How is Muay Thai Scored Compared to Other Martial Arts?

Scoring fighters in a Muay Thai fight.

When it comes to scoring a fight, Muay Thai differs quite significantly from most other martial arts. We see the traditional 10 points system in place for mainstream martial arts like boxing and MMA. But how then is Muay Thai scored differently?

Muay Thai scoring is based on the entirety of the fight and not just on a round per round basis. While there are points given per round, these are there to aid the judge when making their final decision on a fighters overall performance.

This approach to scoring the fight was also found in the sport of mixed martial arts, but not in the western world. Pride fighting championships which were based out of Japan took an overall view of the fight. Deciding to base their scoring system on how the fighter did through the entire fight and not just specific rounds.

Pride FC focused on having three rounds with the first round lasting a full 10 minutes. And the subsequent rounds the now standard MMA 5 minutes each. Unless there was a stoppage the winner of the fight was decided upon by their overall performance and not just on a round by round scoring system.

Western 10 Point Must vs Muay Thai Scoring

Each round is judged on an individual basis in the traditional western 10 points must system. So in a scoring situation where one fighter has narrowly edged another fighter for a majority of rounds. Going into the later rounds, it is all but impossible for that fighter to win the fight without scoring a knockout or TKO stoppage.

So for example in a 10 round fight situation where fighter A is leading on the scorecards 60 – 54 against fighter B going into the last four rounds. Fighter B has a lot less opportunity of now winning the fight as they have already lost the majority of the rounds. This leads to a go for broke situation where the trailing fighter must now stop their opponent to win the fight.

This is where the scoring for both sports differ as Muay Thai is based on the overall performance of the fighter throughout the fight. So while there is a points system in place per round ranging from 6,7,8,9 to 10. The points are meant more as a marker for the judge to make a decision when the final bell rings.

The difference here is that a trailing fighter is still able to push past their opponent if they can gain on the scorecards going into the final rounds. The scoring in Muay Thai is more flexible and allows for fighters to still claw back the lead from their opponent without a definitive stoppage.

What Strikes Count in Muay Thai

Muay Thai is known as the Art of Eight Limbs and offers its competitors multiple ways in which they can win a fight. And although headbutts have been removed from modern competitive Muay Thai, that was a close one. There are still several ways in which a fighter can be victorious.

  • Fighters can use front push kicks as an offensive as well a defensive move, along with low kicks, kicks to the thigh and knee. Kicks to the body and high kicks to the head.
  • Elbows can be used in a myriad of ways, usually when in close on an opponent. These can be thrown from the side in a cutting motion as well as upward in a 6 to 12 motion.
  • Fighters are allowed to clinch and use knees to the body and head. Clinches can range from a full-body hug clinch where later knees are aimed at the torso. Clinching the head is also allowed, where a fighter cups the opponents head with two hands, pulling them off balance and landing knees to the head.
  • Very much like in traditional western boxing, punches are combined with kicks to complete the arsenal of the Muay Thai fighter. While mainly known for their elite kicking game. Thailand has also produced a number of world champion boxers which have crossed over into western-style boxing.

Muay Thai Scoring Criteria

Three main criteria come into play when scoring a Muay Thai fight. And these are three core principles the judges will consider when scoring the fight and these are as follows:

  • Effective aggression – Which is all about the strikes landed by the fighters on one another. Each strike is weighted differently with kicks being more favoured by the judge over punches. A fighter throwing an equal amount of punches to their opponent’s kicks will lose the fight in the eyes of the judges. If one fighter is pushing the pace more in the fight this is taken into account by the judges.
  • Ring and action control – Being in control of the exchanges and dictating where the fight goes. Whether attacking and defending, as long as the fighter is controlling the flow of the fight, even while going backwards or being on the ropes. This is all taken into account when building a wider picture on the scoring cards. A Muay Femur fighter, known for their technical ability will usually score higher in this area.
  • Technical execution – Is all about the quality of strikes the fighter can execute. So the fighter who displays the best technique and better overall Muay Thai.

Scoring the Fight

As mentioned previously, scoring in Muay Thai also uses a 10 point system to guide the judge toward their final decision. And this can often lead to some confusion as a fighter was winning on the scorecards if interpreted by the western 10 points must rule system.

But as I mentioned before the points scoring in Muay Thai is more of a round marker that guides the judges toward their final decision. The scoring goes as follows:

  • 10 – 9 means that one fighter has won this round.
  • 10 – 8 means the one fighter has won the round by a clear margin.
  • 10 – 7 means a decisive win for one fighter and that their opponent has been on the canvas and received a referee count.

When it comes to how the fight itself is won. There are three different official ways in which this can occur and they are:

  • A points victory – if both fighters complete the bout without one being stopped or knocked out. The decision goes to the judge scorecards. And the fighter who has accumulated the most points in the duration of the bout wins the contest.
  • TKO or Technical knockout – a fighter is stopped or badly hurt and is deemed unable to continue by the referee.
  • By Knockout – is when one fighter knocks their opponent unconscious at which point they can no longer continue. The most decisive way to end a fight in any combat sport.

The 1st and 5th Rounds in Muay Thai

There are some unwritten rules or shall we say, understanding amongst competing Thai fighters. Namely that in the first round of the fight both fighters will take their time to work out their opponent, downloading the information as we often hear from western boxing pundits.

It is during this period that both fighters build the gameplan for their opponent which will then execute in the following rounds 2, 3 and 4 of the fight. As a general rule, if the fight has not been decided by this point, both fighters will continue to battle into the 5th round.

However, if there is a definitive dominant winner leading into the 5th and final round. Both fighters will not go all out to win. More as an unwritten sign of dominance the leading fighter will raise their hands above their heads in a show of superiority.

This will often be reflected in the opposing fighter touching gloves to acknowledge they have lost the fight and the rest is now just a formality.

This unwritten format can often lead to the bemusement of western onlookers who do not understand the nuances or culture of the sport and country. As when the fight is won, it is won and as a show of respect the losing fighter acknowledges that before the final bell.

Local Thai Judges Scoring

One of the issues I have seen is the differing criteria amongst local judges in the Thai boxing scene. Imagine this for a moment, you are a western fighter who goes into the fight assuming that you can win the fight by executing your gameplan.

But, local judges in Thailand may have their own set of criteria which is not necessarily in tune with what you expect. Depending on the location, they may lean heavily toward different aspects of Muay Thai that you do not focus on in your game plan.

So while you may appear to do really well in the fight itself. Local judges may decide that your style of Muay Thai is not in tune with how they approach the sport.

And while for all the world you should be winning the fight on points. Your style may not have sat very well with the local judges and could lead to you losing the fight, no bias here right.

My Final Thoughts

Muay Thai is a hugely entertaining and tough sport. But as both a competitor and a fighter, you must accept the differences in the scoring criteria when compared to western-oriented combat sports.

Thai boxing or Muay Thai is a sport which has been around since at least the 16th century. Steeped in the culture and tradition of the country from which it has grown. It’s unique style and rules very much separate it from the norms of western-style combat sports.

And for this very reason, it needs to be treated differently in terms of what fans and fighter expect. There is no doubting that Muay Thai is at the very top of the tree in terms of standup striking martial arts and will remain there for the foreseeable future.

And so as it’s popularity continues to grow throughout the world. We in the West need to be aware and pay homage to its rich culture and history of Muay Thai. When in Rome we do as the Romans do. When in Thailand, it’s the exact same situation.


Hi, I'm Ross, at 40 years plus, I have been involved in the Martial arts for most of my life. Along with my first pet Collie dog named Tyson, RIP. My journey in the world of Martial Arts is something I want to share. So that others too can learn from my experiences.

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