How to Watch Muay Thai in an MMA Fight
Muay Thai is becoming more prevalent in Mixed Martial Arts ﬁghts as combatants realize the effectiveness of the ancient art’s devastating strikes and clinch work.
One of the ﬁnest examples of Muay Thai application in MMA took place at MFC 31 when Zimbabwe’s Mukai Maromo fought Sabah Fadai. For three rounds Maromo put on a perfect display of Muay Thai, utilizing kicks, elbows, punches, knees and marvelous clinch work.
Watch the accompanying video to match the times and enjoy MICHAEL SCHIAVELLO’s expert breakdown of exactly how to watch Muay Thai in an MMA ﬁght.
PAWING WITH THE JAB AS A RANGE FINDER
0:00 – 2:00 Maromo begins the ﬁght using a probing jab. The purpose of this technique is to gauge his distance. Fadai has range with his legs, as indicated by the leg kick to the back leg at (1:51). Maromo is testing where he can get Fadai on the end of his jab, which will help him set the range for his strikes.
BACK TO THE FEET, CREATE DISTANCE
2:26 – After defending Fadai’s attempt to get the ﬁght on the ground, Maromo gets back to his feet by utilising Fadai’s base, moves counter clockwise and shrugs off Fadai to reset back to striking range.
FIRST COMBINATION, FAKE LEFT, LEG KICK
2:30 – Maromo goes back to his probing jab to gauge distance. Once he is conﬁdent of ﬁnding range he throws his ﬁrst true combination of the ﬁght: he moves forward quickly, stepping an extra half-step with his lead leg to throw the hook. However the hook is just a diversion. His movement allows him to place the rear leg further back and thus gain a much greater chamber for the right-leg roundkick to Fadai’s outside lead thigh, landing on the hemline of the trunks.
2:57 – Note how Maromo’s right hand (rear hand from orthodox stance) is turned palm out. This is classic Muay Thai guard position which allows Maromo to catch with the forearms any kicks Fadai may throw to the right of the body.
FRONT KICK / TEEP FOR DEFENSE
3:00 – Fadai decides to test Maromo’s body with a straight right hand destined for the sternum. Maromo reads it well and shoots off a quick front kick (teep in Muay Thai) to Fadai’s lead leg. When throwing this technique, the toes need to be pulled back (splayed) and connection with the ball of the feet, thrusting hips forward. Both men have effectively thrown a cross here — Fadai off the right hand/ Maromo off the right leg — and the quick leg wins as it has greater length.
3:17 – One of the most popular techniques used by Muay Thai ﬁghters (particularly Western Muay Thai practitioners) is what’s commonly called a “switch round”. This is where you switch your lead leg to the rear and then throw a kick off that leg, giving it more power than it would get being thrown from orthodox stance. Watch here as Maromo quickly switches up, puts his left leg to the back (momentary switch to southpaw), and throws a kick to the liver, which is located behind the 9th and 10th ribs on the right side of the body.
KICK TO THE KNEE
3:34 – As you hear my commentary telling you about the welting on Fadai’s lead leg (this after just a couple of leg kicks!) Maromo throws a gorgeous kick to the lead leg again. This time he drops his shin/instep lower, to the side of the knee. This was a technique often used by K-1 great Ernesto Hoost. Others exponents of this kick include Buakaw Por Pramuk, Yodsanklai Fairtex, Jomhod and Sakmongkol. The aim here is to hit the Common Peroneal Nerve. It is an extremely painful kick and can quickly deaden the leg and foot.
EVASION VERSUS CHECK
3:54 – Maromo once again uses his pawing lead hand as a range ﬁnder. It is not only for ﬁnding his offensive strikes but also for defensive purposes. Watch how Fadai throws a leg kick but Maromo simply pulls the leg back and makes Fadai miss. This is an option to checking a kick, which can be much more painful. Maromo knows he’s out of his own kicking range and, therefore, out of Fadai’s kicking range. A simple evasion.
COUNTER TO THE JAB
4:02 – This is one of my FAVOURITE moments in the early part of this ﬁght. Maromo paws with his range-ﬁnding left hand again. Fadai spots an opening as Maromo inches forward and snakes his left hand (it’s a long reaching jab that loops upward to the jaw instead of corkscrewing down the centre). However, once again in a game of HANDS versus LEGS the leg prevails.
Maromo times his rear leg round kick counter to perfection. He knows that at full reach Fadai is vulnerable to a counter and close enough to connect heavily with all the power of a rear leg round kick. The kick is again beneath the hemline of the trunks, just above the knee.
WATCH WHERE YOU DRIFT
4:15 – Fadai is drifting off to his left, which is exactly where Maromo wants him. Fadai should be going to his right to stay away from Maromo’s power side.
OOPS DON’T DROP THAT HAND
5:30 – Fadai throws a good outside thigh kick to the lead leg. Maromo drops his left hand, possibly looking to catch the kicking leg but his timing is out. We’ll put it down to the thumb he took to the eye seconds before. This would have been a nice opportunity for Fadai to double kick off the right leg while the hand was lowered.
THE EYES HAVE IT
6:20 – Note that Maromo continually looks at Fadai’s legs, whether he is kicking to the legs or not. This is another common trait of Thai ﬁghters, looking towards one spot (legs, centre of chest) so as to not telegraph their actual next strike. Fadai throws a leg kick that Maromo takes. Maromo quickly responds with a high right round kick, that Fadai guards against.
FAKE TO CLINCH
6:40 – In an exquisite piece of footwork reminisce of K-1 champion Remy Bonjasky, Maromo uses a fake right roundkick to catch Fadai’s attention and gain ground. With Fadai backing up to miss the (fake) kick, Maromo ties him against the ropes. He uses his left forearm for control and throws a short right hand to the jaw that wobbles Fadai. With Fadai on the retreat, Maromo looks to pounce and throws a high right roundkick, intended to ﬁnish the ﬁght. Fadai wears the kick on the jaw but is clearly stunned. He instinctively drops down for a single leg. Maromo defends the take down, ends up in top position and delivers some ground and pound from inside Fadai’s guard until the round ends.
WALK THIS WAY
8:20 – Maromo opens the round with his range-ﬁnding left hand. It doesn’t take him long to ﬁnd range now. He fakes a jab and quickly brings his rear leg roundkick underneath, landing the instep just above the knee on Fadai’s left leg. Fadai limps momentarily. These kicks are taking their toll.
BUCKLE THE KNEE
8:50 – Again Maromo uses his lead hand to ﬁnd range. Note that he is constantly moving and never remains a stagnant target for Fadai to get a set on. He throws another rear leg roundkick to Fadai’s lead leg, this time directly to the knee and the CPN.
CLINCH, KNEE, ELBOW!
8:56 – Maromo sells a fake rear leg roundkick and bridges the gap looking for a knee to the ribs. He transitions beautifully into a FULL THAI CLINCH for the ﬁrst time in the ﬁght. From here Maromo delivers a series of knees. It is Muay Thai Textbook 101. The clinch is locked in tight around the back of the neck, controlling Fadai’s entire body. The clinch is used to direct Fadai into the knees to his body. All three knee scores and Fadai is locked down with nowhere to go. This sequence ﬁnishes again in true Muay Thai fashion as Maromo breaks the clinch and throws a downward elbow off the right arm while still controlling the head with his left. Just beautiful!
CONTROL THE RING
9:20 – Watch as Maromo goes back to pawing with his jab. He has Fadai on the backfoot and is controlling centre ring, forcing Fadai to what we call the “outside” while Maromo stays in the “centre”. Fadai, his legs injured, is continually forced to move around. Maromo dictates the pace with quarter turns, preserving his energy. The Thais are masters at this sort of ring control.
RAZOR SHARP COUNTERING
10:14 – In another of the ﬁght’s true highlights, Maromo catches Fadai’s rear leg
roundkick and counters with a beautiful sweep kick to Fadai’s support leg. With his support swept out Fadai falls to the canvas. If this was a Muay Thai ﬁght, the referee would have allowed Fadai back up and Maromo would have scored highly for a well- executed catch and sweep. Maromo gets in a shot off his right hand while Fadai is down. Fadai tries to tie up the leg but Maromo spins out easily, allows Fadai up and resets his striking.
10:30 – Watch over the next eleven seconds as Maromo continually challenges Fadai with right leg fakes. He’s looking for Fadai to commit to defence and open a chink in his armour.
STUFF TAKEDOWN TO THAI CLINCH
10:41 – Fadai shoots in and Maromo stuffs the takedown. He immediately transitions to a full Thai clinch, ﬁngers interlocked behind the head. Maromo lands three knees and a short elbow. After the elbow he lands one more knee, not from the full clinch but from another Thai technique where the forearm is placed across the throat to measure the elbow strike.
COUNTER TO RIGHT HAND
11:23 – Fadai’s leg is a mess. Maromo does not rush. He picks his shots and makes sure every strike counts. Fadai throws a right cross; Maromo gets on the outside of the punch and counters with a right round kick to the midsection. Fadai drops to the canvas and Maromo slings the legs before letting him up. This is a calculated and cruel destruction of Fadai.
11:53 – Maromo sits behind his pawing left hand and times another cracking right roundkick to Fadai’s injured lead leg. The kick is just above the knee and almost causes Fadai to double over.
CATCH AND SWEEP OF THE HIGHEST ORDER
12:38 – Fadai gets his chance to dominate centre ring as Maromo drifts back to the outside. However it proves futile. Fadai throws a rear leg roundkick. Pause the video on
12:39 and look at the textbook method with which Maromo catches the kick. Fadai’s leg is at full extension. Maromo tucks Fadai’s instep under his armpit. There is nowhere for Fadai to go and nothing for him to balance on. He is wide open for Maromo’s counter, which comes off the right leg, sweeping nice and low between Fadai’s left knee and ankle.
COUNTER RIGHT TO LEG KICK
12:55 – Fadai throws a rear leg roundkick of his own. Maromo rides the it, turning his thigh with the motion of the kick so as to not take full impact. He counters with a crisp right hand to Fadai’s jaw and a follow up right roundkick to the hamstring. This is just a treat to watch.
FADAI USES TEEP
13:00 – Fadai backs into the corner. Maromo will not rush. He fakes the right hand and the right leg. As Maromo shufﬂes in to attack, Fadai uses a frontkick (teep) to the midsection to keep Maromo at bay.
RANGE FOUND, DESTRUCTION STARTS
14:35 – At the start of the round it’s evident that Maromo knows his range instinctively. He lands a leg kick seconds into the round without the need to range-ﬁnd with the jab. This is a speciality of the Thai ﬁghter: start slow and pick up the pace in the later portion of the ﬁght.
FAKE, KICK, RESET
14:44 – Maromo continues to fake. He fakes low rear leg round kicks. He fakes right crosses. Fadai doesn’t know where the next strike will come from. It’s a high kick that misses, but watch how quickly Maromo spins and resets his stance.
14:54 – The teep kick is primarily used as a defensive strike however it can be used offensively, particularly off the rear leg as Maromo does here, looking to dig the balls of the feet into Fadai’s midsection.
DOWN TO THE LEGS
15:04 – Maromo is constantly changing levels now. After two teeps to the midsection he goes back down to Fadai’s lead leg, cracking his shin/instep just above the left knee. Fadai is not checking the kicks. This can only mean trouble. By this stage I am surprised that Fadai hasn’t switched stance to protect that left leg.
DEFEND DOUBLE LEG, THAI CLINCH, KICK
15:09 – Fadai shoots in for a double leg. Maromo stuffs the attempt, puts him in a Thai clinch to control the head. The Thai clinch allows Maromo to take complete control of Fadai’s motion. He spins him off to create room for a roundkick to the liver off the power right leg — a rare opportunity to get and one Maromo capitalises on. This is a magniﬁcent display of Muay Thai clinch usage to defend a takedown.
LORD OF THE FLAT FOOTED
15:30 – In the commentary I note how ﬂat-footed Fadai is compared to Maromo who is constantly on the balls of his feet. Being ﬂat footed against a mobile opponent will not allow you to spring forward with any effective boxing. It also makes you a stagnant target.
COUNTER KICK PERFECTION
15:38 — Fadai throws a kick to Maromo’s lead leg. Maromo takes the kick and counters with a kick to Fadai’s support leg — the damaged lead leg. It results in an easy chop down. The weight was already forward on Maromo’s lead leg (taking Fadai’s kick) to quickly drop his counter kick on Fadai’s damaged left leg.
TEEP COUNTER AGAINST FLAT FEET
16:27 — Fadai throws a jab but being ﬂat-footed cannot get full extension. It allows Maromo to counter easily with a teep off the rear leg, dug nice and deep into the upper thigh, hurting Fadai.
COMBINATION ON A HURT OPPONENT
16:32 — A damaged Fadai backs up against the ropes. Maromo capitalises on Fadai’s retreat. He sells a fake kick to the legs that causes Fadai to drop his gaurd. Maromo then immediately throws the kick to the head. An exquisite set up and execution. But he’s not done yet! He throws a right cross immediately after the right roundkick (a hard combination to throw). When he throws another roundkick Fadai catches and looks for a right cross counter, but Maromo is too quick and evades easily.
TAKEDOWN. MAROMO DEFENDS THE HALF GUARD
16:40– After Maromo lands another thumping right kick to Fadai’s lead thigh, Fadai rushes him, clinches and effects a trip takedown to end up in half-guard. This is Fadai’s best position in the ﬁght so far. Maromo remains composed. He underhooks one arm, over hooks the other and doesn’t allow Fadai to posture up to work any ground and pound nor pass the guard. Maromo continually defends Fadai’s attempts to pass guard. The moment Maromo gets an opening to return to his feet he does so with a spring. Fantastic defense.
KICK TO HAMSTRING
18:26 — Maromo easily evades a looping left hook. He turns off to his right and throws a smashing kick to the lead lead that connects to the hamstring.
TEEP TO SHORT CROSS
18:40 — Maromo throws another teep off his rear leg to Fadai’s lead thing and pops a short right cross over the top.
THE COUP DE GRACE
18:52 — With a move reminisce of Remy Bonjasky and Ernesto Hoost, Maromo delivers his ﬁnest strike of the ﬁght. He dances off to his right, draws Fadai in, sells a jab and immediately cracks underneath with a rear leg roundkick to the outside of the knee — hitting the Common Peroneal Nerve — and drops Fadai. This is devastating. Fadai’s leg is gone. Note how Maromo could go to ground and try to ﬁnish the ﬁght but he plays it smart and safe. He backs off and tells Fadai to get up. He also knows how much energy it takes for Fadai to pick himself up off the canvas.
19:14 — Ten seconds to go in the ﬁght and Maromo dances a little to grind down the clock then delivers one last combination. A jumping knee / right hand / high left roundkick. The ﬁght ends. Maromo takes a unanimous decision. He is unscathed.
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