Why Do Boxers Hug? (Clinching Explained)

It can be frustrating to watch. A fight is in full flow. Punches are flying. But then a boxer dives forward and clinches his opponent, breaking up the action. The crowd groans in disapproval.

Despite being controversial and disliked by many spectators, hugging, or clinching as it is called in the sport, is very common. But why do boxers hug?

Boxers use clinching as a strategic move for several reasons, including to catch their breath and regain composure if they’re hurt; smother and neutralize an opponent’s attack; and break up the rhythm of a fight. While clinching is technically illegal, it happens regularly and is considered an important defensive move in boxing.

Why do boxers hug? 🤗

Ok, so they aren’t actually hugging like you would hug your gran. No, this is called clinching and it’s a popular but controversial defensive move. There are three main reasons why a boxer would deliberately clinch his opponent:

  1. To catch his breath and save energy – Boxing is about as exhausting as sport gets. If you’re 10, 11 or 12 rounds deep, the chances are you’re absolutely spent, you’re running on empty. You’ll take any chance you can get for even a second or two of rest from the fighting, and clinching provides that. Sometimes it looks as if both fighters are very happy to be getting a moments respite in a clinch!

  2. To neutralize an attack and get out of trouble – When you’re on the back foot, taking punches, you need to find a way to stop the onslaught or you may end up on the mat. Clinching smothers your attacker, ties up his hands, making it very hard for him to throw powerful punches. This gives you an opportunity to regain your composure and recover. Clinching is particularly common when a fighter is up against the ropes and taking a beating.

  3. To break-up the rhythm of the fight – Boxing is a tactical sport, psychological just as much as it is physical. By clinching, a boxer may be aiming to disrupt the rhythm and fight plan of his opponent. For example, some boxers may look to end fights early with a KO, so regularly clinching to use up time could frustrate your opponent.

Loving or fighting…?

Is clinching legal in boxing? ❓

The WBC rules state that “13. Excessive holding the opponent or maintaining a clinch.” is a foul that technically could result in penalty or disqualification.

Source: WBC Boxing 

This is a little bit ambiguous with words like “excessive” and “maintaining”, which is why this topic can be quite controversial in boxing.

So, technically, clinching is not really allowed, which is why referees will always break it up after a few moments. But the referees rarely take further action beyond this and will generally allow it so long as it isn’t to frequent and last for too long. While disliked by many, particularly spectators, clinching has become widely accepted in the sport as a standard defensive tactic adopted by almost all boxers from time to time.  

You don’t see pro fighters get penalized for clinching very often but a few examples include Wladimir Klitschko getting penalized one point for excessive holding against Bryant Jennings in 2015, and Jesse Ferguson getting disqualified in his fight against Mike Tyson in 1986 for excessive clinching and not releasing.

Fighters are always warned during the fight if they are clinching excessively and will then only be penalized if they keep clinching or do not let go when the referee instructs them to do so.

“Hitting on the break”

Another rule related to clinching is known as “hitting on the break” When the referee breaks you from a clinch, you have to take a full step back; you cannot immediately hit your opponent. That is illegal.

Holding and hitting

What is most definitely illegal is trying to hold onto your opponent with one arm while punching them with the other. You’re certainly allowed to use a loose arm to defend against a clinch but you cannot use a clinch as a strategy for attacking.  

How can I prevent and escape a clinch? 🤔

It can be very frustrating for a boxer who is dominating a fight to constantly be slowed down and smothered by hugs from an opponent. There are several ways, however, to prevent and defend against clinches. Keep in mind that there are so many different forms of clinching (more on that further down) that not all the following suggestions will apply to all clinches:

  1. Step back and uppercut – if you are able to anticipate that your opponent is about to try and clinch then you can create space by stepping back. This will give you the room to throw a punch that can stop him in his tracks.
  2. Use your jab to maintain distance – jabbing is a great way to give yourself space and keep your opponent back. Keep firing the jab to prevent your opponent from getting close enough to clinch
  3. Twist your shoulders to create space to punch – once in a clinch you need to try and find some room to dish out some blows to your opponent. It will depend on the type of clinch you are in, but often twisting and dropping one of your shoulders is a great way to free up a bit of space so that you can offload some punches.
  4. Be careful about pushing away – if you try to push your opponent away with two outstretched arms you leave yourself very vulnerable to a hook over the top as neither of your hands are guarding your face.
  5. Stay alert on the release – if your opponent releases you before the referee instructs him to, he may try and catch you by surprise with punches while your guard is still out of position from the clinch. Be wary of this somewhat dirty tactic.


Related articles:

How to clinch in boxing? 🥊

Amateur boxers often don’t get explained how to clinch as it isn’t seen as particularly macho. But it really is an essential skill of boxing that all the greats have used throughout their careers. So, if it’s good enough for Ali, it’s good enough for you. You never know when you might need to use it yourself, so it’s worth learning.

Here are some of the main types of clinching and key considerations:

Key considerations:

  1. Stay as close as possible – once you’ve made the clinch, you need to limit the space between you and your opponent as much as possible to prevent him from punching you. Lean into your opponent with your shoulders, chest and head. The more distance between you, the more force he can create with punches. This is crucial!
  2. Hold tight – if your opponent is able to easily break out of your clinch then not only will the clinch fail to serve its purpose but you could also be left very vulnerable to an attack. Hold tight or risk getting shaken off and pummeled!
  3. Bring your head in – get your head in a place where your opponent can’t hit it. The best place for this? As close to your opponent as possible. Ideally you lean your head into your opponent’s shoulder or neck, making it very hard for him to hit you.
  4. Tie up both arms – if you only get one of your opponent’s hands under control with your clinch then the other will be left free to batter you.

Types of clinches

There are lots of different ways to clinch, here are some of the most common (remember, all the key considerations above still apply for whatever clinch you use):

  • Bear hug – Both your arms wrap around your opponent’s arms and body, pinning your opponents arms to his side.
  • Elbow hold – grab your opponent’s elbow’s with your palms and push them inwards.
  • Underarm squeeze – you trap your opponent’s arms under your arms and squeeze down to. keep them in position. Best done by pushing your hands up through the guard of your opponents and then bringing your arms down over the arms of your opponent.
  • Headlock – if your opponent is ducking low then you can step forward and wrap one of your hands over your opponents neck and into a loose headlock. You can lean onto your opponent like this, tiring them out by making them carry your weight.

12th Round 🔔

Clinching might not be the most exciting part of the sport but it’s here to stay. Now you know why boxers hug, make sure to put in the time to learn how to defend against clinches and how to do one yourself. You never know when you might need it.   

Happy fighting! 🥊🥊

“Bruce Lee was an artist and, like him, I try to go beyond the fundamentals of my sport. I want the public to see a knockout in the making.” – Sugar Ray Leonard

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