In elite-level boxing and Muay Thai, fighters are typically matched with little to separate them in terms of skill.
As such, it is safe to say that the smallest margin can make all the difference. Fights can become so tight that they resemble physical chess matches — a complex puzzle or a game of questions and answers, where both competitors take turns. Not all fighters are going to tell you the truth, especially given the consequences of a mistake. This is when feints apply.
In reality, feints are multidimensional, physical lies inside the ring. They have many uses and getting your opponent to reveal important parts of their strategy, mindset, and intentions are just a few. They are also used to throw an opponent off their stride, disrupt their latency, and keep them at arms’ (or legs’) reach. More importantly, they can open windows to contest-ending shots and attacks.
Below, we will take a look at some of the many reasons why feints are so important in both boxing and Muay Thai. We will cover why being an expert liar inside the ropes is never a bad thing.
The Power of Feints
Psychology is important in the fight game regardless of the codes or discipline you are fighting under.
After all, we are human beings. Humans have a pretty responsive nervous system, which means it hurts when we are hit hard. Most fighters (or those who are still considered sane) would prefer not to be hit hard, right? To avoid being hit, fighters will stay outside their opponent’s range as much as possible to avoid being a stationary target for too long. In short, they will defend themselves.
If the bell rings and your opponent comes straight out of the blocks and throws a thundering right hand or head kick, this is a statement of intent. If it lands and you do survive the round, your brain and body will try to convince you to avoid taking that shot again if you can. When your opponent gets in a little closer and you see them preparing for that same shot, without hesitation your guard goes up. Except the shot doesn’t come.
You have been duped, my friend. Your guard goes up to protect against a head kick, and suddenly you are on your knees sucking air. Your opponent, understanding the power of that first exchange, tricked you into defending against a shot that was never coming. They feinted a head kick, you lifted your guard up, and then took a roundhouse just under your ribs for your troubles.
The Use of Feints in Muay Thai
The example above may be obvious, but it makes a point.
You are more inclined to believe a fighter has bad intentions if you have felt their power. The truth is, though, that a heavy shot does not even have to land for feints to be effective in Muay Thai. Even the intention to throw a big shot can be enough to make an opponent think twice. This is just part of the complex guessing game that forms the overall battle.
In Muay Thai, fighters may go the opposite way. They play a game of show and tell, where they show you everything but tell you nothing. Counter-strikers are experts at this game. They want you to believe they are happy to move around, throwing the occasional teep or leg kick. When you think you have established their pattern (leg kick, step back, circle), they throw a leg kick. You think a step back is coming but walk into an elbow or a knee.
Feints can be used in many ways in Muay Thai, including eye movement, foot movement, hand movement, and posture. For example, if you see a fighter move their sight from the upper chest area to your leg, you prepare for a leg kick. They are drawing this reaction from you to convince you to drop your guard. They may even go on to feint the leg kick before landing a kick to the head.
These kinds of setups are used by high-level Nak Muays who understand that sometimes persuasion (or trickery to be more precise) is the better route. Outsmarting an opponent, therefore, will involve clever manipulations by way of shoulder drops, decoy movements, side steps, fake kicks, and more.
The Use of Feints in Boxing
In boxing, striking opportunities are limited compared with Muay Thai.
The skill level required for punching, however, is a lot higher and especially at the elite level, where the opportunities to land shots on an opponent decrease in line with a generally higher level of defense. One of the main uses of feints in boxing is to create a window to catch your opponent. By convincing them to raise or lower their guard, this route to the target is laid out.
Perhaps the most rudimentary use of the feint in boxing is the fake punch. Quite simply, it is designed to draw a reaction from an opponent, which a fighter will be hoping to exploit. For example, a smart boxer who finds it difficult to penetrate a counterpuncher’s defense will know that the only way to get in the door—or through that window—is for the counterpuncher to open it in the first place.
The problem is that the counterpuncher will only move when they are anticipating a movement from their opponent. The smart fighter can use a faux jab to coax a right cross, which they will then slip under before landing their hook or uppercut. In a similar fashion, they could feint a step toward their opponent to cut the ring off in a vulnerable position.
Given the mechanics of throwing particular punches, especially the uppercut, boxers will also use other methods to trick their opponents. As the uppercut requires upward momentum gained through a bend in the knees, a fighter can use their posture to falsely indicate they are set to throw that punch. If the other fighter buys it and sets themselves up for the counter shot that will not be thrown, they could literally end up falling because of this lie.