Muay Thai history is intertwined with the history of Thailand itself. The Thai people had to defend themselves from invasions by neighboring countries. They had short-range weapons to use such as spears, clubs and pikes. But close combat also meant they needed to rely on their hands, feet, head and elbows as well. Muay Thai history comes from this necessity. The body mimics the weapons of war.
Muay Thai history and tradition is mostly oral before the twentieth century. Written records were lost when the Burmese attacked Ayadhaya, the capital of Siam, in the fourteenth century. It is known that Muay Thai boxing was practiced by Thai military and that practitioners received money for their skills starting in the Sukothai era, from 1238 to 1377 A.D. The nobility respected skilled Muay Thai fighters. Soon regional variations of Muay Thai developed as well as it becoming a spectator sport. In these competitions, opponents fought bare-fisted and weight class wasn't taken into consideration.
During the same era in Muay Thai history, Muay Kaad Chuek began. This is the practice of binding the bands with unrefined hemp wrappings for protection. Some fighters would dip their bound hands in water. When the wrappings dried they were much harder and capable of delivering more damage. To this day, annual Muay Kaad Chuek contests are held in Thailand with Burma and Laos.
1868 saw a golden age begin in Thailand and Muay Thai history. Newly ascended King Rama V ushered in many reforms to bring the country into the modern world. These included many new roads to the capital of Bangkok. Royal patronage of Muay Thai continued and the new roads allowed practitioners to travel to the capital more easily to compete. The first permanent arena in Muay Thai history was built in Bangkok in 1920. King Rama VI arranged a large tournament. Thai fighters matched their skills against foreigners. A referee was used and match times were measured in minutes. Proceeds went towards weapons for the country's military.
In the late 1920s, when Muay Kaad Chuek was still widely in practiced, a fighter named Jia Kaegkhmen died in the ring, refusing to give up. Muay Kaad Chuek began to be phased out after this incident in Muay Thai history. Gloves and other equipment common to western boxing began to be used, prompting the official naming of the sport as Muay Thai. In 1928 a ranking system was created, though developed more fully in the 1950s along with weight class divisions. The groin as a point of contact was allowed until the 1930s. Starting the the 1970s, Muay Thai gyms began appearing in America and Europe and there is now a Muay Thai World Championship.