Fan Questions | Training Tips

What is the Muay Thai Plum? (Thai Clinch Explained)

If you’re somewhat familiar Muay Thai, you might have heard of a technique called the Muay Thai Plum, or the plum position. And if you’re like me, you might have went searching through the internet for an explanation on what this Thai ‘plum’ even is. Well, look no further my friend. In this post I am going to explain the Muay Thai Plum, as well as how it works, how to perform it, and where it comes from.

In short, the Muay Thai ‘Plum’ is the name of a common clinch position in Muay Thai, in which you wrap both arms behind the neck of your opponent. This is also referred to as a double collar tie, and it can be used to effectively control and maneuver your opponent. It is especially useful in Muay Thai for landing knees while in the clinch.

An In Depth Look at the Plum Position

To explain the Thai Plum, I’m first going to look how and why the clinch is engaged in combat sports. In grappling martial arts, such as jiu-jitsu and wrestling, the clinch is a very common position, as to gain the dominant position, one must control their opponent through close-distance fighting.

However in striking arts, the clinch is usually engaged when the fighters end up close enough to each other, and clinch up so as to avoid close range punches. This is especially the case in boxing, which I explain in the post Why Do Boxers Hug Each Other?

In MMA competition, fighters are cautious in the clinch, as an opponent can quickly execute a takedown or a sweep, which makes the plum position more dangerous. However, in Muay Thai, there is no value in a takedown, as the fight is not allowed to continue on the ground like in MMA.

This means that Muay Thai fighters are not as worried about exposing themselves in the clinch. Instead, the Thai clinch or plum seeks to maximize the amount of damage that can be dealt to the opponent while in the dominant position.

Two Muay Thai fighters demonstrate the 'plum'. The fighter on the right is on the inside, and therefore has more control.
Two Muay Thai fighters demonstrate the ‘plum’. The fighter on the right is on the inside, and therefore has more control.

To perform the Thai Plum, one must first get closer to their opponent than striking range. This usually happens after a quick back and forth between the fighters, or when on fighter is pressured against the edge of the ring.

Then, you quickly wrap your arms over the shoulders of your opponent, and clasp them together tightly behind the neck of your opponent. You want to have your arms on the inside of your opponent’s arms, as this will give you more control of their neck, and will put you in the dominant position. From here, pull your elbows in close and lean back to start landing skip knees on your opponent.

Usefulness of the Plum in Muay Thai Competition

So as we now know, the Thai Plum is very useful in Muay Thai for controlling the opponent and landing close-range strikes. We have discussed how exactly it is used in competition, but we didn’t discuss the success of the plum clinch. How often is the Thai Plum successful in damaging the opponent? In the next couple of paragraphs, I am going to discuss the plum’s usefulness in both Muay Thai and MMA competition.

Firstly, we’ll look at it in Muay Thai. As stated earlier, Muay Thai competitors aren’t weary of takedowns from their opponents, so this is one factor that plays into making the plum more effective. That being said, an effective way to get yourself out of the full plum is to sweep your opponent by putting them off balance using a body lock.

Also, even if you have the dominant position, your opponent can still land knees that are as powerful as your own. And lastly, there are many counters to attacks in the plum.

Yes, knees can be very powerful, and can cause much damage in succession. But throwing a knee leaves you on one foot, leaving you open to a counter like a sweep. This is the case in the image below, where the fighter on the right is being set off balance as he throws a right knee.

The guy on the left counters the plum by tripping his opponent with his right foot.
The guy on the left counters the plum by tripping his opponent with his right foot.

Success with the Plum in MMA

Obviously the plum has been (and still is) used with success in Muay Thai competition, hence why it continues being one of the important techniques to learn. Now we will take a quick look at the use of the plum in MMA. Of course, the main differences between MMA and Muay Thai are ground fighting, and glove size.

First, I’ll look at some examples of times when the Thai plum was used successfully. Those two examples are UFC champions Anderson Silva and Demetrious Johnson.

In his first UFC fight against Chris Leben, Anderson Silva used the Thai plum to land a devastating knee to the head which ended the fight. If you watch any highlight reel from Anderson Silva, you’ll see many of his finishes somehow involve a knee from full plum.

In the fight with Leben, Silva managed to hurt him with a right cross followed by an uppercut, which visibly hurt Leben. Now up against the cage, Leben was dazed and unsure of how to defend himself from the punches. Noticing this, Silva quickly secured a full plum and landed a right knee, ending the fight.

Anderson Silva (left) with a secured full plum, seconds before knocking out Chris Leben with a right knee.
Anderson Silva (left) with a secured full plum, seconds before knocking out Chris Leben with a right knee.

Anderson Silva’s patience in securing the plum can be seen in most of his fights, as it is on of his go-to techniques. Silva is aware of some of the openings that can occur from using the plum, and so he only secures it when he is confident that he can finish the fight.

If you watch the ending of the Rich Franklin fight on Youtube, Silva finishes Franklin in almost the same exact manner. His patience and keen timing makes his knee from full plum a lethal weapon.

Next we’ll look at Demetrious Johnson’s finish over Henry Cejudo at UFC 197. In this fight, Demetrious secured a full plum, in which he threw a knee that stunned Cejudo. Demetrious followed up with strikes and managed to quickly end the fight in the first round.

The difference between Silva’s plum vs Demetrious’ is that Demetrious doesn’t wait for his opponents to be stunned before clinching up. Instead, Demetrious achieved the full plum by transitioning from a clinch that occurred after missing a hook.

Demetrious is more technical in the wrestling exchanges than Anderson Silva is, so he is better able to transition from wrestling to Muay Thai. Demetrious first had double underhooks on Cejudo, and he was mainly trying to prevent Cejudo (an Olympic gold medalist in wrestling) from getting a takedown.

Demetrious quickly noticed that Cejudo kept his head low in the clinch, perhaps due to his wrestling background. After noticing this, Demetrious transitioned to the plum and landed a right knee on Cejudo.

They then separated for a few seconds before clinching again, with Demetrious holding a half plum (single collar tie) in this instance. Demetrious landed a left knee while Cejudo’s head was low, after which Demetrious ended the fight.

Demetrious (left) prepares to throw a right knee from full plum position.
Demetrious (left) prepares to throw a right knee from full plum position.

From the image above, we can get a good idea of what each fighter was thinking in this scenario. Demetrious is obviously pulling Cejudo down, getting ready to throw a knee.

Cejudo puts his hands out in an attempt to block the knee that is soon to come. However, this is a bad way to defend against the full plum. Firstly, a natural reaction from this position is to pull your head back, which is what Cejudo is doing.

This is not a good idea, as it will prevent Cejudo from getting out of the plum. Pulling the head back while defending in the clinch will also cause the opponent’s strikes to land easier, as Cejudo is more stiff and tense, and thus Demetrious is able to control Cejudo’s body.

Second, putting the hands out to defend from knees is also not a great way to defend. Since MMA gloves have very little padding, they hold very little defensive value. Plus, the force of a knee is stronger than the push of an arm, especially when combined with the arms pulling down at the same time, which makes Cejudo’s defense pretty weak.

How to Defend Against the Plum

Now that we have seen some examples of successful Thai Plums in MMA, I want to talk about counters and defense tactics that you can use against the plum. I covered this briefly earlier in the post when fighting under Muay Thai rules.

I mentioned that an effective counter is to simply sweep your opponent while in the clinch, particularly while they are throwing a knee, as they would be most off-balanced at that point. This is the primary defense in Muay Thai competition, aside from just throwing knees of your own. However, the clinch becomes more complex in MMA, as does its defense.

Now, I say that it gets more complex, but only slightly. Of course the sweeps and trips are now more valuable to continued fighting on the ground. But the major change is the glove size. Because the gloves have very little padding in MMA, this makes them much more dangerous when they hit, and they are also easier to use in close-combat scenarios.

Punching in the clinch is a lot more effective in MMA than it is in Muay Thai competition. An example of this is Anderson Silva vs Chris Weidman 2.

Silva (left) attempts a knee, while at the same time, Weidman counters with a hard right hook, which knocks Silva down.

In the image above, we once again see Anderson Silva attempt his signature finishing move, a knee in full plum. However, having fought Silva before and fully expecting his clinch, Weidman was ready to counter quickly.

Instead of putting his hands down as Cejudo did, Weidman loads up his right hand immediately after Silva goes for the clinch. Simultaneously, Weidman creates some space between himself and Silva by keeping Silva back with his left arm. This way, it is harder for Silva to pull Weidman’s head down, and Silva is now easier to hit.

Weidman lands a hook to the body and another to the chin of Silva, and drops him, effectively getting out of the clinch.

In conclusion, the Thai Plum is a useful Muay Thai technique that, if used correctly, can effectively cause damaging blows to the opponent. Even in MMA, where there are more counters against it, many have found success with its use.

If you’re interested in training Muay Thai, I have several posts on it, such as How Long Does It Take To Get Good At Muay Thai? and several others that might help you in your martial arts journey. Thanks for reading!

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