How Muay Thai Fighters Make the Transition to Kickboxing

An Assessment of Glory 22 and Sittichai Sitsongpeenong

sittichai sitsongpeenong muay thai fighter kickboxerAs the popularity and progressiveness of striking sports continue to develop the more intricacies and detailed variations on the art become apparent.

What I’m referring to can be primarily seen in the difference between ‘kickboxing’ and ‘Muay Thai’.

Before we go into the main focus of this article here’s a quick breakdown of what the differences are between the two:

  • Length of Fights – Kickboxing fights are generally fought at a much higher pace than Muay Thai. Among other things, this is mostly in part to kickboxing fights being 3×3 minute rounds with one minute breaks in between. Muay Thai bouts on the other hand are usually 5×3 minute rounds with fights at the stadiums often times having two minute rest periods in between rounds.
  • Rule Sets – The rules set in place for kickboxing allows for the fights to have little to no break during the action in each round. An example of this is the banning of elbow strikes—a technique that often times leads to cuts that the referee or physician will have to address before the round comes to an end.
  • Judging and Scoring – The judging criteria in kickboxing varies, but in most cases judges base their case on which athlete won the round by acknowledging all strikes as equal. Meaning if a punch lands clean it will be valued the same as a kick to the body as long as both strikes appeared to do the same amount of damage. Muay Thai on the other hand does not follow this same mode of thought. Judges place a much heavier emphasis on kicks and elbows over punches. Often times to the point where it seems like an unfair assessment of the actual outcome of the fight.

Now that we’ve established some (albeit very general) rules to look at in comparing Muay Thai to kickboxing, we can apply this to when we views fights that pits a traditional Muay Thai practitioner against kickboxer.

A prime example of this could be seen at Glory 22 this past weekend where Sittichai Sitsongpeenong was crowned the winner of the lightweight contender tournament after handedly dismantling former lightweight champion, Davit Kiria just before outpointing Canadian prospect Josh Jauncey en route to a unanimous decision victory—a pair of performances that rewarded Sittichai for his efforts with the Ramon Dekkers trophy.

So, the question remains… How did he do it?

Sittichai was expected to face some of the same difficulties that many Thais have had in the past when competing on the Glory stage. A plodding, methodical approach to the fight that has seen fighters that are notoriously fast starters being able to control the tempo with high volume punch combinations, superb footwork and a comprehension of how busy a fighter must be when the bout is only nine minutes (at most) to outpoint the Thais despite a massive discrepancy in experience.

Sittichai’s success in the contender tournament this weekend was eerily reminiscent of Buakaw’s dominance during the golden era of K-1 in the early to mid 2000’s.

Because Glory’s rule set does not allow for kicks to be caught or for fighters to execute sweeps, Sittichai was able to throw his devastating kicks with disdain and a complete disregard for his opponent’s defense. If a fighter’s only answer for Sittichai’s monstrous left body kick is to block the strike on their forearms they will undeniably be in for a very long night.

sittichai sitsongpeenong muay thai glory kickboxingNot only does this tactic not slow down Sittichai’s relentless attack, but it softens up the opponents forearms to the point where closing the distance with punches seems entirely out of the question. This strategy was the exact same one that made Buakaw such a formidable opponent against some of the finest boxers the sport has ever seen such as Andy Souwer and Albert Krauss.

As for Sittichai, his barrage of kicks eventually set up one of the most effortless and damaging knees Glory has ever seen that crumbled to Davit Kiria to the canvas in round two. And while Jauncey was able to do better job neutralizing the forward momentum of the young Thai, it was still not enough as Jauncey was forced into chess match that would see him do too much defending with very little in the way of delivering his own offensive maneuvers.

As a diehard fan of Glory myself, I was blown away by the Sittichai’s calculated aggressiveness; and if the 23 year old’s jaw-droppingly good outing in France this weekend is any indication about the Thai’s ability to adapt to different styles/rules then the rest of the kickboxing world is most certainly on notice.

What were your thoughts on Sittichai Sitsongpeenong’s performance? Will the resurgence in the vintage Buakaw berkserker style be the sport’s latest enigma to solve? Post your opinions/thoughts in the comment section below!

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Steve Eisman
Steve Eisman is a recent graduate from the University of Colorado, an aspiring amateur fighter and an assistant coach at The Easton Training Center in Boulder. Steve has trained in Thailand on two separate occasions where he fought in both Phuket and Bangkok. He loves Chipotle almost as much he loves seeing people progress in their training. Steve's passion for the sport is contagious and he will happily talk your ear off about the fight game, movies, books and food.

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