If you've watched a boxing match, then I'm 99% sure you've seen clinching in action. It happens in every fight and to someone who doesn't know any better - it's annoying as hell because it breaks up the action.
Clinching is an essential part of your competitive game so if you're aiming to become a competitive boxer, you have to understand clinching: when to clinch, how to clinch, what to do in a clinch, and how to get out of a clinch.
Why do boxers clinch?
There are usually two reasons boxers clinch. One is because the boxers are tired and they think they have no other choice. The other is because one of the boxers is getting pummelled and needs to stop the onslaught.
Clinching is a survival technique to use sparingly. Most boxers use clinching at a time when they can't afford to - and that is when they are already super tired. Tying yourself up in a clinch takes a lot of effort and expends more1 energy than it takes to get out of the way. Clinching becomes necessary when you're cornered, have no place to go, or can't seem to get away from the punches your opponent is unleashing on you. When that's happening, clinching allows you to break your opponent's momentum.
What is the goal of the clinch in boxing?
The goal of clinching in boxing is to tie up your opponent. You want to capture both of his arms under yours - much like giving him a big bear hug that effectively prevents him from lifting his arms and punching.
Don't think you are going to be able to do this for long. In boxing it's against the rules to hold or tie up your opponent and the referee will break you apart - but it can be just enough of a break if you are getting destroyed and need to stop the onslaught.
Key to Remember
The clinch can keep you from losing, but you can't clinch to a win.
How to Clinch
To clinch you have to capture both of your opponent's arms under yours. Once you've achieved that, put your forehead on his shoulder, hold him in tight and put as much weight as you can on him.
This serves two purposes - first, it gives you a bit of rest and second, it makes him work harder.
To get into a clinch, move towards your opponent with your guard high and elbows close together. Shoot your arms forward hooking both arms of your opponent just above the elbows and immediately pull him in close enough to share sweat (this alone is a good reason to do this sparingly 🙂 Then lean on him and do not let him open the distance. Keep his lead leg between your legs and then use his movement to balance yourself.
Once you've got it locked in, consciously rest, control your energy output and breathing and look for every opportunity to get in a couple body or head shots while he's tied up.
Keep the referee from breaking your clinch.
Clinching in a boxing match is never allowed for long, but you can prolong it by looking busy in the clinch. If one of the boxers has an arm free and is fighting, the referee may not break it up.
Fighting in a clinch takes a tremendous amount of energy and nullifies any kind of rest break you might be looking for.
If you fight an opponent that likes to tie you up, then feed it to him. Get one arm free and slam it into his liver and side as he clinches you. Occasionally push back a bit and get a hook into the head.
If you want to get illegal about it, the clinch gives you a clear shot of your opponent's kidneys and a rabbit punch or two is always available as well. I don't recommend you resort to illegal tactics, but a warning shot can signal an overly clinchy opponent to back off.
How to safely exit a clinch.
Getting out of a clinch can be dangerous because your arms are tied up and your guard is lowered. The first one to free his arms in the clinch can easily land a punch on exit which can lead to a full fledged combination and suddenly one fighter has the initiative. If the referee isn't going to separate you and you want out - here are two methods of getting out of a boxing clinch: spin out or shove out.
- Spinning Out: Decide which side you are going to spin out on. Usually it is done on the lead hand. So, if you are orthodox, you want to use your left hand/palm and grip your opponent's arm just above the elbow. Control it and push it across your chest and down at abou1t 45 degrees as you step left and around your opponent. This effectively spins him away and you around. This is an excellent time to throw a left hook or straight right. I like to practice the spin and push followed immediately by a left hook.
Shove Out: In the clinch, quickly bring your hands in and give your opponent a strong decisive shove in the middle of his chest while simultaneously stepping back. You may find it better to even use the shove as a starting point for a quick hop backwards, but at any rate, ensure your shove is strong enough to throw your opponent off balance for a moment. You want to ensure he is not in any position to throw a jab or any other punch as you break the clinch.
A safer method of doing this is to leave your lead hand tying up your opponent's lead arm while using your rear hand to initiate the shove. You can then guide your opponent's lead as you shove off ensuring a successful and safe exit from the clinch.
If a referee breaks you up, then step back cleanly and don't attempt to cheat and get in a cheap shot. At the same time, realize that this is boxing and cheap shots are plenty - so protect yourself at all times.
The Mayweather-Hatton fight gives you plenty of examples of the clinch in action, especially through the initial rounds up to round 8.
If you can get through the first two minutes of this video (cheesy tribute introduction), you can see a number of clinching highlights. Notice around the 3rd minute how Hatton ties up Mayweather. It is a very obvious bear hug and you will also notice how the clinch can deteriorate into some vicious infighting.
Use the clinch for the right reason - to stop an opponent's momentum and steal his initiative. Don't clinch out of tiredness as there is a good chance that you will end up even more tired afterwards. If you're finding yourself too tired to continue, then maybe you have more work to do in the gym?