The Thai clinch, or "plumm," is a term which, in mixed martial arts circles, is used to describe a single position—the double-collar tie. This is the terrifying position with both hands cupped on the base of the opponent’s skull from which brutal knees to the face or body may be delivered. This position in itself requires more subtlety than most realise, but on its own, it is not "the Thai clinch" or "the plumm."
In truth, the plumm is just a blanket term for the clinch in Muay Thai and the Muay Thai philosophy in the clinch is a beautiful one. In MMA it is hard to think of anyone who epitomizes this philosophy better than the Spider at the centre of the middleweight web, Anderson Silva.
In Muay Thai, the clinch is used to throw opponents—as it is in wrestling—but the purpose is not always to score a takedown for its own sake. In Muay Thai, the opponent is either off-balanced and struck as he attempts to stay upright, thrown hard to the mat in hopes of hurting him as well as scoring points, or thrown to the mat and hit on the way down. This is a style of clinch fighting geared toward violence more than toward tripping and opponent and achieving a pinning position.
Here are some clips of Saenchai Sor. Kingstar demonstrating some of Muay Thai’s clinch techniques.
Now the flashy climbing elbows are not that much use in a sport where people can just jump into your guard should you attempt them (though props are due to Demetrious Johnson for pulling it off against John Dodson), but Saenchai’s trips to unbalance opponents into strikes are an excellent example of the type of techniques that Silva uses so well.
Silva does not tend to take fights to the ground—except occasional performances against dangerous bangers with deficiencies on the ground like Lee Murray or Curtis Stout—Anderson prefers to strike. Yet Anderson has used trips to off-balance numerous opponents and make them expose themselves to his strikes.
Anderson’s second bout with Rich Franklin is a fantastic example. Rich Franklin knew that Anderson was going to try to secure the double collar tie, break Rich’s posture and work knee strikes. Franklin did an excellent job of maintaining his posture in this match, but Silva had far more tricks up his sleeve than a Wanderlei Silva or Mauricio Rua. Silva will not simply grab and pull on the head until he gets his way and give up if he can’t.
Anderson used a trip which he likely didn't even want to complete to force Franklin to step back. Franklin's posture broke as he stumbled to stay on balance and this brought his head toward Silva's right hand which Silva threaded behind Franklin's head to complete the double collar tie.
This is truly the difference between fighters who flail to grab a hold of their opponents head and try to knee, and someone like Silva who will set up his grips scientifically.
Anderson Silva's fight with the overmatched Stephan Bonnar was a clinic in clinch fighting from a striker's perspective as Silva dominated the fight with short strikes while his back was to the cage. Any time Bonnar rested his head on Silva's shoulder, Silva would bob down with a bend of his legs, come up with a sharp shoulder strike to Bonnar's nose and use the space to move or get off a good knee strike to the midsection.
Another great example, similar to Saenchai's throws into knee strikes, came as Bonnar leaned on Silva, Silva turned and threw Bonnar againt the fence and landed a glancing right straight on the confused American Psycho.
Silva's domination of the clinch against Bonnar was so complete that at one point, Silva used a two-on-one grip to deflect a knee strike with Bonnar's own arm.
The finish to the Bonnar fight came off a successful trip, which Bonnar rushed to get back up. As he did so, Silva followed him and shoved him into the fence, switching feet and hitting Bonnar with a hard knee to the midsection as Bonnar rebounded off the cage.
Here's a beautiful GIF of the sequence via The Big Lead:
In MMA, it is not just possible to catch the opponent with a hard strike while they are off balance on the way down, but also when they are regaining their balance on the way up.
Silva genius extends to the fact that once he has the truly dominant double-collar tie grip, he does not go wild and head hunt with knee strikes—he will instead use the control to steer the opponent into elbows, punches and will even throw crisp, low kicks while still holding his opponent's head.
A final factor that can really be pointed to as a reason for all of Silva's success in MMA is his ability to aim. Silva does not just throw strikes—he aims and picks his strikes. Where many fighters are completely stifled if their opponent has strong posture when they have the double-collar tie, Silva is not at all stifled and lands effective knees to the midsection.
The reason that Silva's knee strikes are so effective and other fighters seem less so is that Silva does not just throw knees to the abdomen (which is well-conditioned in most fighters and naturally clenched as the head is pulled upon) but aims knees at the unprotected rib cage. If Silva does throw a knee straight up-the-middle to the body, it will connect right on the solar plexus rather than against the opponent's abdominal muscles.
This care in aiming pays massive dividends and is why Silva can throw half-effort strikes with frightening effectiveness while other fighters strain and expend themselves with ineffective blows.
The clinch from a striker's perspective is massively underused in MMA to this day, but Silva has shown how effective the clinch can be as a platform for striking in direct conflict with a wrestler's approach to the clinch. Hopefully in years to come we will see much more effective striking from the clinch in MMA.