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Clinch Assessment By Mark Hatmaker

Traditional Styles


The over-under clinch is the big dog of clinches in MMA and competitive submission grappling and for good reason–we’ll get to why in a mo’, but first a little on why we see so little of three other major clinches: the traditional Boxing Clinch, the Collar & Elbow (C & E) clinch, and the Plum Blossom or Muay Thai clinch.

First, the traditional Boxing Clinch. The absence of this one is almost a no-brainer, too upright and loose to kibosh knees and elbows, too narrow and “light” to avoid the takedown. As much as I love boxing this clinch simply has no place in the MMA game.

Next, the Collar & Elbow or C & E tie-up which is exceptionally common (and useful) in collegiate and folk-style wrestling. It sets up countless shots for the legs, numerous duck-unders, go-behinds and offensive gambits out the wazoo. A good C & E clinch is also a deceptive little defensive tool that allows you to “read” an opponent’s intentions, and use steering motions to defend shots which is way less energy costing than the gambited offense.

So, why is such a formidable tool so conspicuously little-seen in MMA? Because if you use it as it is used in the traditional sports you will get clocked.

The C & E tie-up is a fantastic grappling tool but it commits the hands to grappling in such a way as to lead one to not even think of mounting a striking offense–and if you do mount that offense this is such a loose base to launch from methinks the tie-up could have been skipped altogether.

It performs even worse on the flip side of the striking coin. Its openness/looseness is full of striking holes that any good inside fighter will punish for trying to apply this clinch where it doesn’t need to be.

Before my wrestling brethren despair, don’t throw that C & E clinch away–not by any means. I suggest that rather than thinking of it as the starting point and or feeler in a match, move the C & E to quick windows of opportunity. By this I mean apply it in short-timed iterations where your transition to the next phase of your offense or defense is tripped to fire immediately and not get stuck in a C & E “clinch” game where it might get you hurt.

The Muay Thai Clinch


The Plum Blossom, or Muay Thai clinch, also the Double-Head Tie-Up is a devastating weapon in the Muay Thai game and we do see it from time to time in its pure form in MMA but not nearly as much as we did in the early days of the game.I surmise that the Plum Blossom used in its pure form is diminishing for the opposite reasons of the C & E clinch’s waning. Where the C & E clinch is strike vulnerable, the Plum Blossom is grappling vulnerable. The posture is a bit too high and the base a bit too narrow allowing good wrestling to shrug and blow through this tie-up fairly easily–the key is not to get lulled into thinking of this tie-up as a snaking/re-snaking-pummeling game and treat the tie-up itself as what its intentions are- a strike. With that in mind, blow through your clinch defense quickly (the shrug is high percentage here) and you should be good to go.

Just as with the C & E clinch, the Plum Blossom used in quick instances or in modified form most definitely has its place in MMA. It is its pure upright form that needs a caveat or two.That brings us to the clinch that has established its utilitarian dominance for both its offensive/defensive potential: The Over-Under Clinch.

The Over-Under Clinch


The Over-Under Clinch pre-MMA was most commonly seen in Greco-Roman wrestling where legs dives, picks, and lacing are off-limits and upper-body control is key. Taking this clinch almost intact from its original sport and adding a few modified concepts and you have an MMA ready highly functional offensive-defensive weapon.

The Over-Under Clinch allows for good upper-body control and staving off most effective punching due to its cutting off punching room nature. Elbows can still be formidable here but good under-hook control and/or under-hook “reading” (feeling of intention) can go a long way to reducing this threat.

This clinch does open up the possibilities of knees but good weighting via over-hook forward and “down“, tight and aggressive under-hook pulls, accompanied by aggressive under-hook shoulder “pinning” and bothersome head-in-the-pocket work reduces the threat and intensity of knee strikes.

The over-under also presents numerous takedown possibilities, both of the upper-body Greco Roman variety and of the folk style and Judo leg lacing/tripping variety.The under-hook portion of this clinch is also the root of much good defense versus these very same takedown attacks.

The Over-Under clinch is also an almost optimum point to work from as you spin and pin an opponent into the cage. On the flip-side of that equation, when your back is to the cage the over-under is your defensive friend and the key to you turning yourself off of the cage.

Final Thoughts


The only downside to this most useful of MMA clinches is that is essentially a neutral position meaning that competitors have the same offensive/defensive opportunities available to them– the key making yourself king of this position is twofold.

In conclusion, and it’s about time Hatmaker, all clinches have their place, but one deserves a bit more attention than all the others put together.

Clinch Assessment By Mark Hatmaker

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13 thoughts on “Clinch Assessment By Mark Hatmaker”

  1. I’m a fighter survivor..streets of NEW York”
    Your advise is great! But u got 2 always look at your surroundings, people places, cars, be on top of it all. I am WOMAN, N bin on da streets, n trained as well. Thank you

  2. I just downloaded Mark Rector’s translation of “Talhoffers Fechtbuch 1467”. This scanned version is available legitimately as far as I know. It contains a good section on “Kampfringen” meaning “Combat Grappling”, with lots of pictures. These show various holds which were likely to be useful in real Medieval combat.

  3. Thanks Bob. Great info from Mark as usual but could have done with a short video to demonstrate the techniques discussed which are a bit difficult to imagine from the description alone. However, still great stuff!

  4. I am a Veteran of three foreign wars and I love my country. I am going to send you some papers that I think you will like. Thank you for your time.

  5. Interesting πŸ™‚ a video or more pictures to demonstrate would be nice, for me at least -I dont`t have that much experience πŸ™‚

  6. I agree that there should have been a video or more pictures. I have limited experience with grappling, and find it hard to visualize the techniques from verbal description only.