How To Combat A Taller Opponent In Muay Thai

In the world of martial arts and combat sports, fighting a taller opponent is almost never an easy thing to do. Just ask anyone who has ever sparred or fought an opponent with a significant height and reach advantage and they will likely tell you that it is one of the toughest and most frustrating things they have ever experienced. However, as many great fighters have shown, it is not impossible to conquer a taller opponent.

In Muay Thai, the term “size doesn’t matter” rings true. Legendary fighters like Samart Payakaroon, Changpuek Kiatsongrit, Saenchai PKSaenchaiMuayThaiGym, and Kaoklai Kaennorsing have proven time and time again why the ancient art of eight limbs is one of, if not the most effective striking based martial art in the world. Using the right techniques and strategies, these legends have made their careers out of beating opponents who are not just much bigger and taller than them, but also stronger.

So how does one combat a taller opponent in Muay Thai? Here’s some tips and techniques to help you tackle that question.


Be Ready to Take Some to Give Some

Muay Thai veteran Seksan Or. Kwanmuang taking on a younger and taller Thaksinlek Kiatniwat

Before you can even begin to apply the tips and techniques recommended here, you need to first accept that you will probably have to take some hits in order to give some of your own. Being the fighter with the height and reach disadvantage, it will be difficult to measure the range necessary to attack and defend successfully – especially early on in the fight.

This means that you are bound to get tagged more often than you expect as you try to get used to the range needed to avoid incoming attacks and land your own strikes – which can get frustrating. But if you ready yourself and accept the fact that you will be taking hits perhaps more often than you expect, the less likely you are to get frustrated. This will no doubt allow you to keep a cool head and perform to your fullest potential.


Pressure to Cut Off the Ring/Corner Your Opponent

Muay Thai World Champion Yodsanklai Fairtex (5 ft 7 in) corners Artem Levin (6 ft 3 in) and knocks him out to win the WMC Middleweight World title in 2008

Perhaps the most obvious way to eliminate the height and reach advantage a taller opponent has on you is to cut off the ring. The ultimate aim of cutting off the ring is to position the opponent’s back against the ropes or the corner of the ring. By doing so, you limit your opponent’s ability to move and execute strikes from a range that is comfortable for him/her. Also, it will be very stressful and mentally draining for a taller fighter to have his/her back against the ropes or not be able to escape from a corner; allowing you, the shorter opponent, to attack more confidently.

Seksan using his trademark aggressive style to cut the ring against a much taller Petchmorakot Wor Sangprapai

The best way to do this is to pressure forward slowly while putting the majority of your focus on your defense. The last thing you would want to do is to try to cut off the ring too quickly and end up chasing the taller opponent. This usually ends up with the taller opponent picking you apart from the outside and being able to move and pivot to either side to avoid the mindless forward charge. What you need to do is to use lateral movements as you inch forward slowly instead of fast, charging forward pressure. Doing this helps you cover distance more efficiently and will get your opponent trapped against the ropes or in a corner quicker.


Catch Kicks and Counter

Evolve MMA instructor and Lumpinee Champion Singtongnoi Por Telakun countering ferociously after catching a kick in his win over Petchmorakot in 2014

In Muay Thai, having a reach advantage will no doubt allow you to strike with a greater sense of safety. And naturally, taller fighters will use their longest weapons like the jab or kicks in singular, sharp strikes to score from a comfortable range and keep the shorter fighter away. However, while this can be extremely frustrating for a shorter fighter, it can also be used to create an opportunity to counter and score with greater volume, or to get into a closer range where the shorter fighter will be at an advantage.

Seksan stuns Thaksinlek with a huge right hand counter after catching a kick

To do this, position yourself in a range far enough for you to be safe and also see incoming strikes; the further you are, the more ring vision you have and the safer you will be. As you move forward slowly, read the strikes that the taller opponent uses to keep you away. As the opponent executes his teeps or kicks, attempt to catch them while maintaining focus on your defense. Once you manage to catch a kick successfully, time your entry and the combination or sweep that you will execute. Be sure to get a good firm grip so that you will be able to throw or shift your opponent’s leg or feet to the side to throw his/her balance off so that you can execute your attack more effectively.


Go to the Body

Youssef Boughanem knocks Kompetlek Lukprabat out with a crushing cross-hook combination to the body to win the 160lbs Rajadamnern Championship

Going to the body is probably one of the most fundamental things you can do to break an opponent down. This is certainly no different, and perhaps even easier to do when facing a taller opponent. The taller the opponent is to you, the closer and more accessible his/her torso will be to you. This should naturally encourage you to attack the body – a tactic that is strangely not used more often as shorter fighters somehow tend to waste a lot of energy headhunting instead. Trying to land clean strikes to the head right from the get-go is never wise – especially against a taller opponent.

Working the body of your opponent intelligently will help you with landing the more significant shots later on. For example, your opponent would probably start slouching over with the guard to protect the body as he/she starts becoming cautious of your attacks to the midsection. The lowering of the guard reduces the height advantage, and if the hands start dropping altogether, it opens a clearer path for strikes to land on the head as well.


Break Your Opponent Down With Low Kicks

Superlek Kiatmoo9 taking out a much taller Superball Teemuangloei with cringe-worthy low kicks to the legs

Another good way of breaking down a taller opponent is with low kicks. Taller fighters usually have lengthier limbs, which also means more landing area for those devastating kicks. And for the lighter weight divisions, it also means those taller fighters probably do not have much muscle in their lower body. This makes using low kicks an even more effective tactic to use as the process of weakening the opponent would be faster due to them having less durability in their legs.

Muay Thai legend and Evolve MMA instructor Sam-A Gaiyanghadao finishes Bangpleenoi 96 Penang with a vicious barrage of strikes after throwing his balance off with a well-placed low kick

Successfully weakening the legs of a taller opponent will undoubtedly give you a huge advantage. Not only are you removing the opponent’s ability to move from the pain inflicted, but you are also seriously jeopardizing his/her balance. This will, in turn, eliminate his/her ability to execute effective strikes altogether as well; giving you more than enough room to do almost anything you want to and finish the fight.


Utilize Angles to Attack and Defend

Saenchai PKSaenchaiMuayThaiGym toys with a surprised Victor Conesa from an angle before landing a huge left kick

Whether a fighter is shorter or taller, no one is invulnerable to angles; which is why utilizing angles to get in close to attack or defend is one of the must-use tactics against a taller fighter. Cutting angles can not only cause your opponent to freeze up, it also cuts distance effectively and allows you to execute your attacks from a safer position as your opponent’s side is aligned with your center of attack.

Saenchai knocks out the much bigger and taller Ghilas Barache with a beautiful scissor-kick from an angle

And that’s not all; using angles to avoid punches and defend will allow you to counterattack more efficiently too, as you angle yourself diagonally forward. This helps you maintain the range necessary to attack a taller opponent instead of resetting to a distance to avoid attacks, in which case you will have to find a way to cover the range again. One trick to cut angles effectively is to use your hands to parry, hand fight, or simply confuse your opponent as you work your footwork to an angle. This is a technique very often used by Muay Thai legend Saenchai.


Remember, as it is with all other things in martial arts, being able to apply these tactics and techniques will take a lot of time and practice. It will also probably be frustrating as you start practicing them against a taller opponent. However, if you ready your mind and dedicate yourself to master the techniques, there is no doubt that you will improve not just against taller fighters, but against any type of opponent as well.


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