Muay Thai Clinch: Basic Positions and Techniques

If you followed mixed martial arts in the 2000s, then you’re probably familiar with Wanderlei Silva, the Octagon warrior who turned the lights out on many opponents via brutal Muay Thai clinch strikes.

Knees from close range were the trademark of “The Axe Murderer”, who is, arguably the most influential Thai boxing fighter in the history of the sport.

Muay Thai clinch could be one of the most dangerous school in the sport for top-notch wrestlers or grapplers because Thai fighters are trained to destroy with brutal elbows, knees, fists, and trips from close distance.

For example, a kick boxer tends to chop you down with low kicks or piece you up with head combos and powerful level changes, but a Thai fighter is dangerous from every single position in the ring!

Muay Thai clinch
Image credit: 123rf.com / lightfieldstudios

The power of clinching is even greater inside the Octagon. A wrestler will probably try to lift you and win the battle via powerful slam, but a good Muay Thai clinch expert can counter that too. Now let’s get to know the power of clinching.

Muay Thai Clinch – Description and Basic Facts

The majority of fighting fans call clinching “the trademark of Muay Thai”. It is an ultimate weapon against a defensive expert or an extremely aggressive attacker. You can end the fight from close range so easily; you just need some skill and the ability to think quickly.

You can parry an aggressive opponent who marches forward over and over if you shorten the distance, as it disrupts his game plan. The defensive expert covers up well, but Muay Thai clinch can destroy even the toughest guard in the world. A barrage of ten knees in a row is very hard to defend.

Don’t forget, if you’re intelligent, the clinch is your greatest advantage, so please, fight wisely! Nobody can cover every single area of the body. You must change levels and look for openings. Be intelligent. Check out this video and you might learn something new.

Basic Positions

Muay Thai clinch is a very complex part of the game, but there are four general positions that even a rookie must know:

  • Double collar tie (pummel);
  • Single collar clinch;
  • Over-under;
  • Double under-hook.

Double Collar Tie

You’ve probably heard commentators saying “pummel” or “Muay Thai plum” from time to time (depending on whether he comes from the UK or the USA). That syntax refers to a double collar tie clinching, one of the most dominant fighting positions.

double collar tie clinching
Image credit: Canva / Slatan

The fighter who defends must block the attacks with forearms, fists, or palms, which means he’ll be destroyed in the split of a second if he doesn’t improve his position.

Setting up Muay Thai plum looks like this:

  • Assume the Muay Thai stance (both fighters).
  • Put your arms between the foe’s hands, make one or two steps forward and put your palms to the back of his head (cerebellum would be a perfect spot).
  • Cross your fingers and push your forearms to the inside pressing your foe’s cheeks and chin.
  • Now start pushing your opponent’s head downwards and towards yourself (optional). This creates an opportunity for a big knee or a powerful elbow.

The Brutality of Muay Thai Plum Strikes

Well, you can finish the opponent from here very quickly. His stomach, thighs, and especially mid-section are wide open, you can fire at will! This is the most dangerous area of Muay Thai clinch.

knee strike from the Muay Thai clinch
Image credit: Canva / Slatan

The three most brutal strikes from this position are the diagonal, straight, and rabbit knee. While the first two mostly target the head or body, the third strike on the list paralyzes the nerves of the thigh, and lets you change levels and connect with a knockout bomb.

The strike used most often is a straight knee. It regularly leads to a knockout. This video shows Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in action.

The horizontal knee is tricky, as you’ll have to step with your left leg to the left and put your right cheek next to the foe’s right cheek. He will be unable to move, which means the strike will be harder. If you’re landing a left knee, just do the opposite.

There are many more options from this area of the Muay Thai clinch – trips, sweeps, leg kicks, uppercuts, hooks, spear elbows, diagonal elbows, horizontal elbows. But knees are the most powerful ones.

When MMA fighters press their opponents against the fence, the first strike should go to the body because your opponent could lean on the cage, which protects him from knees to the head. If you take one step backward, you’ll improve the angle and create an opportunity for a potential fight-ending shot.

Single Collar Clinch

This is the position with “an unlimited” number of options. You can land all kinds of strikes. But don’t forget that you’re battling for the most dominant position (Muay Thai plum), which makes a single collar clinch the most dangerous position, both for you and your opponent. You should proceed with caution.

Please follow these instructions to learn how to set up a single collar clinch position (this is for orthodox fighters, for southpaws, just do the opposite):

  • Try to wrap your left arm around the foe’s left arm, and shorten the distance by pushing your leg slightly forward. You should place your right arm somewhere around the lateral side of your partner’s right biceps.
  • When the opponent does the same, you’re in the single collar clinch. You can make a step-drag forward to shorten the distance and place your left hand to the back of the opponent’s head. This maneuver should give you more control.

Potential Strikes from Single Collar Clinch

First of all, you’ll perform all the strikes with your free hand (the hand that doesn’t hold the opponent). Techniques that work the best from this position are hook, and uppercut (punches), but you can also deliver knees to the body, elbows, and foot stomps.

Muay Thai clinch techniques
Image credit: Canva / Perkus

A hook or a horizontal elbow is excellent here, but if the opponent covers up well, slashing elbow will break his guard. A cross is technically possible but you must create more space, but an uppercut is a fabulous attack against an aggressive opponent who tries to push you against the fence or ropes.

It is also a good way to prevent a takedown attempt (please look at the KO in the fight between Curtis Blaydes and Francis Ngannou), plus it stops from transitioning to over-under, body lock, or back control. This position is extremely popular in bare-knuckle too. Look at this knockout (Jim Alers, the former UFC fighter).

A single collar clinch is good for diagonal and a horizontal knee to the body because the opponent can’t defend both the spleen and liver.

You can also stop an aggressive opponent with a straight knee, which will give you enough time to set yourself free, especially when he pushes you towards the ropes. If your rival is pressed against the ring, you can try attacking his obliques or thighs too.

Are you an elbow specialist? Awesome, single collar clinch lets you land all kinds of elbows at will! Just put your hand on the back of the opponent’s head and go for horizontal, slashing, diagonal, spear, or any other elbow. You can easily cut your enemy open.

But if you’re unhappy with single collar, Muay Thai clinch lets you transition to some other, potentially more dangerous positions – double collar tie, over-under, double under-hooks.

Over-Under

This is a very popular position in the world of MMA for wrestlers. Muay Thai sweep specialists love it too! Short-range strike specialists and rabbit knee masters will love this position too!

over-under clinch wrestling
Image credit: Canva / Slatan

Here’s how to set this position up:

  • Assume the Muay Thai stance, and let your rival trap one of your arms and put his hand to your flank. For example, if the opponent controls your left arm, it’s time for you to isolate his left arm, so put your right arm under his left arm on the left side of his body.
  • The over-under is established, now put your left leg a bit diagonally to the left, it will limit the opponent’s options to move.

Over-Under Strikes – Not Many Options Left

You can do whatever you want from this position in MMA, especially if you’re a wrestler or a grappler. But this is not popular in Muay Thai unless you’re a diehard fan of clinch sweeps. Some thigh strikes (small, diagonal, or rabbit knee) will work well from this position.

Short-range elbows will also work, especially horizontal or spear elbows. You shouldn’t expect much damage. You can’t be very creative from over-under, so try improving it by switching to single-collar clinch or Muay Thai plum.

You can try landing shoulder strikes, too. Look at the MMA fight between Donald Cerrone and Conor McGregor.

Double Under-Hooks

If you have to deal with a top-notch striker or the fastest name in the division, you’ll have to avoid losing on judges’ scorecards or getting knocked out. You can disrupt his strikes, shorten the distance and defeat him via one magical Muay Thai clinch position – double under-hooks.

You may have to eat few strikes before wrapping your arms around the opponent’s waist. This is a defensive position, but a real nightmare for excellent long-range and mid-range strikers.

Here is a technical piece of art:

  • Starting from a basic Muay Thai stance, place your forearms under the opponent’s biceps. You must create some space between his forearms and ribs.
  • Take one step forward, wrapping your hands around the rival’s waist, and cross your fingers. Try to touch his chest with the upper part of your chest, and place your body next to his stomach.
  • The position is set. A key thing to remember is that you cannot tilt your head down when trying to assume double under-hooks because the opponent might put you to sleep via straight knee or an uppercut to the face.

If you’re a sweep specialist, we bet you’ll love both under-hook options. Please look at the instructional video below.

Tricky Strikes and Double Under-Hooks

It’s a bad spot for strikers, but some options are available. You can’t use your arms, but your knees are free. Unfortunately, the opponent’s arms are wrapped around your ribs and waist, so thigh or oblique shots are your only option. Your best option will be to attack with curved, small, diagonal, and rabbit knees.

On the other side, this is a good position to attack your opponent with knees, create some space and continue your level change attack with a body or headshot after changing the position.

Our next paragraph talks about the Muay Thai clinch aspect in MMA because some violent strikes are illegal in Thai boxing combat.

MMA and Muay Thai Clinch

The best part of Muay Thai clinching is seen in the world of mixed martial arts. Strike modifications can teach a good grappler or wrestler a lesson in the split of a second.

In UFC, 12-6 elbow is strictly prohibited, but it can help you defend when you’re pressed against the fence. The referee didn’t sanction this move in the match between Travis Browne and Gabriel Gonzaga.

Luckily, this strike was modified, and you’ll hear many MMA experts saying “Modestas Bukauskas’ elbows” today. The match between Bukauskas and Michalidis is written in history because “the allowed version” of potential 12-6 elbows was seen for the first time. The Lithuanian fighter didn’t attack the back of the opponent’s head.

Unfortunately, Jon Jones was unlucky against Matt Hamill, because referee Steve Mazzagatti stopped the fight almost instantly and disqualified the former 205-pound champ despite the fact that he was winning the match.

For example, when you control the opponent’s back and press him against the cage, you can destroy his thighs or oblique muscles with violent knees.

Another very interesting attack is spinning back elbow against the fence. Look at this instructional video.

Final Word

The crowd enjoys long-range and mid-range strikes, but Muay Thai clinch is the most technical aspect of the game. One tiny mistake and you might end up on the ground with a bloody nose. You can also put a grappling or wrestling phenom to sleep quickly, even if he wins 14 out of 15 minutes.

Clinch masters will have greater chances of outsmarting dangerous foes. When you meet a striker, you can disrupt his combos with double under-hooks, but you can also destroy a wrestler, grappler, or sweep specialist with brutal strikes from a double-collar tie position. You’ll need some time to master your skills, but practice makes perfect!