Why Do Boxers Hug? Clinching in Boxing

Why do boxers hug?

It is one of the most divisive techniques in boxing.

Used by the best boxers of today and all time.

Some say its a skill, others think it ruins the sport.

To the average man on the street it looks like hugging, but in boxing its known as the clinch.

An infamous boxing move that is understandably irritating for the casual spectator and fans because it interrupts the intensity of the fight.

Nonetheless, love or hate clinching, it is a necessary and integral part of the sport. As a competitive boxer, you have to understand and learn how to clinch, even if you have no intention to use it. Training on clinching is essential to your competitive game and will help you evade a clinch if your opponent uses it against you.

What is a Clinch in boxing?

A clinch in boxing can be simply defined as:

‘a defensive boxing technique whereby a boxer leans on and wraps their opponent’s arms and holds on to create a pause’.

Take a look at clinching in action from two professionals. Mayweather vs. Pacquiao.

Why do boxers clinch?

Clinching is a vital skill to learn and understand in boxing. If the clinching manoeuvre is used correctly, can determine the outcome of a fight. You can use this defensive move in the ring for a range of different reasons, not all of them are for the best:

Clinching might be used for the following reasons:

  • You need some time (injury)
  • Neutralise an assault
  • Break an opponent’s rhythm
  • As a last resort
Boxing trainer instructing boxer in the ring to use head.

The use of clinching is used for both strategic and defensive purposes:

Clinching for Strategy

The clinch, when used correctly, is a strategic manoeuvre first and foremost. It can be used against an aggressive or offence orientated opponent to slow them down and make it difficult to go on the offence.

This can frustrate a fighter who gets caught in a clinch and is unable to land any decent shots. Some boxers have a hard time both mentally and physically with the clinch and absolutely hate it.

Clinching can be effective in disrupting your opponent’s rhythm and stop momentum building which forces boxers to reset combinations and offensive moves. This reset can feel like a state of inactivity leaving their offensive strategy greatly ineffective.

Using the clinch properly can neutralise powerful punches and coming your way from aggressive boxers because they usually like to keep up a rhythm when punching. By performing a clinch just before your opponent begins his combination, or in the midst of an attack, you can diffuse a situation and even stop the attack altogether.

Floyd Mayweather Jr., Guillermo Rigondeaux, and Lennox Lewis all practised the strategic clinch and used to great effect.

Clinching for Survival

Exhaustion will leave fighter with nothing left in his tank and might lead them to clinch as a last resort. It might be that you have taken too many shots to the head and your body’s response is to cling or clinch to your opponent. The moves allows a fighter to pause and regain some lost clarity and stamina.

Another reason to use clinching is to stop yourself getting continuously pummeled by another boxer. If you are cornered, in a tight spot and need a way to break your opponent’s momentum to get away, clinching can give you that opportunity.

Practicing clinching becomes necessary in sparring training so you can learn to either use or defend against it in various positions or situations. This will give you an understanding of when to execute clinching the ring and when not to.

“TIP: Clinching can keep you from losing, but you can’t clinch your way to a win.”

Two boxers in action in the ring, on one on the defensive and the other attacking.

How to Clinch in Boxing?

One goal. Tie up your opponent.

For the reasons mentioned above, you need to capture both opponents arms under your own. At this point you then put your forehead on their shoulder and hold tight while leaning as much of your weight on them as possible. Like a big heavy bear hug, this prevents them from punching and lifting their arms.

The trick? Move in to your opponent with conviction and a sense of purpose, then tie their  arms up quickly and with authority until the referee forcefully separates you.

Serves two purposes, clincing gives you a bit of rest and second but more importantly, it makes your opponent work harder.

Two female boxers sparring and training with a high guard to block attacks.

Quickfire How to Clinch:

  1. Have your guard high and elbows close together (vital)
  2. Move towards your opponent with conviction
  3. Quickly hook both arms of your opponent just above the elbows
  4. Immediately pull him in close enough to share sweat
  5. Lean on them and do not let him open the distance
  6. Keep his lead leg between your legs
  7. Use his movement to balance yourself

Once the clinch is locked in make a conscious effort to control your energy output. Rest and focus on your breathing.

When you are leaning it’s important that your head is pushed hard and consistently on your opponent’s collarbone. Staying firmly attached in this position and not allowing the slightest opening between your head and their shoulder reduces the risk of an accidental head butt or shoulder to the face. Doing the clinch properly will reduce the risk of injuries.

When performing this move, for either strategy or survival, try to execute the move in different situations so your actions don’t become predictable.

Two male fighters in action sparring in the ring with boxer in blue doing a body shot.

The clinch should ultimately disrupt your opponent so mix it up –  along the ropes, during attack or defence, in the centre or corner of the ring – be conscious of developing a habit or pattern that can be anticipated.

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.

Knowing when best to execute a clinch to derail your opponent’s mental process is essential to having a good clinch game.

TIP: Performing a clinch drains a lot of energy and takes more effort than it would to simply get out of the path. So use it sparingly and strategically.

Whether you use it in your strategy or not, learning how to clinch is vital for sportsman who are aiming to become a competitive boxers.