Why Do Boxers Hug? (Clinching Explained)

For those who aren’t that clued upon the ins and outs of the sport of boxing may think that the boxers are getting frisky mid-round and are having a little hug.

Why Do Boxers Hug (Clinching Explained)

This isn’t the case and is actually a fighting technique that is integral not only to boxing but to any transitional combat sport called ‘clinching’.

Even if you know your hook from your jab, you may wonder how the art of clinching is legal within boxing and what its advantages are for a fighter.

We have explained this and more in our guide to clinching – read on to find out.

What Is Clinching?

In boxing, clinching is the act of engaging your opponent’s body and stopping their movement with the use of ‘hooks’. Hooks are generally used in jiu jitsu as well as wrestling as the first stage of a take down.

Whereas in boxing an over hook can be used to control an opponent’s arms by engaging an ‘overhook’ which means your arms are over, or on top of, your opponents. An under hook would be having your arm underneath an opponent and this can enable you to control your opponent.

The main purpose of a clinch is to disengage your opponent and stop their rhythm as well as stop them hitting you. The closer you are to an opponent the less likely it is they can punch you, especially if you are engaging their hands or arms.

Clinching can be utilised as an offensive or defensive tactic, depending on how you fight.

Clinching can seem pretty anti boxing, so you may be wondering if and why it is legal.

Why Is Clinching Legal?

Clinching IS legal to the extent that the referee allows it. The main rules on clinching is that two boxers cannot clinch for too long. This rarely happens anyway as the referee usually breaks up a cinch relatively fast, depending on how much the two fighters are ‘working’.

You may hear the referee shout ‘Work! Work!’ what he means is that he wants to see some actual action, some real clinching happening, rather than simply hugging each other for respite.

It is completely up to the referee when a clinch should be broken, but they seldom let them go on for too long.

The main rule with clinching is that when the referee breaks the clinch you must take a solid back step before you engage your opponent again, and the clinch must immediately be broken when the referee stops it. The clinch can be broken without the referee stepping in.

You can punch and engage your opponent within a clinch, you simply cannot throw a punch ‘on the break’ i.e. when the referee breaks it up. A fighter must take a solid step back before throwing a punch when the referee has intervened.

Although, if the clinch is disengaged by both fighters, without the input of the referee, you can legally throw a punch on the break. In MMA for example, where clinching is a big transitional technique, one common technique is to throw a punch ‘on the break’ of a clinch.

Clinching is allowed within the sport of boxing as it can be utilised effectively by a good boxer. We will go into how a boxer can use a clinch in a second, but Boxing is a high intensity sport and if clinching wasn’t allowed then the fighters would be a lot more tired by the end of the fight.

A clinch can often be a small pause but the fighters still must remain switched on to watch for punches within the clinch.

Why Do People Dislike Clinching?

Dislike Clinching

Well, first of all it can be pretty boring to the newcomer who doesn’t have an interest in observing the intricacies of what is going on – they want to see that one punch KO.

Often boxers who aren’t in shape or who are losing badly may engage excessively in clinching which can be frustrating and boring for both the fighter and those watching.

In ameteur boxing there can be a lot of clinching as the fighters aren’t as fit or skilled as the professional fighters. The referee will deduct points for excessive clinching that shows an unwillingness to fight.

Some fans simply think that clinching is a dirty technique for unfit fighters and that boxing should be purely standing and trading. Clinching in a real street fight situation is a pretty common technique, so some people find clinching helps boxing imitate real fight situations.

With game fighters and experienced referees clinching shouldn’t be an impediment to the fight.

How A Boxer May Utilise A Clinch

Offensive Benefits

There are a few offensive benefits to clinching that may not be obvious to newcomers. Some fighters may choose to engage in a clinch to utilise what is referred to as ‘dirty boxing’. Contrary to its name ‘dirty boxing’ is a legal style that is utilised by some of the best boxers around.

Dirty boxing essentially refers to non-conventional, but legal, techniques that are usually utilised when in very close quarters.

One example of dirty boxing is throwing punches within the clinch. Whether that is body shots or breaking an opponent’s guard with an uppercut. Punching on the break is also a useful technique.

Tyson Fury, for example, uses dirty boxing often within his fights. During a clinch Fury will often throw uppercuts in extremely close quarters that are very effective. You may hear the commentators refer to this with the cliché ‘fighting in a phonebooth’.

One way Tyson Fury often leads up to a significant strike is clinching his opponent and using the clinch to make his opponent carry his weight and tire them out, once tired Fury creates space by pushing his head and shoulders into the opponent creating the space necessary to throw a significant strike that has more chance of knocking out the opponent now they are tired.

This concept of putting your weight on your opponent in a clinch is a very effective technique used across combat sports that is effective at making your opponent tired and thus vulnerable to a heavy punch. This is often used by the heavier fighter.

The effect of clinching can often not be as clear as a heavy punch, put yourself in the position of the engaged fighter next time and imagine how it may feel to carry the weight of a fighter like Fury, it will tire you out.

Defensive Benefits

There are obviously many defensive benefits of engaging in a clinch. Foremost, engaging in a clinch will certainly break up the rhythm of the opposing fighter. If you are hurt you could easily engage in a clinch knowing that the referee will separate you.

With the right kind of overhook you can in fact inhibit the movement of a fighter’s arms and stop them being able to punch for a small period.

If you are taking a beating, a clinch will certainly stop the barrage of punches and will also give you some breathing space to get your breath back and recover.

Fury is another fighter, alongside Wladimir Kiltschko, that utilises the headlock as the taller man. Once you can control someone’s head you have neutralized a large extent of their threat.

Both Klitschko and Fury use this as a defensive technique while also understanding that it is uncomfortable for the other fighter to carry their weight in this manner. Although the referee will often immediately break a clinch once a headlock is engaged.

Max Goodfrey