The national sport of Thailand, muay thai (or Thai boxing) is a combat sport that combines stand-up striking with clinching techniques and whose history can be traced back to at least the mid-18th century, and even further in folklore and legends.
Step 1: Find a venue
If you’re looking for a serious fight, your best bet is Bangkok, where the two main venues — Rajadamnern Stadium and New Lumpinee Boxing Stadium — have regular bouts, often with best-in-their-class boxers. The Channel 7 Stadium also has regular fights with standing room spaces available for free, if you’re lucky.
Tourist-directed bouts in other cities often feature less-trained fighters (or sometimes foreigners with little or no training) and focus on entertainment rather than professionalism. Make sure to research the venue and the fighters beforehand (and remember, you can always catch a fight on television at a local watering hole).
Step 2: Settle in for the evening
Fights typically start at 6:00pm or so and include a variety of undercards, with fighters’ talent steadily increasing until the main event. Matches begin with a ritual — the wai kru — in which a fighter wears a mongkhon/mongkol (headband) and pra jiad (armbands) into the ring. The tradition dates back to olden times of war in which men would tear off a piece of a loved one’s clothing (such as their mother’s sarong) and wear it into battle for good luck. Today, a mongkol is worn as a tribute to the fighter’s gym, as they are usually only presented by a trainer once he deems the fighter ready to represent the gym in the ring. After the wai kru, the mongkol is often placed in the fighter’s corner as it is not worn during the match.
Step 3: Understand structure and scoring
Muay thai is often referred to as the “Art of Eight Limbs,” as a nak muay (a practitioner of muay thai) uses punches, kicks, elbows and knee strikes, making for eight points of contact rather than the two points (fists) of boxing or the four points (hands and feet) of kickboxing.
A muay thai match typically lasts no more than five rounds, each three minutes with a two minute rest in between. The first couple rounds are usually used to feel out an opponent’s defenses, with more action occurring, typically, in the late to final rounds (unless the opponents are very unevenly matched). Judges score each round out of a possible 10 points, adding up and reporting an accumulated score at the end of the match out of a total possible 50 points. For more on scoring, see the official rules or this helpful overview.