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How to Use the Clinch in Boxing (Plus Clinch Rules Explained)

Boxers hug during a fight (known as clinching) most often to limit and control their opponent’s movement and ability to punch. Clinching or hugging is usually used defensively to slow the pace of an opponent or rest briefly.

Whether you’re simply wondering why boxers hug so much or how to use the boxing clinch effectively this is the post for you.

We breakdown our top tips on using the boxing clinch, rules for clinching, and other related questions on clinching in boxing.

Boxing Clinch – Key Takeaways

  • Boxers look like they are hugging as a strategy or tactic often used called “clinching”
  • Clinching by boxers can be used for a couple reasons:
    • to rest briefly
    • to better manage distance
    • to land short (close) punches
    • to control an aggressive opponent
    • or simply to frustrate your opponent
  • Clinching is not illegal – excessive holding is
  • In general, the rules for clinching are:
    • you must break immediately when the referee says to
    • you cannot both hold your opponent with one hand and hit them with the other
    • clinching is allowed in professional boxing, but it is not allowed in amateur boxing (while still pretty common in both)
  • If you are a beginner boxer and looking to learn how to clinch and use infighting effectively the best way to learn is by watching the pros like:
    • Roberto Duran
    • Andre Ward
    • Wladimir Klitschko
    • Floyd Mayweather Jr
    • Devin Haney
    • Evander Holyfield
    • Errol Spence

  • In modern boxing, conceding the clinch and using the the clinch for rest is common, however, past boxers focused on more aggressive clinching and “infighting”
  • Clinching isn’t often trained much since excessive clinching can result in penalties. If you prefer working from the clinch Muay Thai is a really good option

Here’s a table breaking down the offensive and defensive reasons for clinching:

Offensive ReasonsDefensive Reasons
To disrupt the opponent’s rhythm and momentumTo recover from fatigue or regain composure
To land short punches like uppercuts with the free handTo avoid taking heavy blows in vulnerable positions
To gain a positional advantage after breaking the clinchTo neutralize an aggressive opponent’s attack
To control the opponent’s movement in close rangeTo manage distance and reset fighting range
To strategically frustrate and unsettle the opponentTo calm down and regulate breathing, especially in later rounds

Tips on How to Effectively Use the Clinch in Boxing

The best ways to use the clinch are for:

1. Defensive Tactics:

  • as a brief rest
  • to control distance

2. Offensive Tactics:

  • tire your opponent by putting your weight on them
  • land short punches

Generally, you can get away with more clinching by making it look like it happened accidentally after throwing a punch.

Again, this all dependent on the referee. Some may be more lenient with clinching than others.

Modern clinching is very limited since referees are much more likely to break it up quickly as opposed to referees from previous eras.

A word to the wise: Clinching should not be your primary strategy but a contingency plan. Effective clinching comes with practice, so ensure you incorporate this technique into your training regimen. Being comfortable with the clinch can equip you to spin potential defeat scenarios into a victory.

How to Clinch

Clinching can be broken down into the below three steps:

1. Close the Distance

When you attempt to get in close keep your guard up or throw a punch just before clinching

2. Make Contact

Move your hands inside theirs then wrap around their arms and body with your arms. Lastly, keep your forehead tight to their collar bone (this can be used to both frustrate your opponent while protecting yourself)

3. Dominate the Position

Once connect, you can use the clinch to rest/recover or even to let your opponent tire themselves out by letting them struggle or weighing down on them.

4. Exit the clinch

To properly get out of the clinch you can use a slip while keeping your guard up. It’s also an excellent time to go for quick short punches (that is, of course, unless the ref tells you to break in which you cannot throw punches until he says to resume)

Remember, disengaging from a clinch also demands tactical finesse. Push against your opponent’s chest, aim to unbalance them as you step away, positioning yourself for a powerful follow-up attack. Keep in mind, boxing has strict rules against any strikes during disengagement from a clinch, so ensure you maintain decorum and respect the game’s baseline rules.

How to Punch from the Clinch

While clinching is mostly defensive, it doesn’t necessarily curtail your offensive game. Remember, clinching is largely depending on the referee or very limited as in amateur boxing.

It should also be noted that shallow clinches (grips near the elbow or bicep) make it easier for your opponent to escape when compared to deeper clinching (by using under hooks or over hooks).

The best options for landing punches are when entering and exiting the clinch. This can be done by off balancing your opponent controlling them to create openings.

How to Improve at Clinching

Again, while clinching and infighting may be a lost art in modern boxing, its worth training and learning.

Just like any other aspect of your game, you improve clinching by deliberately putting yourself in a clinching position.

Additionally, cross training in Greco Roman wrestling or Muay Thai can open up a whole new world for your boxing.

Avoid Boxing Clinching Mistakes

A common mistake with clinching is doing it excessively or without a purpose. Excessively clinching can lead to a point deduction or create a negative impression on the judges. Clinching should be purposeful – to recover, to break rhythm or to plan your next move.

Some commons mistakes to avoid when clinching are:

  1. Poorly Entering the Clinch: If you approach your opponent slowly or timidly you are wide open for strikes. Move deliberately with purpose and consider using punches to distract or misdirect
  2. Lowering Your Guard Too Early: Dropping your guard before you’re close enough to clinch leaves you vulnerable to counterattacks.
  3. Off-Balance Approach: Moving your back foot before your lead foot when advancing can throw you off balance, especially if you’re hit during the approach.
  4. Overextending in the Clinch: Reaching too far or overcommitting can put you in a weak position, making it easier for your opponent to take control.
  5. Neglecting Head Position: Failing to press your head against your opponent’s shoulder or collarbone can leave you exposed to headbutts or shoulder strikes.
  6. Ignoring the Referee’s Instructions: Not disengaging when the referee intervenes can lead to penalties.
  7. Hitting or Kneeing from the Clinch: Striking from the clinch is illegal and can lead to penalties or disqualification.
  8. Staying in the Clinch Too Long: Overusing the clinch or not disengaging in a timely manner can lead to penalties and disrupts the flow of your own fighting strategy.

Rules for Clinching in Boxing

Below are a list of rules and items to be aware of when clinching:

  • You cannot hold or deliberately maintain a clinch (this is considered a foul)
  • You must listen to referee when he says to break
  • You can only resume once he says to do so
    • “hitting on the break” is when you throw a punch before he says to resume
  • You cannot both hold your opponent and hit them at the same time

Again, clinching is allowed in boxing, but excessive holding is not.

So Why Is Clinching Used So Much in Boxing? (Benefits of Clinching)

The benefits of clinching can be broken down into the below:

  1. Recovery Time: Clinching allows a boxer to catch their breath and recover from fatigue or dizziness, especially after taking heavy shots.
  2. Disrupting Opponent’s Rhythm: It can break the momentum of an aggressive opponent, especially one who is landing effective combinations or applying pressure.
  3. Close-Range Control: In close-range combat, clinching helps control the opponent’s movement and limits their ability to throw powerful punches.
  4. Defensive Maneuver: Clinching can be a defensive tactic to avoid further damage if caught in a vulnerable position or under a barrage of punches.
  5. Managing Fight Pace: It allows a boxer to slow down the pace of the fight, which can be beneficial if they are ahead on points or need to reassess their strategy.
  6. Preventing Opponent’s Offense: By clinching, a boxer can neutralize an opponent’s offensive advantage, especially if the opponent is superior in reach or striking.
  7. Physical and Mental Pressure: Clinching can physically tire out the opponent, especially when using body weight effectively, and can also frustrate them mentally, disrupting their game plan.
  8. Setting Up Attacks: A well-timed break from a clinch can create opportunities for counter-attacks or to re-establish a more favorable fighting distance.
  9. Safety: In situations where a boxer is hurt or disoriented, clinching can provide a momentary safe haven to regroup and protect themselves from knockouts.

How Is the Clinch Used in Boxing vs Muay Thai?

AspectBoxingMuay Thai
PurposePrimarily for defense, recovery, and disrupting opponent’s rhythm.Offensive and defensive tool; integral for scoring points.
TechniquesWrapping arms around opponent’s upper body; controlling arms or shoulders.Full clinch with hands around neck or head; more varied grips.
Legal StrikesLimited to short-range punches with the free hand; no knees, elbows, or throws.Strikes with knees, elbows, and sweeps are allowed and common.
Referee’s RoleReferee breaks the clinch quickly; frequent intervention.Referee intervention is less frequent; more leeway in clinch duration.
Strategic UseUsed to control pace of the fight, avoid damage, and set up counterattacks.Central to strategy; used for attacking, controlling opponent, and setting up throws.

Although clinching is used in both sports, the purpose and techniques differ in many ways.

In boxing, the clinch is a predominantly defensive tool used to disrupt the offensive momentum of an adversary. It is usually used as a breather, allowing the boxer to restrategize or recover from a heavy blow.

A boxing clinch mostly restricts the striking options, leading to a pause or a reduction in the fight’s pace.

While in Muay Thai, clinching is both an offensive and defensive technique, and fighters can also score points during clinch exchanges.

Muay Thai clinching is utilized to unbalance the opponent and land prominent hits with knees or elbows. A successful Muay Thai clinch depends on a fighter’s ability to control an opponent’s body movement, thereby creating opportunities for strikes.

Last note: An integral part of Muay Thai is the practice known as “the plum,” a clinch where a fighter seizes an opponent’s head using both hands, controlling them for powerful knee strikes or elbow slashes. This technique, though allowed in Muay Thai, is not seen in boxing due to the differences in rules and objectives of both sports.

Related Frequently Asked Questions:

Why Do Boxers Hug?

Boxers hug during a fight most often to limit and control their opponent’s movement and ability to punch. Clinching or hugging is usually used defensively to slow the pace of an opponent or rest briefly.

Alternatively, there are some instances where clinching can be used as an offensive tactic to put your weight on your opponent and tire them, create openings for short punches, or even frustrate them.

Can You Punch from the Clinch in Boxing?

Punching from the clinch is also known as dirty boxing. It is illegal at both the professional and amateur level. However, it is still commonly used by many boxers.

Generally, referees may allow clinching or even some dirty boxing but will usually intervene if clinching goes on too long.

Is Clinching Effective in a Street Fight?

While boxing is a regulated sport with rules and conventions, a street fight is an often unpredictable, chaotic situation.

Clinching, akin to grappling in many forms of martial arts, can be seen as a valuable approach when confronted with an aggressive opponent. Just like how many professional boxers use it, clinching can be used to control and limit punches from an opponent.

While it is somewhat effective, training in wrestling, judo, or Brazilian jiu jitsu offer a much wider range of grappling techniques that can be way more effective in a street fight.