Breaking Down Some Elements of Awesome Muay Thai Clinch Technique
Sataanmuanglek Numponthep – Magician
A few days a go a clinch video swept across Facebook, featuring the young fighter Sataanmuanglek Numponthep just looking incredible in “man in the middle” training. This kind of training is very common in Thailand, and often can go for 40 minutes or more (rotating out the man who is in the middle) – it’s one of the reasons I moved to Pattaya to train at Petchrungruang, this kind of work. But Sataanmuanglek just looks spectacular in this clip. The very best clinch throw techniques are those where you almost can’t see where the trip came from – and in some cases when you’re the one tripped you don’t know either! These kinds of throws give the illusion that the opponent somehow just fell, inexplicably, as out his/her instability. You kind of “hide” your trip and even sometimes use slightly illegal techniques (like the back of the heel or calf), very quickly, giving the sense of a magic trick. This goes along with a score aesthetic that Thailand has, which the west does not (yet) appreciate so much. In Thailand, if you can make an opponent look like they crumbled, just out of their own weakness or flaw, and not because “I did this to you” (I hit you, I kicked you, etc), it’s a big deal. It’s letting someone expose their own shortcomings and you just help that along. It’s an interesting form of dominance, rather than the aggressive “ground and pound” approach from the west. Clinch like this doesn’t really exist outside of Thailand, mostly because the exposure to high-level technique and relentless training doesn’t exist.
But because so much of this happens so quickly, I thought I’d slow it way down and take a look at what Satanmuanglek is doing. So in the video below I do that. I laid an audio track on it, just watching it along with you and then added in some visual notes to highlight some important elements – my audio is half analysis, and half my natural joy. I’m a clinch fighter, and a huge part of my mission in Thailand is trying to become fluent in the finer points of an under-appreciated art. My clinch style is much more of a “squeeze down” and crush style, with some turns and throws, but the things that Sataanmuanglek is doing is something I definitely can and should add. I just haven’t learned it yet; but it just takes the hours and hours of playing in the ring, like he’s doing in this video. His free-motion leaping knees are huge scores, and how he sets people up with them is brilliant (the faked knee to same-side throw is stunning). And I’ve already stolen his cross shoulder grip in training. Nobody in the gym knew what do when I tried it yesterday. In any case, enjoy!
Sataanmuanglek Numponthep vs Tanadet Tor. Pran 49
So what does Sataanmuanglek look like in fights? Below is a tremendous fight between him and one of my favorite fighters, Tanadet. I’ve written about Tanadet in the past. He is an insanely good clincher, and in fact trained a little at Lanna while I was living in Chiang Mai. (He wasn’t part of that gym; it’s common in Thailand for teams that are without facilities to train at bigger gyms, while staying somewhat separate and being contracted to a different name.) He was sold to a Bangkok gym and was wrecking it with what I’ve called the “Chiang Mai clinch”, a long clinch style that I’ve noticed a few in the North use. You can see it here below in this still from their fight. It involves a long cross of the wrists, head well into the chin or shoulder, a deep scoop of the torso:
When Tanadet moved down to Bangkok he was walking through the competition with his long, Chiang Mai, relentless clinch. He’s grown and gotten bigger since then and has had more difficulty in his fights in the past year; including a susceptibility to hands, but fighters change and grow as opponents adapt. But check out the fight video between Tanadet (red) and Sataanmuanglek (blue) from about a year ago: fight does not start until 3:43. This is one incredible match. It isn’t just clinch vs clinch, it’s Tanadet’s relentless style with powerful lock (which Sataanmuanglek ultimately has no direct answer for, as the fight goes on), against Sataanmuanglek’s shoves, turns, trips and off-balances. My own clinch approach is very influenced by Tanadet, with a crushing lock and lots of space-closing using shin checks – I haven’t learned the long Chiang Mai clinch though, something I’d like to add. Note how Tanadet’s lock takes away so much of what Sataanmuanglek does in his training video. Sataanmuanglek wants to feed off the swimming of his arms and anchoring with his left hand on the neck. But he still has great awareness, and interrupts balance expertly. It’s two hugely different clinch styles clashing. This is some of the best clinch fighting you’ll see. The relentless power lock vs the off-balance magician. I wish these two would fight every week.
You can see the original Facebook post of Sataanmuanglek’s clinch training here.