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Why Do Boxers Hug? (Clinching Explained)

While watching a boxing match, you may have seen the two fighters hug, also known as clinching. You’ve also probably wondered why they do this. Does it benefit them in any way? Is it a good tactic? Look no further my friend, because in this post, I’m going to explain everything about the clinch in boxing. So why do boxers clinch?

Boxers clinch or “hug” to slow down the pace of the fight, and to prevent from getting hit at close range. Many boxers also clinch to get a small window of rest during the fight. While in the clinch, boxers expend less energy, and take a break from getting hit for a few seconds. If an opponent tries to close the distance, clinching is a good way to prevent them from doing so.

Let’s take a closer look at clinching effectively, and how to use it to your advantage.

Breaking Down The Clinch

Clinching often occurs when one fighter gets too close to the other. If the boxer steps away, they risk taking a hard punch, and so instead, they clinch up. This way, the boxer doesn’t risk taking a big punch, as the referee will separate the clinch anyway.

Many boxers engage in the clinch, and it is very common in boxing. From the outside, it might look like they are just hugging. But there are a lot of subtleties to the clinch that can make it very useful and effective in a real fight.

This is the basic clinch in boxing, initiated due to close distance fighting.
This is the basic clinch in boxing, initiated due to close distance fighting.

What Even Is The Clinch?

Let’s start by defining what exactly the clinch is. The clinch occurs when the two boxers get close enough to wrap their arms around each other. This is just inside the range of a hook, which is why clinching is a good way to avoid a hard punch. Once inside the clinch, the boxer either tries to separate, maintain the clinch, or punch in the clinch.

Once a boxer is inside the clinch, it is advantageous to lean their weight on their opponent, as their opponent cannot throw, trip, or knee them while in the clinch like in MMA or Muay Thai. However, Muay Thai fighters often train in a different type of clinch, which I describe in What Is The Muay Thai Plum?

Why Should You Clinch?

Let’s talk about why it is good to clinch. As you probably know, boxing matches can be very long, up to 36 minutes of actual fight time. This means that not only are endurance and stamina important, but strategy and efficiency as well. Clinching is one of those strategies used to conserve energy and recover during a fight.

In an interview, Andre Berto (right) said he was surprised at how well Mayweather (left) was able to control the pace during a fight, noting Mayweather's deep breaths while in the clinch.
In an interview, Andre Berto (right) said he was surprised at how well Mayweather (left) was able to control the pace during a fight, noting Mayweather’s deep breaths while in the clinch.

Aside from providing a small window for rest, the clinch can also be used to slow down the onslaught of an opponent. This is good in two situations: when an opponent is very active, and when your opponent lands a good shot on you.

A very active opponent is very dangerous, because they can easily knock their opponent out simply due to volume. They also have the possibility of landing a big knockout punch, which can be hard to avoid if they throw quick punches in succession. You could try to avoid their punches, but it takes a lot of energy, and it is very risky when fighting someone who has that one punch knockout power.

In this case, clinching would be effective in slowing down the pace of the fight. Let’s consider three ranges for a boxing match: 1) just out of range, where you or your opponent are able to land a straight jab, 2) in the pocket, where you can land hard hooks and uppercuts, and 3), clinching range.

Deontay Wilder (left) is known for his wild punches and crazy knockout power. Clinching with him would be a good idea.
Deontay Wilder (left) is known for his wild punches and crazy knockout power. Clinching with him (to slow him down) would be a good idea.

If you are fighting someone who is a heavy hitter, then chances are that they do their best work in the pocket, just inside jabbing range, but far enough to avoid the clinch. Within the pocket, they are able to generate a large amount of power, due to how close they are, as well as the angle at which their hook can land. I explain this style of fighting in the post What Is A Haymaker Punch?

Clinching against this type of fighter is advantageous for you, because it takes away the immediate threat of the knockout. If you are able to work the jab effectively, you can avoid getting into the pocket by staying on the outside, and clinching when they try to attack.

In fact, it turns out that any type of combat that includes grappling makes it more effective. This is because when you clinch with an opponent, it’s harder for them to hit you, and easier for you to control their movement. If you check out the Top 10 Hand To Hand Combat Styles, you’ll see that the majority of fighting styles include some type of grappling.

For the same reason, it helps to clinch if you get hit with a good shot. For most people, it is a natural instinct to clinch when getting hit, but you should train to embrace and hone this instinct. Notice that in the image below, even though Floyd has just been hit, his instincts take over before Mosley can even retract his punch.

This is moments after Shane Mosley (teal) stunned Mayweather (red) with a hard right. Mayweather immediately grabbed the arm that Mosley hit him with, out of instinct.
This is moments after Shane Mosley (teal) stunned Floyd Mayweather (red) with a hard right. Mayweather immediately grabbed the arm that Mosley hit him with, out of instinct.

A good punch can cause confusion and loss of balance. If you get clipped, you will need time to recover if you want to have any chance of winning the fight. That recovery needs to be immediately, as you will be most vulnerable to getting knocked out moments after you get clipped.

Therefore, when you get clipped, clinching with your opponent can provide that recovery time. It will give you just a few seconds to regain your balance, clear up your head, and remember where you are, all critical factors in surviving until the end of the round.

Now that I’ve covered the clinch and scenarios when it can be used, let’s look at the details on how exactly to use the clinch.

How To Clinch Effectively

So you want to start using the clinch. But how do we use it effectively? Well for starters, you want to get into the clinch. In the next section I’ll cover how to time the clinch without getting hurt. For now, let’s just stick with what to do once in the clinch.

Shane Mosley leans his weight on Mayweather in the clinch, to relieve some fatigue.
Shane Mosley leans his weight on Mayweather in the clinch, to relieve some fatigue.

It is important to not expend a lot of energy in the clinch in boxing, especially if it is for rest. In MMA, a lot of energy is expended in the clinch, because the fighter must constantly use force to prevent a takedown. Since takedowns are not allowed in boxing, the clinch should simply consist of you lightly wrapping your hands around your opponent, while leaning and resting on them.

However, if you are clinching in an attempt to slow down your opponent, then you may be forced to use more energy. This is because a very active fighter will usually try to squirm and separate, especially if they think they can finish the fight. Such was the case in the WBC Heavyweight title fight between Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz.

Ortiz (green) desperately tries to tie up Wilder (orange) after getting hit with a strong right hand. Wilder continued to punch and move while Ortiz held him.
Ortiz (green) desperately tries to tie up Wilder (orange) after getting hit with a strong right hand. Wilder continued to punch and move while Ortiz held him.

The image above is moments after Wilder hit Ortiz with a shot that wobbled him. In response, Ortiz grabbed onto Wilder to prevent his onslaught. However, Wilder sensed the opportunity for a knockout, and was not about to give up a clinch so easily.

There are two main problems with Ortiz’s clinch that made it ineffective at slowing down Wilder. The first one is that he doesn’t have enough strength to maintain the clinch. This is understandable, as this happened in the 10th round of the fight, as well as the fact that Ortiz does not have full control of his body after getting rocked.

The second problem is that Ortiz doesn’t have both overhooks in. An overhook is when you have your arm over your opponent’s arm, like Ortiz does with his right hand in the image above. If Ortiz also had the overhook on his left side, Wilder would not be able to punch while in the clinch as he does in the picture.

Since I mentioned it, let’s talk about Overhooks and Underhooks in boxing.

Overhooks vs Underhooks: What’s The Difference?

In short, an overhook is when you have your arms over your opponent’s arm, while an underhook is when your arm is under your opponent’s arm. These terms are more commonly used in wrestling, as they are very important factors when taking down an opponent. Double overhooks simply means you have both arms overhooked, and same goes for double underhooks.

To keep it simple, look at the image below. The guy in white has overhooks, while the guy in black has the underhooks.

The guy in white has overhooks, which is an advantage in boxing. However, in the grappling world, underhooks are seen as superior.
The guy in white has overhooks, which is an advantage in boxing. However, in the grappling world, underhooks are seen as superior.

Now in wrestling and MMA, underhooks are more desirable than overhooks. This is because underhooks allow you to control and maneuver your opponent a lot better. However, controlling your opponent while in the clinch isn’t really that useful in boxing.

In boxing it’s the opposite, overhooks are better than underhooks. This is due to the boxing ruleset limiting the ability to use underhooks. There are two major reasons why boxers benefit from having double overhooks.

The first, is that having overhooks prevents your opponent from punching you. Take another look at the image above. It would be almost impossible for the guy in black to land any kind of punch from here, because he has double underhooks, which are inferior.

The second reason why overhooks are better is that the person who has overhooks controls the clinch. If you have double overhooks on your opponent, the only way for them to get out is if they pull back and use a lot of force. You however, can get out of the clinch at any time, simply by letting go of your opponent.

In boxing, you will usually see a mix between underhooks and overhooks, such as seen here, due to how complex the clinch can be.
In boxing, you will usually see a mix between underhooks and overhooks, such as seen here, due to how complex the clinch can be.

As you can see, having overhooks is advantageous in boxing. However, it does not come without flaws. The main issue with constantly trying to get double overhooks, is that it is extremely tiring. When you achieve double underhooks on your opponent, you are constantly squeezing to prevent them from exiting the clinch.

If you’re opponent simply waits for you to loosen your grip, then they can escape the clinch with a light push. This is why the clinch is so complex: the fighter with overhooks must determine how desperately they need the clinch, and how much energy they want to expend, while the fighter with underhooks is looking to escape at the perfect time, and use less energy.

Conclusion

In summary, boxers clinch for several reasons: to slow down an opponent, to conserve energy, and to recover after getting hit. It is advantageous to clinch with your opponent if you want to control the pace of the fight. Overhooks are more beneficial while in the clinch, but they can consume a lot of energy.

If you want to learn more about techniques such as the boxing clinch, check out the Training Tips page, where I also answer popular training questions. Thanks for reading!

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