Why Do Boxers Hug Each Other? (10 Reasons Why)

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Are you wondering why boxers hug each other so much during a fight?

In this article, we’ll explain the 10 reasons why boxers hug each other, what a boxing clinch is, and whether the boxing clinch is legal. We’ll also look at some of the most famous boxers to use the clinch.

Why Do Boxers Hug Each Other? (Boxing Clinch)

Boxers hug each other to catch their breath, avoid punches when hurt, slow the pace of a fight, frustrate/tire an opponent, stifle short-range boxers, land punches in the clinch, win via decision, escape when trapped, and when outclassed in a boxing match.

More clearly laid out, boxers hug each other/clinch for the 10 following reasons.

  1. They’re tired and it gives them time to recover their breath
  2. It’s a tactic used to tire the opponent
  3. They’re hurt and need to reduce damage taken and recover their wits
  4. To slow down the pace of a fight
  5. To frustrate the opponent
  6. It’s a tactic used by fighters who like to box at a distance
  7. To land punches on the inside
  8. To win via decision
  9. To escape when trapped
  10. When being outclassed

Before we look more closely at the 10 reasons why boxers hug (clinch), it should be understood that boxers hugging is known as clinching.

You should also know what clinching is, whether clinching is legal in boxing, and how clinching differs from holding.

So, what is a boxing clinch?

A boxing clinch is when a boxer ties up/traps their opponent’s arms with overhooks and/or underhooks to stop them from punching and being able to disengage. 

Boxers also put their head on the opponent’s shoulder to avoid accidental headbutts and make them carry their weight.

The large majority of the time, boxers in a clinch have to be broken up by the referee, who shouts, “Break!’

Is clinching legal in boxing?

Yes, clinching is legal in boxing.

Under the rules laid out by the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC), foul 4 reads: ‘Holding or deliberately maintaining a clinch’. This means clinching is legal but it becomes a foul when a boxer deliberately maintains a clinch.

What deliberately maintaining a clinch looks like is up for debate, as the rules aren’t conclusive enough. This inconclusive nature is why there’s confusion surrounding the boxing clinch and why referees handle clinching differently depending on how they interpret foul 4.

For the most part, referees allow boxers to clinch for a longer time if they’re keeping busy by boxing inside of it. They try and allow the boxers to punch their way out of a clinch.

If it seems a boxer is intentionally maintaining a clinch and not boxing or trying to escape it, the referee can give a warning followed by a point deduction and disqualification for repeat offenders.

What is holding in boxing?

On the other hand, holding is always illegal. Holding is when a boxer holds their opponent with one arm across the arm or waist and uses the free arm to punch. There’s a fine line between boxing in a clinch and holding, so most fighters get away with holding.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the 10 reasons why boxers hug each other (clinch).

1. Time To Recover the Breath

Boxers clinch (hug) when they’re tired as it gives them a chance to recover their breath. While it can be tiring to grapple with an opponent, it gives a tired boxer a much-needed break from all the footwork, body/head movement, feints, boxing, and dialed-in focus.

Professional boxing matches are 12 three-minute rounds for a total of 36 minutes of boxing. This is a very long time to be fighting and explains why heavier boxers such as heavyweights are clinching so often.

They’re carrying extra weight for more power in their punches, which often means their cardiovascular endurance has been slightly sacrificed and they more commonly need to catch their breath than boxers in the lower weight classes.

2. To Tire the Opponent

Boxers commonly clinch their opponent in order to tire them. Most boxers are out of their comfort zone when constantly in a clinch, and tall boxers such as Tyson Fury use their height and weight advantage to lean all of their weight on their shorter opponent when clinching.

They lean their forehead on the opponent’s shoulder which means they’re resting while the opponent’s carrying their weight. Whether they take it or try to stand up, it’s very tiring on their legs and impacts their footwork, especially in the later rounds.

There isn’t an upper weight limit for the heavyweight division in boxing, so you can imagine how tiring it is to have a 6 foot 9 tall, 277 lb heavyweight boxer constantly throwing jabs before leaning on top of you in a clinch.

Also, clinching tires the fighter who tries to escape by shoving the clincher away or spinning away, which is why most boxers wait for the referee to break them up.

3. Time to Recover Their Wits

Once a boxer has been hurt by a powerful punch or by a sheer volume of punches, they’re either going to shell up and look for counters, shell up and use footwork to run away, or shell up and enter the boxing clinch by tangling their opponent’s arms.

Once a fighter’s hurt, most commonly they’ll clinch because the opponent will be close up and firing punches, and clinching is the best way to stop these punches. Once hurt, it’s also much easier to clinch rather than run around the ring while dazed and without clear thought.

Essentially, boxers hug when they’re hurt as it stops the source of damage, and it gives them time to recover their wits and think about how they’re going to turn the fight around.

4. To Slow the Pace of a Fight (Disrupt Rhythm)

A Boxer often hugs (clinches) their opponent as a tactic to slow the pace of the fight, disrupt their rhythm, and stop an opponent from gaining momentum.

This tactic is most commonly used against fast-starting boxers with explosive power, or against forward-pressure fighters who box best with momentum. 

Using great footwork and head movement and clinching an explosive boxer when they close the range disrupts their rhythm, slows them down, and makes them tired where they lose their knockout power and explosiveness.

Slowing the pace of the fight is also commonly adopted by more technical boxers who have less power but the upper hand with technique and win fights on points.

5. To Frustrate the Opponent

A boxer may constantly hug their opponent to frustrate them. Once a fighter is frustrated, they lose focus on the fight, their technique worsens, their heart rate goes up and they get hot and tired, they abandon their gameplan if they had one, and overall they start fighting much worse.

Hugging an opposing boxer to frustrate them is a great tactic against boxers known to be easily riled up and lose their composure, and against boxers who can be seen to be getting angry during a fight.

A common tactic when clinching in boxing is to step on the opponent’s feet. This is illegal but often missed by the referee as they’re focused on watching for holding and splitting up the clinch. Stepping on the foot of the opponent is a sure way to frustrate them.

Not only does clinching frustrate the opponent, but it can also frustrate the crowd and lead to boos, which can, in turn, frustrate the opponent. This is especially true if they’re on home soil and feel pressure to advance and win the fight.

6. Used by Distance Fighters To Stifle the Opponent

Boxers with medium to long reach (or simply a longer reach than their opponent) whose boxing style is to control the range of a fight, and land jabs before landing counterpunches on advancing opponents, look for the boxing clinch as it’s a great way to reset to their preferred range.

For example, Floyd Mayweather Jr famously used this tactic against Manny Pacquiao in their huge fight. Mayweather controlled the range with his longer reach and jab, head movement, and footwork, and whenever Pacquiao tried to close the distance to land his boxing combinations, Mayweather would clinch.

This ensured Mayweather was landing more strikes on the outside, and Pacquiao’s strength of boxing on the inside was negated by the constant hugging/clinching.

When the referee breaks the clinch, boxers aren’t allowed to punch each other and are reset to Mayweather’s preferred long boxing range where he goes straight back to landing his jab.

If the shorter-range fighter stops attempting to close the distance, they’ll most likely lose as they’re picked apart at range.

Similarly, clinching is also used to stop any counters and is therefore effective against counterpunchers.

7. To Land Punches on the Inside

While holding’s illegal in boxing, many boxers change from a clinch to a hold so they can land punches on the inside. Most referees don’t penalize holding, especially if both fighters are doing it. 

They let the boxers punch in the clinch/hold and break the fight up when action has stalled, boxers aren’t able to fight their way out of the clinch, or one or both boxers are fouling by deliberately maintaining the clinch.

Being a skilled clincher means the ability to land punches after transitioning from a clinch to a hold. Part of the skill here is knowing how lenient the referee is in terms of clinching and holding, and learning what they can get away with. Boxers understand this by testing the referee.

8. To Win Via Decision

Boxers also hug each other when a boxer is outboxing their opponent and believe they’re winning on the scorecards. It may be round 9 or 10 and the winning boxer can see the decision victory in sight.

They’ll start clinching more often as a way to waste time, drain their opponent’s energy, and stay safe from the opponent who knows they need a knockout to win and starts throwing power punches and fighting aggressively.

Most referees allow roughly 2 or 3 seconds of clinching before they split it up, by which time 5 to 7 seconds have passed. Repeat this 10 or more times in a three-minute round, and half of the round has passed by in a clinch with no chance of being knocked out.

9. To Escape When Trapped

A boxer will hug his opponent when they’re trapped in the corner of the ring, as their defense is significantly weakened if they can’t use footwork to evade.

When trapped, clinching with underhooks can be used to turn the opponent or escape underneath their arm into space. Or, a trapped boxer can clinch with overhooks and have the referee break up the clinch as it creates space for a boxer to start using footwork again.

Some boxers can also escape by clinching for a short moment before pushing their opponent away to create space. Often times this pushing away unbalances the opponent and allows the pusher to land shots.

10. When Outclassed

Lastly, less skilled boxers hug their opponent to make it a more even playing field. If they just box a technical fight they’ll get picked apart and lose. If they box and incorporate clinching they have a chance to win.

It’s essentially a way to make the boxing match more physical and mental and less technical. If the more skilled boxer becomes tired, frustrated, or has their rhythm disrupted, the less skilled boxer has a higher chance of success.

Even boxers who enter a fight full of confidence and believe they’re the more skilled fighter start clinching if they’re being outclassed.

Who Are the Most Famous Clinchers in Boxing?

The most famous clinchers in boxing are:

  • Bernard Hopkins
  • Floyd Mayweather Jr
  • Henry Akinwande
  • Jack Johnson
  • John Ruiz
  • Larry Holmes
  • Muhammed Ali
  • Roberto Duran
  • Tyson Fury
  • Wladimir Klitschko

All of these boxers have successfully incorporated clinching into their style at one point or another to win titles.

On the other hand, Henry Akinwnade was famously disqualified for overuse of clinching against Lennox Lewis in their WBC heavyweight title bout in 1997. This is a perfect example of a boxer using the clinch when they’re outclassed, and taking it too far.

The Bottom Line

So, ‘Why do boxers hug each other?’ Or put another way, ‘Why do boxers clinch?’

Overall, boxers hug each other because clinching’s a very effective tool in boxing, a tool used by many of the greatest boxers of all time.

Clinching’s considered to be part of dirty boxing and is used by boxers to catch their breath, avoid punches when hurt, slow the pace of a fight, frustrate/tire an opponent, stifle short-range boxers, land punches in the clinch, win via decision, and when outclassed in a boxing match.

After a fight, boxers hug each other to show respect for each other’s skill and hard work.

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