Kickboxing vs. Boxing: Which is Better?

kickboxing vs boxing

There is plenty of choice for those looking to get into martial arts. Two of the best options are boxing and kickboxing. If you’re trying to work out which one is better, then it can be difficult to know. They both have several benefits, which can all be translated to the real world.

But which one should you pick? With my experience in both, I’m here to make your decision easier.

We’ll look at the history, rules, and techniques of these two sports while also answering some FAQs. By the end, you’ll have all the info you need to make the right choice. Let’s get started!

What Is The Difference Between Boxing And Kickboxing?

To understand the difference between these two great sports, we need to look at their history, rules, equipment, and techniques.

History of Boxing and Kickboxing

When it comes to boxing, the history of the sport is hard to pin down. That’s because two people punching each other has happened for thousands of years, and there are even ancient Egyptian sculptures showing bare-knuckle boxing.

It was even part of the ancient Olympic Games, being introduced in 688 BC. Of course, Boxing has evolved since then with the likes of gloves, rings, and limited rounds, but it is still essentially the same sport.

Likewise, you could say that kickboxing has been around for centuries, as punching and kicking in a fight could have happened anywhere. While that’s true, kickboxing as a dedicated sport is probably a lot younger than you think.

The sport was developed in the 1960s as a mixture of boxing, Muay Thai and Karate. However, it wasn’t until 1974 that kickboxing got its first World Championship. So the difference here is vast. Kickboxing has been a regulated sport for around 50 years, whereas boxing was in the Olympics over 2,500 years ago.

Different Rules of Boxing and Kickboxing

Both of these are very similar in appearance. In fact, if you went to a kickboxing bout, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching boxing until the first kicks were landed.

Both sports are fought in a squared ‘ring’ of similar dimensions, and both have a three-minute round with a one-minute rest in between. Added to this, both sports will wear the same boxing gloves, and the same scoring system is used in both sports.

Punching is essentially the same as the areas you can punch don’t change, as punches to the back, or back of the head aren’t allowed. In kickboxing, you may see different styles of punches thrown, such as the spinning back fist.

Both are stand-up sports, which include no grappling. Clinches are also forbidden in both sports, but this rule is much more strictly applied in kickboxing.

The biggest difference in the rules is the most obvious one, and that is the kicks. Kickboxers can use a variety of techniques to score points. The exact rules for kicking can change from one organization to another.

The number of rounds is usually different, although it is flexible in both sports. Most kickboxing fights are 3 to 5 rounds, whereas most high-level boxing matches are at least 10 rounds, with championship fights being 12 rounds. Kickboxing bouts are rarely this long.

Equipment for Boxing and Kickboxing

They have almost the same equipment, especially in competition. The only noticeable difference you’ll see between these two sports is what they wear on their feet. Boxers will have boxing shoes on their feet, whereas kickboxers will be shoeless. However, kickboxers will often have their feet strapped for protection and support.

In both sports, a mouth guard, hand wraps, boxing gloves, and a groin guard will all be worn. In amateur bouts in both sports, a head guard may be used.

When sparring, the two sports can look a little different. Kickboxers often wear shin guards to protect their lower legs, and a kickboxing trainer may also wear leg guards for kicks. Aside from those minor differences, the equipment is the same.

Different Techniques of Boxing and Kickboxing

The sport shares many similarities in terms of how you punch your opponent with the same types of moves being used. The big difference is, of course, that you need to learn a variety of kick techniques in kickboxing to be proficient in the sport.

Boxing is a highly specialist sport that requires you to master one specific tool, which is punching. Put a kickboxer or an MMA star in a boxing match vs. a master boxer, and there will only be one winner.

However, a kickboxer needs to learn a greater variety of skills. They are also trained to be wary of kicks, and therefore the best kickboxer stance is to stand squarer. A boxer has their lead leg far out in front of them, but if you did this in kickboxing, it would be an easy target.

Pros and Cons of Boxing

Pros of Boxing

More Lucrative – If you wanted to make a career out of a fighting sport, it’d be a great idea to choose boxing. The sport still has huge popularity, with the leading stars getting paid tens of millions of dollars. That being said, those types of riches are out of reach for most low-level boxers, but the earning potential is higher in boxing than in pretty much any other fighting sport.

Popularity – This ties in with boxing being more lucrative. In the Western world, you’re much more likely to find a boxing gym than a kickboxing one. Of course, there are places that practice both but generally, boxing is much more accessible.

Incredible for Fitness – Is boxing good cardio? Well, if you want to have an idea of how tiring boxing is, stand up in the room you’re in and try to shadowbox for a few minutes. Unless you already have a good level of fitness, you’ll tire out extremely quickly. If you want to get fit, get boxing!

Improve Your Confidence – Far from being scary and intimidating places, boxing gyms are places where you can make friends and improve your fighting skills. As a result, you’ll get socially more confident and also have fighting confidence for self-defense.

Teaches Discipline and Work Ethics – To be good at boxing, you need to work incredibly hard. You also need to learn how to be calm under pressure, disciplined, and patient. These are all great skills to have.

Real World Skills – If we’re being honest, most people can’t throw a straight punch. When you learn boxing skills, it enables you to know how to fight back if you ever need it. While these are skills you never want to use outside the ring, they are very useful. The footwork in boxing also helps you control the distance and stay out of danger.

Cons of Boxing

Dangerous – There is no getting away from the fact that boxing is a dangerous sport. Repeated head blows can lead to concussions and potential problems in later life. It’s important to spar safely and know when you should throw in the towel.

Facial Injuries – As well as concussive blows, you’re quite likely to get facial injuries in boxing. This can be a broken eye socket from a punch, broken teeth from an uppercut, or a split eye from a clash of heads. The face of a boxer goes through a lot.

Limited Disciplines – Boxing is the most limited combat sport there is. All you can do is punch, and there are even strict rules on how and where you can punch. If you want to learn about the art of fighting in many different styles, boxing isn’t for you.

Pros and Cons of Kickboxing

Pros of Kickboxing

Fitness, Confidence, and Discipline – What is kickboxing good for? Well, kickboxing has many of the same advantages as boxing, so we’re not going to repeat them all. With kickboxing, you’ll be able to get fit and feel great. Added to that, you’ll get a great work ethic you can apply to other areas of your life.

Multi-Skilled – Kickboxing isn’t the most dynamic of combat sports, MMA or Muay Thai would probably hold that title, but it does require more disciplines than boxing. Being able to kick properly is another string to your bow.

Strength and Balance – Kickboxers need to learn how to be skillfully balanced on one leg. You need to know how to keep control of your body, even when one foot is in the air. Practicing this art form means you develop a great sense of balance and core body strength.

Good for Self Defense – As with boxing, kickboxing is going to allow you to develop some real world skills. If you ever find yourself in trouble, knowing how to kick gives you another defensive tool. If trouble breaks out, you’ll remain cool and calm, knowing you have the skills to cope.

Cons of Kickboxing

Lower Popularity – As we mentioned above, boxing has been around for thousands of years, kickboxing barely 50. It’s no surprise that boxing is more popular. This means it can be hard for someone to find a place to practice kickboxing.

Less Lucrative – Lower popularity means less money. The best kickboxers can still get fame and fortune but the huge money is in boxing. If you’re an elite puncher in search of a better life, kickboxing probably isn’t the road to go down.

Injuries – Kickboxing is also a dangerous sport, as kickboxing punches and kicks can give you concussive blows to the head. However, as the number of rounds is often less, the cumulative effect of these blows is lower. That being said, kickboxing is still a very tough sport.

Boxing Vs. Kickboxing: Which Is Better For Self-Defense?

When answering questions such as this, it’s important to think about real-world scenarios. For example, you get into a bar fight. It’s crowded, there are stools around and plenty of people close by.

In an environment such as this, it’s very hard to kick in any meaningful way. You’re not in a ring, and your opponent doesn’t respect any rules. Another example is that someone unexpectedly grabs you from behind, how are kickboxing or boxing going to help then?

Well, they will, but not in the way that you trained in a ring. Both sports will teach you how to punch effectively, stay focused under pressure, and crucially, build up your strength and fitness.

Some may say kickboxing is better for self-defense, as it teaches you another attack tool that can be used in a fight. Others will say that boxing is better as in the real world, punches are much more likely to be thrown, and you need the best technique and defense for them.

The reality is that they are both a sport and have their real-world limitations. Both will help you when it comes to self-defense, but if self-defense is your main reason for choosing a martial art, you’d be better off learning Muay Thai or MMA.

Boxing Vs. Kickboxing: Which Is More Effective For MMA?

This may seem like an obvious answer, surely it is kickboxing as that has two disciplines to master when boxing just has one? However, the true answer is a little more complicated.

Answer this question: what do you see more in MMA, kicks or punches? The reality is that punches are much more common, and there are a few reasons for that. Kicks take a lot of energy, aren’t as accurate, kicks can hurt the kicker, and it’s easy to lose your balance.

For MMA, it’s going to be better to be a master of punching rather than kicking. That being said, you do need to know how to kick very well. Therefore, it makes the question tricky to answer as both of them have merits.

Kickboxing will teach you the crucial art of kicking whereas boxing will teach you to master arguably the most important part of MMA. Taking classes in both can allow you to appreciate the different sports and how their techniques differ.

If we had to give an answer, we’d say kickboxing. While punching may be more common in MMA, kicking is still a highly effective tool. Also, the stance you need in MMA is more similar to kickboxing than boxing, as you need to be prepared for kicks and attempted takedowns.

Boxing Vs. Kickboxing: Who Wins For Physical Fitness?

When it comes to kickboxing vs boxing workouts, both are winners here, as the boxing and kickboxing workout benefits are obvious. Any combat sport requires an incredible level of cardiovascular fitness. While both require high fitness levels, you do need to consider the number of rounds being fought.

A round of kickboxing will most likely take more out of you than a round of boxing. Kicks take up a lot of energy and you need to add that to the effort you’re putting into your punches. However, many kickboxing matches last 3 or 5 rounds.

It’s a lot easier to control your energy usage and fitness over 3 rounds than 12. So while a round of kickboxing may be tougher, the average boxing match is a lot longer.

A 3-round kickboxing match will have 9 minutes of action, whereas a 12-round boxing match will have 36. Therefore, you could make the argument that boxers need to have a higher level of physical fitness. But let’s look at this from a different angle.

Suppose you want to practice one of these sports just for fun and fitness, and have no intention of competing. If that sounds like you, then both are fantastic for getting fit. Simply choose the sport you prefer as you can’t go wrong.

Boxer Vs. Kickboxer: Who Would Win?

It depends on the rules! For the purpose of this section, let’s imagine that we have an equally talented kickboxer and boxer.

If it was a boxing match, then the boxer would make light work of the kickboxer, and it wouldn’t be much of a contest. Boxers have a more aggressive punching stance and practice their punches a lot more than a kickboxer.

If we had kickboxing rules, then the opposite would happen. That boxer’s lead leg would get heavily targeted, and they’d be down very quickly. They would also have very little knowledge of how to defend kicks. But what would happen if there were no rules?

Well, this goes back to our self-defense argument. In the real world, the rulebooks go out of the window. While a kickboxer has a greater skill set, a boxer would have greater upper body power and punching technique that would translate to the real world.

Despite what we see in the movies, most real world fights end up dirty and awkward. A boxer wouldn’t just let someone try to kick them at a distance, and equally, a kickboxer wouldn’t just stand there taking punches.

Boxing vs. Kickboxing: Which One Should You Choose?

As you’ve probably gathered from the article, we love both these sports, and you’ll love doing either of them. The right one for you will depend on which one suits your personality, and there are other factors too, such as your location.

If your nearest boxing gym is 2 miles away but your nearest kickboxing studio is 30 miles away, then it probably makes sense to choose boxing. You may even choose to do both, which is fairly easy considering how similar their rules and equipment are.

Which is better for self-defense and fitness? As we’ve seen, there are no simple answers to these questions, but one thing is clear. Both these sports give you incredible fitness and give you real world tools that you can use if you’re ever attacked.

Choose the one that most appeals to you and see how it goes. If you don’t feel it’s right for you, then you can always switch. 

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Kenny Jarvis
Kenny Jarvis
I have been practicing and studying boxing since I was a teenager. I am passionate about the sport, along with many other martial arts. While my fighting days may be over, I love channeling my passion into my writing to provide insightful blogs.