth of Lethwei.

Lethwei has still not returned to form years later.

Lethwei vs Muay Thai: Who Wins in a Fight? 

A matchup between Lethwei vs Muay Thai would depend on the rule sets for the fight. A Thai boxer would have the advantage in Muay Thai and the Burmese boxer in Lethwei.

In a Muay Thai bout, the Lethwei fighter would be limited by the rule sets. They cannot throw headbutts and aren’t used to fighting with gloves on. The feel and range are completely different, which would give the Thai boxer the advantage.

However, the same would happen to a Thai boxer in a Lethwei bout. The lack of gloves and rules puts the Thai boxer at a disadvantage. Especially so that they don’t practice headbutts.

Each fighter would have a chance to fight in the other style but isn’t likely to win the match. Click here to watch an example of a Lethwei vs Muay Thai bout under Lethwei rules.

This would be one of the uncommon times that a Thai boxer beat a Burmese boxer under Lethwei rules.

The Verdict

When it comes to Lethwei vs Muay Thai, they both are incredibly effective striking styles that are exciting to watch. Lethwei may not be for everyone, but it’s growing in popularity around the world. Even if you don’t like Lethwei, you still have vast amounts of Muay Thai you can watch.

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