Fight fans are well acquainted with the art of eight limbs, known as Muay Thai. But many of us are still discovering another more brutal form of kickboxing known as Lethwei.
Let’s dive in and go over the history of the most brutal sport on Earth, known as Lethwei. Going over its history, format, and how it compares to the art of Muay Thai.
What is Lethwei?
Lethwei, or Burmese bare-knuckle boxing as it’s also called, is a martial art and sport created in the country of Myanmar. From a glance, Burmese bare-knuckle boxing looks rather similar to the more popular sport of Muay Thai.
The big differences are that no gloves are worn in Lethwei, and headbutts are permitted and encouraged. Making it one of the most brutal sports on the planet.
The History of Lethwei
The history of Lethwei can be dated back to the Pyu Empire that ruled Myanmar for centuries—dating back between the 2nd and 11th centuries.
It was created around the same time as other known striking arts developed within southern Asia, like Muay Thai. Some historians even believe that Lethwei predates Muay Thai and may have even played a role in its development.
Similarly to Muay Thai, the art of Lethwei was developed for war and as a way for the ancient soldiers to defend themselves. As time went on, the martial art would also develop into a friendly sport that would be held at special festivals.
The Development of Modern Lethwei
For centuries, Lethwei was only practiced by the Burmese people. Possibly the first known modern Lethwei practitioner was Kyar Ba Nyein.
A Burmese Bare-Knuckle practitioner that competed in boxing at the 1952 Olympics. After Nyein returned from the Olympics, he began modernizing Lethwei.
Implementing rules and regulations for the sport. Also, introducing the boxing ring, where all matches would be held instead of a sand pit. Similar to how Muay Thai was modernized.
But Nyein would keep close to the roots of Lethwei and keep bouts without gloves.
The Global Introduction of Lethwei
Despite Lethwei being centuries old, the world is just becoming aware of the sport. People have become aware of this brutal sport from one or two avenues.
Either from the Netflix documentary FIGHTWORLD hosted by Frank Grillo that featured Lethwei or David Leduc.
David Leduc, of course, is the Canadian born Lethwei fighter that became the sport’s #1 fighter. Also, the sport’s top ambassador, who told his crazy story on the Joe Rogan Podcast.
The Format of a Lethwei Match
Lethwei matches have a very specific format that they go by. Here is the format of a Lethwei rules kickboxing match detailed below.
- Fight Areas: Like with Muay Thai, Lethwei bouts are also held within a boxing ring. Traditionally, they were held in sand pits, but Lethwei has become more modernized in the last century.
- Time/Rounds: A Lethwei match consists of 5 rounds that are 3 minutes each. Between rounds, there is a 2-minute rest period.
- Scoring System: There is no scoring system in Lethwei. The only way to win is by KO, and if there’s no knockout after 5 rounds, the fight is a draw.
- Permitted Strikes: Fighters are permitted to use punches, elbows, kicks, knees, throws, and of course, headbutts.
- 2-Minute Recovery Period: If a knockout occurs before the fifth round, the fighter can take a 2-minute recovery period. In this period, if the fighter is able to recover, they can choose to continue fighting.
- Fighting Attire: Fighters do not wear hand protection and are only allowed to wear kickboxing shorts.
Lethwei vs. Muay Thai
The striking arts of Lethwei have a lot of similarities, but they also have drastic differences from one another. Check out the similarities and differences between Lethwei and Muay Thai.
- Striking Arts: Both Muay Thai and Lethwei are striking martial arts, where punches, kicks, knees, and throws are used.
- National Sports: These martial arts are both the national sports of their country of origin. Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand, and Lethwei is Myanmar’s national sport.
- Fight Rounds: In these styles of kickboxing, rounds in both styles consist of 5/3 minute rounds.
- Fight Areas: Both a Lethwei and Muay bout occur in a boxing ring.
- Effectiveness: These striking martial arts are both proven effective forms of self-defense.
- Headbutts: The most notable difference between the two striking styles is that headbutts are permitted in Lethwei. No headbutts are permitted in Muay Thai.
- Gloves/No Gloves: In a Lethwei bout, fighters do not wear boxing gloves. Some forms of
- Scoring System: Muay Thai uses the 10-point system, and Lethwei does not use a scoring system.
- Ways To Win: In Muay Thai, you can win by KO/TKO and decision. The only way to win a bout in Lethwei is by KO.
Famous Lethwei Fighters
Modern Lethwei is still being introduced to the world, but fans have become aware of some of Lethwei’s best fighters. Here are some of the best Lethwei fighters in the world.
Thway Thit Win Hlaing
Thway Thit Win Hlaing is the current national champion and successor to legendary fighter Tun Tun Min. Hlaing was the winner of the Golden Belt in 2016 and 2018. He is currently scheduled to fight Soe Lin Oo at an unspecified future date.
Nicknamed “the knockout king,” Faria is the current World Lethwei League Light Welterweight Champion. The Portuguese native is known for his impressive footwork, speed, and timing. Delivering spectacular knockouts, as you can see in his highlight video.
Sasha Moisa is the current WLC Light Middleweight Champion. The Ukranian’s fight with Arthur Saladiak, posted above, is considered one of the best modern Lethwei bouts ever.
Too Too is considered a national hero in Myanmar and the nation’s champion. He is the Pele of Myanmar and cannot go anywhere in his country without a legion of security.
David Leduc is no doubt the reason for the introduction of Lethwei to the rest of the world. He was able to take the sport globally and gave it the chance to be the next big combat sport. For this, Leduc is revered in the world of Lethwei.
Is Lethwei The Next Big Combat Sport?
Lethwei has the potential to be the next big combat sport. It is an exciting and extremely brutal sport that isn’t for the faint of heart.
The brutality of the sport could make some fight fans hesitant to watch a Lethwei event. One other thing that has been holding the sport back is its country of origin.
Historically, Myanmar has endured extended periods of military rule and authoritarian governments. These totalitarian governments have kept the country from sharing its culture with the world.
Lethwei is one of these aspects of their culture that the rest of the world had no idea existed. If Myanmar becomes a more open country in the future, it could mean that Lethwei will be able to grow.
The 2021 Spring Revolution
As mentioned above, Myanmar’s constant state of political upheaval is at another high point. In 2021, the Spring Revolution occurred, where military commander Min Aung Hlaing took over the country.
Since then, no major Lethwei events have been organized since this recent coup. Many believe that the growth of this exciting sport has been halted, and fight fans will just have to wait on Lethwei.
Where Can I Watch Lethwei
If you want to stay up to date with the sport of Lethwei, you can follow the World Lethwei Championship on Youtube. You can go back and watch all of the big fights in the sport on their channel.
They will also give you updates whenever they’re permitted to run another event in the future.