An aspect of Muay Thai that is just as essential as being able to kick and punch is knowing how to clinch and knee.
Two Muay Thai fighters of the past and present who dominate using the clinch are Dieselnoi and Yodwicha.
In this article I will try to give an explanation of what a clincher/knee specialist is in Muay Thai also known as Muay Kao or “knee fighter.”
Typically clinching and kneeing go hand and hand.
People with a boxing background tend to get confused when they’re introduced to Muay Thai clinching. In boxing, clinching tends to be a defensive position used to conserve energy rather than expend it. In Muay Thai it’s the total opposite. Clinching is an all out attack mode where each person is battling for the dominant position, which is your hand in the inside position around your opponent’s neck.
Once you are engaged in the clinch a number of attacks can be executed but what you will most commonly see is the knee due to the fact that your arms are locked up with your opponents. Knees also score a lot of points in Muay Thai.
Knee/clinch specialists are known to be aggressive charging fighters this is due to the fact that they have to be in close range to their opponent in order to be able to clinch and attack.
For anyone who’s ever tried clinching, they would know it requires a tremendous amount of energy. Clinchers will go on attack mode in rounds 3 and 4 looking to neutralize their opponents in the clinch and land knees.
With Thai fighters the knee/clinch specialists tend to be the taller fighters, this is due to the fact that taller people obviously have longer legs which allows them to knee from a farther distance as well as allowing them to generate more driving force.
The first Muay Thai knee specialist that I will discuss is the legendary Dieselnoi Chor Thanasukarn.
He is believed by many to be the most dominant Muay Thai fighter of all time. In fact he had to retire from fighting in Thailand because he no longer had any challengers. He was the undefeated lightweight Lumpinee champ from 1981-1985.
Dieselnoi was born in 1961 in the province of Ayutthaya. He fought during the golden era of Muay Thai in the 1980’s. He is 1.88 cm tall (6’2), which is quite tall for a Thai fighter. His stature allowed him to attack with devasting knees earning him the nickname “sky-piercing knee”.
One of the most legendary fights in Muay Thai history comparable to Ali vs. Frazier was the fight where Dieselnoi defeated the great Samart Payakaroon. His dominating knees were too much for Samart to handle.
Like most knee specialists, Dieselnoi had a very aggressive attacking style… you very rarely saw him sitting back and waiting for opponents to attack him. He was always the aggressor trying to lock up his opponent in the clinch and destroying them with his devastating knees.
Dieselnoi often fought with a high guard with his left hand extended and his right hand close to his chin. With his left hand extended this gave him guard that created distance from his face making it hard for people to land punches on him. It also allowed him to grab his opponent’s necks so he could pull them into the clinch. His right hand also protected his chin from possible hooks and counters.
As mentioned before Muay Thai is an art of styles. It was believed that the best way to beat a knee specialist is by punching him because they have to come into close range in order to clinch leaving them susceptible to punches. Many punchers of that era tried to do this but none were successful against Dieselnoi.
The next fighter that I will discuss is current Lumpinee lightweight champion Yodwicha Por Boonsit.
Born in 1996, at 19 years old he has already racked up a very impressive Muay Thai resume. He currently trains out of Kem Gym in Khao Yai (Kem is another well know fighter of this era.)
Yodwicha is a Muay Thai fighter that rose to his current stardom through hard work. Like most sports, the most well known fighters are often the fighters with the most back up or promoting. Fighters that people talk about often especially the promoters are the most well known by the general public. This is not the case with Yodwicha; he has never been a well-promoted fighter until of late.
Yodwicha has risen to the top simply by beating everyone in his path.
In the last 2 years I’ve been to almost every one of Yodwicha’s fights and they mostly ended the same way with Yodwicha out hustling and dominating in the clinch.
He’s not known to be the most beautifully skilled fighter to watch but he’s definitely the most energetic and aggressive. It still amazes me how he’s able to continuously attack and lock up his opponents for 2 or sometimes 3 rounds non-stop.
His stamina is off the charts.
As far as techniques go as a clincher/knee specialist, Yodwicha’s main purpose is to lock his opponent up in the clinch so he can attack with his knees. It’s important for a clincher to have a lead attack move before entering the clinch or else they’ll just be walking into their opponent’s punches or elbows.
The 2 techniques Yodwicha utilizes most to initiate the clinch is either a lead uppercut elbow traditionally called “kut mala” and the lead jab, which he uses to disrupt his opponent’s balance before clinching.
Yodwicha can be seen sometimes hopping on his standing leg towards his opponent with his lead leg raised. This is done to close the distance to clinch while simultaneously blocking against his opponents kicks. This is a technique that clinchers can utilize against kickers, but beware of your opponent going for the sweep.
Once the distance has been closed the clinch can either be initiated or once the lead leg is placed Yodwicha will sometimes drive the knee of his standing leg into his opponent.
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