Muay thai is brutally-efficient system of kicks (using a fighter’s shin as the point of contact), knees, punches and elbows as well as clinching techniques. The idea here is to use the body as a weapon using “the art of eight limbs.” Hailing from Thailand, this system has largely influenced how stand up fighting/striking is regarded in the United States. Rather than depending on a system of flashy high kicks as popularized by Hollywood from the 70’s through the 90’s, muay thai fighting is more compact, simple and practical.
While it’s difficult to trace the origin of muay thai, there do exist vague 16th and 17th century references from a form of “boxing with elbows” that may have been a sort of proto-muay thai. In 1913 there appears the first descriptive use of the word “muay thai.”
The popularization of Muay Thai in the US has been somewhat gradual but has had two distinct moments we can point to.
A fight between popular American kickboxer Rick Roufus and his much smaller muay thai opponent Changpuek Kiatsongrit would open many westerner’s eyes.
The UFC would make it apparent that Hollywood’s several-decade-long fascination with flashy high/jump kicks simply wasn’t very practical against trained opponents (and especially true with opponents waiting for an opportunity to take you down). Muay thai (and boxing) would largely become the basis for MMA-based striking. As MMA became mainstream, muay thai’s popularity would inevitably rise along with it.
Marco Ruas, while technically fighting under the label of “Vale Tudo” (Portuguese for “anything goes”) would largely popularize the effectivness of muay thai’s low kicks, showing how they could be used to effectively wear down a much larger opponent.