For many MMA casuals, fights become boring once the fighters are stuck in a clinching exchange against the cage.
For the untrained eye, the fighters are just hugging each other and waiting for the referee to interfere and separate them, but for the fighters themselves and their trainers the clinch game is a huge part of the game, if played correctly, it can be decisive for a fight’s outcome.
In this article, you will learn the best techniques for clinching and dirty boxing:
Why should you clinch?
If you want to clinch your opponent against the cage for offensive reasons, you have to have a purpose for that.
Every move you decide to use in your 15 minutes MMA fight should have an intention behind it.
These are the reasons why many fighters choose to engage in a clinch:
1. Weathering the storm
The best example that comes to mind is Cain Velasquez Vs. Dos Santos 2.
Cain is a wrestler with an endless gas tank, on the other hand, Dos Santos is a very explosive fighter with godly knockout power. Cain had already tasted that power in their first fight, as he was knocked out at the 64th second of the first round.
In their second rematch Cain Velasquez came with a great strategy, he decided to wear Dos Santos down with the clinch and weather the storm.
The strategy was successful and within the second round, Dos Santos started to fade out, and that’s when Cain started to dominate the fight. Cain ended up winning the fight by decision with a one sided beating
You will see that at almost every MMA event, one fighter will get stunned by a blow and they will close distance and look for the clinch to avoid receiving more blows and allow themselves time to recover.
If you are the one who gave the stunning blow, don’t accept to engage in a clinch, if your opponent grabs you, disengage immediately and finish your opponent with accurate and well-picked strikes.
Khabib Nurmagomedov uses that a lot in his fights, he often pushes his opponents against the cage to set up his takedowns.
When your opponent has their back against the cage, they have nowhere to go, and you get more control of their hips. The hips are the center of your opponent’s gravity, and to take your opponent down you have to play with their center of gravity.
If your opponent is standing in the middle of the Octagon, they have more chances to keep you away from their hips by just bending forwards or sprawling. But when they are pressed against the cage, they can do none of that.
Also, judo and sambo trips are easier against the cage, Ronda Rousey used to do that a lot in her fights.
4. Dirty boxing
Jon Jones Vs.Daniel Cormier 1 is an excellent fight to watch and analyze if you want to see two masters using dirty boxing from the clinch.
Dirty Boxing and Clinch positions
Former UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champion Randy Couture was very famous for his dirty boxing from the clinch. Here are some techniques that you can borrow from him and use in your own fights:
Single collar tie
This is the main technique used for dirty boxing inside the clinch, it consists of grabbing your opponent behind the neck with one hand and striking them with short hooks and uppercuts with the other hand:
- Entry: In order to establish your clinch you have to enter your opponent’s striking range without getting tagged in your way in. If you just throw yourself into your opponent’s striking range, your opponent will fire immediately a punch or two, only to find yourself knocked down on the canvas asking what happened.
- One of the best ways to enter safely is by throwing a punch and then using it for the collar tie.
- Let’s assume you are in an orthodox stance, throw a lead hook with your left hand
- Once you reach behind your opponent’s neck don’t retreat your hand
- Grip behind their neck and pull yourself into the clinch position
- Start throwing uppercuts
- Once your opponent starts to defend the uppercuts switch to hooks with the same hand
- If your opponent has a bit of experience in the clinch they will establish a single collar tie of their own and attempt to apply the same techniques against you
- That’s when you confuse them by switching collar ties to your right hand and start striking with your left
- Keep your opponent guessing which hand will you use for striking
- Also keep your opponent guessing which strikes you are using, alternate between uppercuts and hooks to the head along with body shots to the kidneys and the liver.
One of the most used dirty boxing techniques is the single underhook, this technique consists of putting your arm under your opponent’s arm and wrapping it around their shoulder and striking with your free hand.
- Use your head to pin your opponent’s chin against the cage. The pushing motion has to be upwards, this will put your opponent in an uncomfortable position and will force them on their toes to avoid your head pressure against their face
- Put your arm under their arm and wrap it around their shoulder. If your arm is not long enough, lean with your shoulder under your opponent’s armpit to gain more leverage.
- Now start delivering punches with your free hand to your opponent’s face
- Alternate your punches between the head and the body
- If you find yourself too close to your opponent and unable to generate enough force with your punches, back your hips away from your opponent while still pinning their face with your head and start punching
- Sometimes your opponent will deliver punches of their own with their free hand. That’s when you use the cage to your advantage and pin their free hand against the cage with your own free hand.
- Keep switching between punching their face and pinning their hand against the cage
Underhook as a counter
An underhook can also be used as a counter to the single collar tie. If your opponent tries to use collar ties against you, slide your arm under their armpit and establish an underhook and you will have a dominant position over them.
Pummeling and adjusting
The clinch game is not a steady game, you have to pummel and adjust your arms according to what your opponent is doing.
- If they punch back with their free hand pin it
- If they grab you with a single collar tie, counter with an underhook
- If they establish un underhook of their own pummel up to get your own underhook
- If they start defending uppercuts switch to hooks and elbow strikes
Another variation of the regular underhook is the high underhook where you go deep with your arm under your opponent’s armpit and lift it high and you put your hand across your opponent’s face and jaw.
This technique is more suitable if you have long arms and big hands.
Knees in the clinch
One of the best techniques to use in a clinch is to throw knees to the midsection especially when you are grabbing your opponent with a single collar tie.
The purpose of knee strikes is to break the opponent’s posture and make them bend forward. This will expose their chin and set it up for uppercuts.
Breaking from the clinch and reentering
A great strategy is to disengage from the clinch suddenly and unleashing a barrage of punches (3 to 5 punches) then reentering the clinch.
This strategy will put you one step ahead of your opponent and will allow you to catch them off guard.
Always surprise your opponent! when you are in a clinching position, all your opponent is thinking about is how to counter your clinching techniques, this is your opportunity to turn the tables on your opponent and switch the game completely by disengaging from the clinch and launching a flurry of punches then getting back to the clinch before your opponent regains control and launches attacks of their own.
Off balancing with the ear grab
When you are in a collar tie position, don’t stand still and deliver punches. Keep your opponent off balance all the time.
- When you have your opponent in a single collar tie, extend your hand to the side of their face just around the ear
- Pull their head to the opposite side. The body follows where the head goes
- Now you have created a new angle of attack for yourself
- Repeat this technique and keep your opponent guessing which direction you are pulling them to
Snapdown from single collar tie
Wrestlers are famous for using the snapdown in wrestling matches. This technique consists of dropping your opponent down from a single collar tie.
- The setup: The goal is to pull your opponent to the ground from a single collar tie, for that, you will have to set it up with a push.
- Push your opponent backwards, this will make them resist push forward
- Once you feel their push back, seize the opportunity and use their momentum against them
- Snap their head down towards the ground with explosive force.
- The direction of the snap should not be towards your legs, this would be a big mistake as you are offering them your legs to take you down
- Once you have initiated the snapdown, drop your weight against them and make them carry your weight
- Put your legs back away from their arms reach
- Once your opponent is down on their knees put them into a headlock
- Now you can dominate them either by grappling or ground and pound
Knee bumps to headlock
Matt Lindland used to use this technique a lot in his fights.
This technique consists of throwing a knee to your opponent’s thigh as if you are trying to strike it, the knee bump causes their leg to move back which enforces the opponent to bend over, this is where you seize the opportunity and put your opponent into a headlock.
Once you have your opponent in a headlock position, you can strike them with knees to the face or choke them with a standing guillotine.
Jon Jones submitted Lyoto Machida with a standing guillotine in UFC 140.
Clinch to spinning elbow
Jon Jones is the king of spinning elbows from the clinch. Jones’ spinning elbows are well known for slowing down his opponents and even being the main winning factor of many of his title defenses.
- When you are in the clinch, press your opponent against the cage
- Set up your upcoming spinning elbow by fighting for underhooks, this would distract your opponent and push them to focus on dominating the clinch exchange
- Assuming that you are going to strike with your right elbow, move your left leg in the middle of your opponent’s legs
- Slowly turn your left shoulder towards your opponent’s chest until you are approximately at 90 degrees with your opponent, almost in a sideways position. This sideways position will make your turn easier
- Remember the foot you placed between your opponent’s legs? Now turn it towards your right. This will make pivoting easier.
- Keep your opponent pressed firmly against the cage during this whole process
- Now, free your right arm as if you want to disengage from the clinch
- If you want to catch your opponent off guard, bait them by giving them your left hand to grab on. Even the greatest veterans fall for that.
- Now their hands are busy trying to control your left hand and their chin is exposed
- Now it’s time to unleash hell! Make your turn in an explosive manner and let them taste the tip of that elbow
Shoulder bumps/Shoulder strikes from the clinch
Conor McGregor broke Donald Cerrone’s orbital bone with shoulder strikes from the clinch in UFC 246.
Shoulder strikes or bumps are widely used in MMA today, in the clinch and even in ground and pound.
Shoulder strikes are used in many positions from the clinch, it can be used in a two-on-one clinch position, over-under, inside bicep tie, etc.
Shoulder strikes are more effective when they are used against the cage, but they also work very well in the center of the ring or the Octagon.
Sometimes shoulder bumps are not used to inflict damage but to adjust the opponent’s head towards strikes.
How to set up your opponent’s head for strikes using shoulder bumps:
- Start in an over-under position where you have one underhook and your opponent has an underhook of their own
- Bump your opponent’s jaw with your shoulder, this will bounce their head to the other side where you have an overhook
- Now free your hand from the overhook and start delivering strikes with it
- You can use elbows, uppercuts, hooks, or even knees
How to trip your opponent with shoulder bumps setups:
Jon Jones is well-known for using shoulder bumps to set up his opponents for a trip. He used the same techniques in both of his title defenses against Rashad Evans in UFC 145 and against Anthony Smith in UFC 235.
- Start in an over-under position where you have one underhook and your opponent has an underhook of their own
- Hit your opponent with an upward shoulder strike or multiple shoulder strikes
- This will put them in an uncomfortable position
- As a reaction to your strikes your opponent will tuck their head and push against your shoulder in order to protect their face from your shoulder strikes
- Now that they are pushing forward against you, seize the opportunity and use their momentum against them
- Rotate away rapidly with your body, now your opponent has nothing to push against, so they’ll lose balance
- Trip them with your leg
- Congrats you have thrown your opponent down using only the laws of physics
The clinch game is a complete art that stands on its own. Some legendary fighters such as Randy Couture have made it their primary fighting style and used it to conquer their rivals and win titles. Obviously you will need to work for endless hours if you want to master it, but as they say, repetition is the mother of mastery.