Boxing Clinch

Relaxing in the Clinch

If given a choice, I prefer to keep an opponent on the far end of my jab, but like everyone with a lot of height and reach I’m frequently faced with an opponent who wants to bring the fight to me on the inside.

Every boxer should be able to fight on the inside.

I practice it whenever I have a willing sparring partner, because it’s a critical skill. When you’re fighting inside, the game changes. You need short range punch power, better use of small, quick shifts and pivots, and good use of your (and your opponent’s) weight.

The reason it’s hard to fight inside is that all your fight-fear rises to the surface; you can’t dance around and toss shots from the outside, you can’t pause to plan your next combo, and you don’t have the luxury of a breather. The fight has come to you and the clock is ticking: how long can you hold out in an incredibly tense, fast boxing situation?

Inside fighting is like the sprint within the sprint of a boxing round.

One of the secrets of doing well on the inside is to remember that shots on the inside frequently have less power. Most people can’t launch a bomb and land it with so little space. However, if you can get your legs beneath an uppercut and land it under your opponent’s jaw, you’re golden. The head snaps back, you follow it with a nice hook, or else pivot out and nail them from the side with a straight shot and you may just take the fight right then and there.

What usually happens to me during inside fighting is a clinch.

I was in the ring recently with an opponent who is slightly smaller and lighter than I am, and who lives for the inside game. She’s a great opponent to work with, because you know what you’re about to get. It’s like having to swim a long distance underwater: you get as much air as you can before you duck under, because you’re about to work your ass off, and the next oxygen you’re going to get is 3 minutes away when the bell rings.

There are only three ways to stop the inside game: great footwork or speed (evasion), a shocking punch or combo, and a clinch.

When I’m up against a teenager who is in top shape in her sport, I know my speed is not going to top hers. I can try the power, but in the end, I’ll end up in a clinch.

And that’s where we went, over and over again during our session. And I found that I was bleeding energy at an insane rate during every clinch — even more than usual.

And because we repeated the same pattern over and over again, I could see the reason for the power bleed. The shot she was throwing every time before we clinched was a left hook, and although it usually missed my jaw, it was still coming in behind my guard — essentially “threading the needle” into the little triangle of space created by my right arm in guard position. As soon as it came in, we clinched and her glove would be trapped against me. Then I would spend a tremendous amount of energy to pull away, popping her glove out of my guard like pulling a cork out of a bottle.

It wore. Me. Out.

I could see what was happening, but couldn’t muster the brain power to fix it. Until my coach told me, during the bell, what to do.

“Just relax,” he said. “You’re trying to hold your gloves high and tight and it’s working against you. Keep them high, but relax, and when you pull away you won’t lose so much energy popping her glove out of the tangle.”

This is why no boxer can succeed without a great coach.

You really need that third party watching and puzzling out with their brain power, not yours, what’s happening.

“Also,” he added before I headed into the fray once more, “what about a nice little shot on the exit? You’re in close, so dust off your hook and see what happens.”

Magic, that’s what happens.

I know it sounds terribly counter-intuitive, but relaxing in the clinch really does work. And so does that sweet little right hook on the exit.

Creative commons image by maxintosh on Flickr.

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7 Responses to Relaxing in the Clinch

  1. niamh July 11, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    I love your technical posts, you really think about what you’re doing, great work Lisa – in and out of the ring! So right about the coach, they see it all huh?

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe July 12, 2012 at 9:37 am #

      Thanks, niamh — it means a lot, coming from another fighter. Btw, I *love* that photo of you on your site:

      I also love that you list all your interviews (so many!) on a single page. That makes it really easy to browse.

      Would really enjoy hearing more of your own stories — do you have more photos of your fighting? I feel like I have so few of me in the ring…

  2. Emily Esner July 18, 2012 at 12:57 am #

    Almost 47. Started boxing a year ago. Your blog has help guide me through my own feelings about this sport…Oh! I’m not the only one!

    I use to be a rower, but never got over my fear of water. I’ve sparred twice now. First time- bloody nose, saw stars and black. Still rather get hit than be in the water. BUT second sparring session-severely bruised (maybe cracked) rib. And now I’m scared. Learned the hard way that I can’t just be put in the ring with anyone. I don’t have the skills do deal with ANYthing that comes my way.
    QUESTIONS….I read you broke your rib boxing.
    How did it happen?
    And were you able to do any upper body work while you healed?
    Or did all your muscles disappear?
    What brand no foul protector do you wear?


    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe July 22, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

      Great to have you drop in, Emily. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!

      I agree, I think you may be sparring outside your range. You need someone very experienced who is willing to work with you at your level. Try talking to your coach about it, and see if you can get something to change. If your coach doesn’t listen, you may need to find a different gym. New boxers should NOT be getting beat up in the ring. A bloody nose is relatively normal, a cracked or broken rib is not.

      Yes, I broke my rib sparring. I was in with someone very new but also very strong. I was still pretty new myself, and didn’t have the tight guard that I needed yet. It was somewhat of a fluke, and didn’t happen because someone was trying to hurt me or show off.

      After recovering from the broken rib (which took several months of NO sparring, although after the first couple of weeks I could do any light exercise that didn’t make me breathe too hard) I bought a no-foul. Here’s a link to the one I have:

      I rarely wear it any more, both because I have gotten much better at boxing *and* because I don’t get in the ring to spar with someone unless I already trust them and know they are a good sparring partner. But I always keep it in with my gear, just in case I want it.

      I hope you’ll drop in here or email me any time (lisa [at] theglowingedge [dot] com) and let me know how things are progressing for you. Being a new boxer is both a fabulous and a scary experience, and there are few others who understand and can share your journey. I’d love to hear from you, any time!

      Take the time you need to recover. Get strong. And don’t give up yet!

      • Emily Esner July 23, 2012 at 12:22 am #

        Wow! Thank you so much for such a detailed response…Your knowledge and encouragement is helping me out of my boxing funk.
        Take care,

  3. Margaret Reyes Dempsey July 22, 2012 at 9:57 am #

    I really enjoyed this post, Lisa. I am soooooo picking your brain once I get the first draft of the novel finished. I have a boxing scene with a lot of yellow highlighter marking the spots where it’s obvious I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. ROFL! 🙂

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe July 22, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

      Dude! I am SO excited to hear that your next novel will have a boxing scene! I would be honored to get the chance to read over your draft and offer insight on the boxing bits. And I’d be thrilled to have the chance to see your novel before the rest of the world snaps it up. Which they undoubtedly will. You rockstar.

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