Short vs Tall Techniques for Muay Thai and MMA Training

Utilizing or countering a reach/height advantage has been a conundrum for fighters since the beginning of time. Standing at a towering 5’5″, I know how hard it can be to face the up hill battle of being the little guy. Depending on the sport, there can be some redeeming qualities for being the guy who came up short when it came to playing the gene pool lottery.

Here you see the concept of punching up to your opponent and keeping your chin below their level

I’ve heard some say that in boxing, it can be an advantage to be the shorter fighter, as you are able to punch up to your opponent’s face, whereby, there is no way he can tuck his chin low enough to hide it from your fists. Conversely, the only punches he can throw that will clip your chin, if you tuck it properly, would be shovel hooks and uppercuts, thus diminishing the effects of two of boxing’s primary weapons, the jab and the straight right.

There has to be some merit to this as Legendary trainer Eddie Futch has gone on record, describing how he worked a low stance and a lot of low swooping bobbing and weaving motions to accentuate Joe Frazier’s stature and make it difficult for Muhammad Ali to hit him square in the jaw. This strategy seemed to do well in the duo’s epic 3 fight page in pugilistic history.

The Sky Piercing Knee Kicker, Dieselnoi delivers punishment to his shorter opposition.

But there are consequences for these types of tactics when knees and kicks are involved. And thus, other strategies must be employed, either to replace or to supplement the boxing brilliance of trainers such as Futch and those who think along his strategic lines.

The first part of developing a strategy for overcoming a height disparity is to understand the mentality and strategy of the taller person. Below, we get a glimpse into this world as our friend, Khru Cade Anderson, shares his thoughts on the subject.

Observing the thought process of a taller person, you can see how the standard, conventional theory of moving forward, pressing the fight and trying to cut off the ring is accounted for by a taller fighter who is properly trained and prepared. Simply marching towards your opponent in this case will only get you hit as your opponent will simply time your attack and strike during your bridge step as this is the essence of reach advantage tactics (to stay out of the range of the shorter fighter and to attack them as they step forward to bridge the gap).

If your opponent is not sophisticated enough to employ the tactics described here and in Khru Cade’s video, then there really isn’t much of a problem. Bull dog that bean pole and force your way inside. But, if your opponent is able to maintain range and continually stops your bridge step, you’re going to have to reach deeper into the rabbit hole and pull out some other tricks.

As counter intuitive as it may sound, sometimes the best thing to do against a taller fighter with good ranging and good timing, is to step back and wait. To stay far enough away to be safe (out of the range of the taller fighter’s weapons) and to force your opponent to move forward to bridge the gap.

When he steps forward to punch, you can counter with a kick (so long as you step on the 45). If he kicks, you can catch his leg and punish him with a sweep, dump, flurry of punches or pull his leg to bring him into the close range clinch.

In this article we hope you find some helpful tips on how to safely bridge the gap. We have presented some sound, and basic methods of how to wage a range war on those with a reach or height advantage. We have shared our experience in understanding the logic of how a range war will progress/regress. And for our members, we have shown, in detail, some rare tricks that will get you out of a jam, when these solid fundamentals fail to mitigate the extra inches your opponents bring to the fight.

Best of luck, and happy hunting.

9 replies
  1. Seb
    Seb says:

    Great article! I’ve been missing these in-depth looks at the striking aspect of MMA.

    Quick question: my Muay Thai gym seems to frown on taking the angled step before throwing round kicks. Is it a matter of being faithful to the traditional Thai style, or are there disadvantages to that technique? All your striking videos seem to emphasize stepping out at a 45 heavily.

  2. naturalbornfighter1
    naturalbornfighter1 says:

    Fantastic! Thanks Dr.Sick. I can’t wait to see the other short vs tall video’s in the members section. Hey Seb, I think especially in the short versus tall theme stepping out at an angle is pretty much a necessity as it creates the angles for attack, gets you closer to your opponent and this in turn will allow further penetration for your strikes. I remember reading that Sugar Ray Robinson trained in a very small sized boxing ring so he would get better at working on his angles.
    Why does your gym frown upon it? It would be interesting to hear what your coach thinks on the subject.

  3. Dr Sick
    Dr Sick says:

    In my studies, it has not been uncommon to hear two completely opposite view points from very highly respected and experienced instructors. What I’ve found however, was that everytime, without fail, those instructors were able to elucidate and explain WHY they had the perspective they had (perhaps this is one of the reasons so many hold them in such high regard). Why someone suggests you do one thing as opposed to another is perhaps just as important as what they suggest you do. If you have two opposing ideas and the reasonings for adopting one over the other are explained from both sides, you should be able to determine which way is more consistent with your body type, personality and belief system.

    Best of luck!

  4. Seb
    Seb says:

    Thanks for the responses! My Kru says it’s a matter of conditioning– with every round kick, an angled step in is not necessarily needed, so he does not want our technique to come to rely on using the extra step every time. The logic is that someone that can kick immediately can also kick after stepping if the situation calls for it, but the reverse is not always true. It also seems that some newer fighters compensate for a lack of hip power and form by stepping out wide, which is a bad habit.

    Thanks again for the content Dr Sick! Keep it coming!

  5. Sterling
    Sterling says:

    @Seb – That makes sense. From what I learned in the member section, the 45 degree angle is not so much for generating power, but to move off the center line and avoid being hit with a counter.

    It works. Almost every fight I’ve seen where someone got rocked with a big punch after throwing a kick, they threw the roundhouse without the angle.

    The last one I remember was a UFC fight this year where Gomi KOed Tyson Griffin after he threw a kick.

    But I also see your instructors point. Most of the big KO head kicks are quick w/ no step (like CroCrop’s).

  6. Marlene T.
    Marlene T. says:

    Excellent segment! This is the first time that I have seen ANYWHERE on the internet that addresses the problem shorter fighters have against taller fighters… I have my work cut out for me standing at a ‘towering’ 5’2″ fighting against taller females.

    A few months ago, I was in Pittsburgh, PA for a conference and had a private lesson with Stephen Strotmeyer, Muay Thai trainer from Khaay Muay Sit-Kangmongkorn aka Pittsburgh Muay Thai… and he emphasized ANGLES heavily during our sparring session…

    Dr. Sick and Brandon, you guys rock! Keep up the good work!

  7. Bryan
    Bryan says:

    Hey guys, just wanted to say thank you for a great article. I’ve been training at Team Oyama in Irvine, CA, for a few months now, and most of my training partners are both heavier as well as taller than myself. I work the kick a lot, but I get impatient after awhile and always try to close the distance going straight in, hoping to land some body and head shots. This article’s emphasis on angles will be very useful for me during our sparring sessions. Aside from your article, I could not find anything else on the internet that addresses Muay Thai techniques for a shorter fighter going up against a taller fighter.

    Once again, thanks for a great article, much appreciated 🙂

  8. ADreamWeav
    ADreamWeav says:

    AMAZING article. I’m an oddity when it comes to my body type I’m 5’11 and weight 155lbs soaking wet. Most that I spar with are bigger than me in some way weight almost guaranteed but alot of times in height as well. Luckily my 77in wingspan helps to level the playing field but I still tend to fight like a taller fighter using my distance and speed. The people I have the most difficulty with are those who are odd like myself or are ‘dialed’ in taller fighters. These tips have helped tremendously.

    Regarding last segment: I come from a heavy boxing background where we use feints quite frequently… I’ve found success in using the element as explained closing the distance but staying tight just under the mid-rib cage and faking for the take down while they are backed against the cage. This (sometimes) causes them to lower their level either sprawling or spreading the legs against the cage either way putting their head closer to my area to reach. Here I quickly pop back up and either control the head to place a few knees or fall back on the boxing and stay tight but begin to use hooks and uppercuts/elbows to land something devastating. Is this a good or bad road to go down?

    Love your stuff guys Dr. you are Sick.


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