Boxing isn’t just a fistfight with gloves on and there is a lot more that goes into a boxing match than that. In fact, boxing is far more strategic than people give it credit for, and “hugging,” which is also known as “clinching,” is part of the overall strategy much of the time.
Boxers hug for many reasons, including as a move to close the distance so that the opponent can’t get in another blow, catching a moment of respite, or to just slow down the overall speed of the fight, even if it’s just for a moment or two.
You see far more clinching in a heavyweight bout than you do in a featherweight. The reason for that is heavyweight fighters have a whole lot of extra bulk to haul around the ring. Their arms are bigger, weigh more, and larger boxers tire much quicker and are more likely to start hugging.
Breaking Down the Strategy
Sometimes, it’s not so much as a strategy as it is a reaction to getting hit. When boxers inevitably move in too close, moving away opens you up to getting hit. If you clinch instead, the referee will move in—relatively quickly—and separate the fighters, closing that window of opportunity.
There are also a lot of things that go on during a clinch, such as smack-talking, mentally attacking your opponent can pay dividends, often more so than physicality. Before the ref breaks it up, there are opportunities for short hooks and uppercuts as well.
They may not have the full force of a proper hook or uppercut, where the boxer rotates their hips to get the most power into the punch, but every blow has a cost. Boxers sometimes focus on the body blows, which are nowhere near as entertaining, but the opponent pays a long-term price.
You can also lean in during a clinch, transferring your own weight to the opponent. It accomplishes two things: intimidation and wearing the opponent out.
Why is it Good for Boxers to Clinch/Hug?
Once upon a time, boxing lasted for the course of 15 rounds—unless one or the other was knocked out for real or by technicality or otherwise forfeited the match—and that was a long time for two heavyweight boxers to fight.
Nowadays, boxing matches have been reduced to 12 rounds, however, that still amounts to around 36 minutes of standing on your feet and both throwing and receiving punches. That’s a lot to ask, even of the most fine-tuned and exceptional athletes.
So the primary reason behind boxers hugging is almost always to catch a moment, even if it’s very short, to catch a breather. If you’re on the wrong end of a bad beating, its also helpful to clinch in order to slow down the tempo of the match.
You see the same thing in college and NFL football. When the defense is getting gassed, someone on the defense will take a knee, pretending to be hurt. It’s becoming more and more frequent since there is no penalty for faking an injury, but it gives the defense a breather amidst the onslaught.
The strategy is no different in boxing. Obviously, a boxer can’t take a knee to feign an injury or they would be disqualified from the match, so the next best thing is to engage in a clinch.
It’s also especially helpful when your opponent has an advantage in reach. Closing the distance minimizes their ability to throw their long jabs. If you’re shorter and stockier than a ranged opponent, short hooks and uppercuts within the window of a clinch can give you an advantage.
It’s also an advantage to clinch against an opponent who doesn’t have the range of a long fighter but has an immense amount of power in their uppercuts and hooks. A clinch can avoid the knockout blow when you’re unsteady on your feet or are trying to get back in the fight.
Problems with Clinching
Clinching isn’t always an advantage and if you’re fighting against a high-energy, explosive opponent, clinching may end up drawing more energy from you than from the opponent, since they will fight like a wild animal to get out of the clinch, forcing you to try harder to maintain it.
It’s also difficult to maintain in later rounds because of how tired both fighters inevitably are. Engaging in and trying to hug your opponent in round 11 may be more costly than beneficial in terms of what you get from the clinch.
Hugging or clinching in a boxing match is a pivotal part of the fight and is often far more strategic than those who are watching from the stands or behind a television set probably realize.
Its not a cheap move by any means and when boxers engage in a hug in the middle of the ring, you can bet that the thinking part of the fight is well underway.