What Is The Difference Between Lethwei And Muay Thai?

Muay Thai it’s a popular form of martial arts. But another type of combat sport is on the rise. It’s called Lethwei.  What is Lethwei? Lethwei is a type of full-combat sport and it’s said to be even more dangerous and brutal than Muay Thai

When you watch Muay Thai and Lethwei, you’ll see that it’s sometimes hard to tell the differences between them because they’re similar when it comes to their striking techniques. However, there are some important differences to know about. 

Lethwei Vs. Muay Thai: What Is Lethwei?

Lethwei is often referred to as Burmese bare-knuckle boxing. It’s been around longer than other types of combat sports. It is considered to be more violent than Muay Thai because of how it allows participants to make use of fists, elbows, feet, knees, and even headbutts!

This is why it’s called the “Art of Nine Limbs,” as it’s a form of full-contact martial arts that hails from Myanmar in South-East Asia. 

There are some similarities that Lethwei shares with Muay Thai, such as when it comes to the use of striking techniques such as the spinning elbow. But Lethwei has its origins in a much more brutal way of fighting. 

In ancient times, Lethwei was practised in a very violent way, even more than it is currently being practiced.

Back then, participants would only be able to win if they knocked out their opponents and if an opponent was knocked unconscious before the last round (there are five), they would be given a two-minute break after which they could return to the game.

There were no point systems in place – basically, winning meant being able to knock out one’s opponent! 

Nowadays, the rules have changed in order to help make the sport more acceptable and a bit less controversial. For starters, all Lethwei fighters need to wear groin protectors and mouthguards. They also need to protect their hands.

But there’s a catch – they are only meant to use tape or gauze for their hands, which does make it riskier than other types of sports. Just like in previous times, modern-day Lethwei still makes use of five rounds of the sport, and they each last three minutes. There are two-minute breaks between rounds. 

Luckily, the two-minute break for people who get knocked unconscious before they return to the game has largely been eliminated.

That said, it might surprise you to know that some organizations still opt for the rule that participants only win if they manage to knock out their competitors (via MMA NYTT).

If there is no knockout, the participants will have to try to injure each other to the point where they can’t continue to fight. That, then, is how a winner is declared. Yup, it’s still pretty rough

Lethwei fighters can engage in a variety of techniques, such as headbutts, all types of punches, all types of elbow strikes, all kinds of kicks and knee strikes, and extensive clinching (grappling).

There is a referee present in Lethwei fights, even though after reading to this point you might assume there isn’t one. The ref has the right to end the fight if one fighter is seen as outclassing his opponent and he can also end the fight if a participant is severely injured. 

How Does Muay Thai Compare? 

While Lethwei is called the “Art of Nine Limbs,” Muay Thai is called the “Art of Eight Limbs” because participants can make use of their hands, elbows, knees, and shins or feet during the fight.

The one part of the body they cannot use during combat is their head, which is allowed under Lethwei rules. This is what makes Lethwei such an interesting and scary sport, but it’s still not recognized on an international scale. Muay Thai is more common because it’s less violent

Muay Thai originates from Thailand, where it’s considered to be the national sport and cultural martial art of the country. Scoring in Muay Thai takes the form of a 10-point system that is used by judges over five rounds of combat.

However, judges don’t score every round and add up the points to find a winner. Instead, they will score the fight overall, taking elements such as control, aggression, and striking techniques into account. 

Here are some other important things to know about Muay Thai:

  • The match rounds are the same as in Lethwei – there are five rounds and they are all three minutes in length, with breaks of two minutes between them.  
  • Practitioners will protect their hands with Muay Thai gloves, whereas Lethwei participants don’t really use protection, as mentioned earlier. 
  • Fighters don’t have to knock each other out in order to win. If they reach the end of the fight and there is no knockout, they will win by points. Reaching a draw is possible in Muay Thai, but it is quite a rare occurrence. 
  • Muay Thai fighters are said to be in violation of the rules if they headbutt their opponents, so that is very different from Lethwei rules. They also can’t wrestle, deliberately fall on their opponent, or strike their opponent’s groin area, to mention a few rules. The no-groin strike rule is also followed in Lethwei battles, as fighters need to wear groin protectors. This is a modern rule as groin kicks and strikes used to be allowed in this form of combat.
  • In Muay Thai, kicks are favored, while in Lethwei the main focus is on fighters using their hands. That’s even more devastating if you consider that Lethwei fighters don’t wear proper protective gloves! 
  • The referee’s responsibilities are similar in Muay Thai as they are in Lethwei. For example, the referee can protect a weaker fighter so that he doesn’t become seriously injured and the referee can stop a fight if he feels that one fighter is stronger or more skilled than the other.  

There’s no doubt that Muay Thai can be dangerous. These fights can be quite bloody in the ring, thanks to how hard kicks, swinging elbows and punches can be used by participants.

The difference is that there are more rules in place when it comes to striking techniques. For example, although some organizations don’t allow knee strikes to the elbows or head (via IKF Kickboxing).

So, How Dangerous Is Lethwei?

How Dangerous Is Lethwei?

It’s clear to see that Lethwei is much more dangerous than Muay Thai because of fewer rules being in place for this combat sport.

Headbutting one’s opponent can cause swelling, cuts, and injuries that can be severe. To make matters worse, there are many ways in which participants can headbutt their opponents, such as with the use of the diving headbutt. 

This is basically a type of headbutt that takes place when someone takes down their opponent and on their way to the ground headbutts them. While a headbutt won’t necessarily kill someone, it can lead to lethal injuries.

We also need to bear in mind that headbutting someone means coming into contact with the delicate, bony parts of their face, which can lead to devastating injuries. 

In addition to the dangers associated with headbutts, one of the main elements of the match is that fighters mainly use their hands during combat without any rule being in place that they wear proper gloves. This also increases the risk of fighters being injured

Based on the above, it’s really no wonder that Lethwei is regarded as one of the most lethal combat sports in the world. 

Related Questions 

Is Muay Thai or Lethwei better for street fights? 

It’s been said that Lethwei would be more effective in street fights because of how it makes use of headbutts.

This helps to increase one’s chances of having self-defence (and possibly taking one’s attacker by surprise). 

What’s the most dangerous combat sport? 

Silat is considered to be one of the most dangerous combat sports in the world.

It’s focused on violence and incapacitating your opponent as quickly as possible. It’s all about finding your opponent’s weak spots and targeting them. 


Combat sports are growing in popularity. While you might see more of Muay Thai, it’s cousin, the more brazen and dangerous Lethwei, is interesting and worth knowing about. 

In this article, we’ve looked at the differences and similarities between the two fighting styles as well as just how dangerous they are. If you’re not a pro fighter or you just can’t handle bruises and blood in the ring, you’re probably better off watching these sports from the safety of your couch!  

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