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What Is Dirty Boxing In MMA/Boxing?

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While watching any boxing or MMA event, you can often hear broadcasters using the term “dirty boxing”. But this may confuse many fight fans who don’t know what “dirty boxing” means in the fighting world. Even though it is a bit complex when you look deep into it, it is not that hard to understand what’s dirty boxing all about.

Dirty boxing is when a fighter throws short punches from the clinch position while holding the opponent’s back of the head to gain a tactical advantage. It’s called “dirty boxing” to describe a set of unorthodox boxing techniques in combat sports, which can be on the borderline of being illegal.

As long as fighters are doing it right, dirty boxing is legal and can be a really effective technique. In this article, we will dig deep and bring you all you need to know about this unique group of techniques and tactics.

Where Did The Term Dirty Boxing Come From?

There is no precise record of who was the first person to use the term “dirty boxing”. The origins of this term could be found in the striking element of Filipino martial art called Suntukan. Suntukan is not a sport and it puts a lot of emphasis on self-defense and using “dirty street fighting” tactics like eye gouging and groin strikes.  It includes some of the other dirty boxing moves we can see in modern boxing and MMA like: 

  • Headbutts
  • Forearm strikes
  • Hammer fists
  • Back fists
  • Shoulder butts
  • Elbow Strikes
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Is Dirty Boxing Effective For Self-Defense?

Dirty boxing is not a martial art on its own but a set of fighting moves that are very useful for self-defense. The way you can learn these moves is by training in martial arts like MMA, Muay Thai or boxing. Both of these arts will teach you how to use dirty boxing moves like:

  • Clinching
  • Elbow strikes
  • Knees in the clinch
  • Forearm strike
  • Hammer Fists

Dirty boxing might be the most important tool in street fighting. In most cases, street fighting includes intense close-range grabbing, pulling, or ground fighting. It is a chaos that looks much different from the pro boxing or MMA fighting we watch on TV. And these are the situations in which dirty boxing truly shines.

While at close range, one of the best dirty boxing moves is to initiate the clinch. From this position, you can land vicious Muay Thai elbow and knee strikes. Or you can go the traditional way and use some Suntukan moves like eye-gouging, hammer fists, or head butts in a self-defense situation. Whether it’s a bar fight or in the open, these are all very useful self-defense techniques.

Which Dirty Boxing Moves Are Used In Boxing?

Let’s be honest, the first thing that comes to our mind when we hear the term “dirty boxing” is a pro boxing match. It’s not that boxers are using more dirty moves than fighters from other arts. But over the years, the term itself has become a part of boxing culture.

Here are some of the most famous dirty boxing moves used in modern boxing. We must say some of the moves are on the borderline of being illegal:

Create a referee blind spot:

This is a dirty boxing move that, when done right, creates an angle in which the referee can’t see what are you doing. The goal is to get a clinch and maneuver the opponent in a position where the referee can’t see what’s going on. This gives boxers a chance to land illegal strikes like headbutts or sneaky elbows, and get away with it.

One of the masters of moving the opponent in such a position was Bernard Hopkins. First, he would press them against the ropes and create a blind spot for the referee. Then, he would hit the opponent with illegal short elbows or hold their wrists.

Clinching to recover:

Boxing fights often end up in a clinch in every round, so knowing how to fight in this position is crucial. In most cases, boxers would duck under and go for a clinch to defend against the opponent’s attack. Or, it can be a very useful tactic when a boxer gets hurt. 

When a boxer gets hurt by a punch, the worst thing that can happen is to allow the opponent to follow up with more strikes. So to stop them, a hurt boxer would grab the opponent around the waist or neck to stall the action and a couple of seconds to recover. You can see boxers doing this in just about every match.

Forearm push:

This is one of those sneaky moves in boxing which can often lead to a brutal KO. The trick is to place your forearm on the opponent’s face during the close-range exchange. By doing so, you can limit their vision so that they can’t see a follow-up punch that usually lands with a lot of power. And as we know, punches you don’t see are often the ones that result in a KO.

Head positioning:

In a boxing match, we can often see fighters clashing and battling for a head position. Average people may think they are doing this because they are just leaning on each other to get some rest. But in reality, head control is a very important dirty boxing technique that gives you a great advantage in various situations. It allows you to maneuver the opponent where you want them to be, or set up the punching combo.

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Which Dirty Boxing Moves Are Used In MMA? 

Dirty boxing plays a big role in modern MMA, maybe even bigger than in boxing. This is because in MMA fighters can use all limbs as weapons to strike in the standup, fight in the clinch, grapple, or fight on the ground. There are so much more opportunities to use dirty boxing in MMA than in boxing. Here are some of the most famous dirty boxing moves in MMA:

Clinching to wear out the opponent:

MMA rules allow fighters to fight in the clinch as much as they want. The referee won’t separate the fighters unless they are inactive for a certain period of time. This means MMA fighters can use the clinch to take some rest or recover after being hurt much more than boxers. And since MMA is more versatile than boxing, there are more benefits to clinching as well.

For instance, fighters would press the opponent against the fence and wear them out with strong pressure. This strategy works well against powerful opponents as they will gas out quickly because they exert all their strength to get out of being pressed against the fence.

Shoulder bumps/Strikes:

Although this may sound weird at first, shoulder strikes are actually a great dirty boxing technique. If you don’t trust us, just recall the shoulder strikes Conor McGregor had landed on Donald Cerrone at UFC 246 in 2020. The Irishman managed to break Cerrone’s orbital bone which resulted in a great TKO win for McGregor.

There are many positions from which you can use shoulder strikes in the clinch. The most common one is the “over-under” which McGregor used in Cerrone fight. Fighters usually land these strikes against the cage, but they often do it in the center as well.

Elbows and knees in the clinch:

Elbow and knee strikes usually come from Muay Thai training and they are the most effective dirty boxing techniques in MMA. Or at least, we can all agree they can produce the biggest damage like deep cuts, swellings, severe bleeding, and even broken ribs when placed right. Fighters would first wrap their hands around the opponent’s neck to break their posture by pulling the famous “Thai clinch”. From this position, MMA fighters would explode with a vicious knee to the stomach or go high to the head.

When it comes to elbow strikes, the process is very similar. Fighters can land them from various positions, including Thai clinch. These elbows can do a lot of damage and even knock the opponent out when placed right.

Single collar tie:

This is one of the best dirty boxing moves MMA fighters use in the clinch to land very hard strikes, notably uppercuts. They do it by faking their way into the opponent’s range with a jab or other strikes to get the clinch. Then, they would grab the opponent with one hand behind the neck, and blast them with the other one. From this position, fighters can land uppercuts, hooks over the top, or even elbows.

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Famous MMA Fighters Who Often Used Dirty Boxing

Nick and Nate Diaz

Brothers Nick and Nate Diaz are widely known as one of the most skilled boxers in modern MMA. What always stood up in their boxing game was the ability to dirty box in the clinch against the fence. Or, they can box from the outside using long strikes as Nate did against Michael Johnson.

Like pro boxers, they would place their head on the opponent’s chest and explode with a barrage of punches. The best instance of their dirty boxing skills are Nate’s second fight with Conor McGregor, and Nick’s bout with Paul Daley.

Randy Couture

The former UFC champ in two weight classes, Randy Couture, is perhaps the best instance of how useful dirty boxing is in MMA. He would use solid head movement skills to dodge the strike and get into the opponent’s range. Once there, he would position his head on their chest and secure a single collar tie position.

This allowed Couture to break their posture and start striking them with the other hand. He was a true master in doing this. Couture also used a single collar tie to have his opponent off balance by using both hands to shift them from side to side.

Daniel Cormier

Even though most fans know him as a skilled wrestler, Cormier had really good standup skills and he often used dirty boxing moves in MMA. In fact, don’t look any further from his fights with Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic if you need an instance.

In most of his fights, Cormier fought under big height and reach disadvantage but he would make up for the lack in size with clinching and dirty boxing. Just recall how he grabbed a single collar tie to blast Miocic on the break to win the Heavyweight title in 2018.

Famous Boxers Who Used Dirty Boxing

Bernard Hopkins

As said earlier, Bernard Hopkins is the former boxing world champ who used a lot of dirty boxing moves in his fights.

He was very good in initiating the clinch, and maneuvering the opponent to create a blind spot for the referee. Once there, he would do certain illegal moves like holding the opponent’s wrists, blast them with sneaky elbows and get away with it because the referee couldn’t see it. 

Floyd Maywheather Jr.

Floyd Mayweather is arguably the greatest boxer of our generation and one of the secrets behind his success are his amazing dirty boxing skills. Even though most fans know him as an outside boxer, Floyd was also a master during the clinch. He would often place his lead hand over the opponent’s face to interrupt their vision and follow up with a power punch that would land clean in most cases. This is one of those techniques most boxers won’t train and it would catch them off guard. 


Is dirty boxing legal?

Yes, dirty boxing is legal as long as the moves you are using are within the rules of the sport you are competing in. Or in some cases, you can get away with some illegal moves if the referee can’t see what you are doing. The sports in which you can see fighters using dirty boxing moves the most are Muay Thai, MMA and boxing. 

Boxers use it to land various legal and illegal strikes like elbows when they are fighting in the clinch. Dirty boxing is also a big part of MMA where fighters can use an even broader set of dirty boxing moves.

Where I can learn dirty boxing techniques?

You can learn dirty boxing moves training in various striking arts like boxing, MMA or Muay Thai. But bear in mind that dirty boxing is a group of advanced techniques you won’t spend much time learning as a beginner. It is one of those things that comes with years of training and fighting inside the ring. You need to have a really good base before you can even think about adding dirty boxing to your game.

In our opinion, MMA and Muay Thai are the best martial arts when it comes to dirty boxing. This is because they are more versatile than boxing. You will learn how to throw elbows, knees, head position in the clinch, or even how to strike with hammer fists while fighting on the ground.

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