The early career of Brown can best be described as, awkward. He was rarely in a dull fight, but his fights were ugly. Brown would brawl and despite gritty, entertaining fights, he wasn’t showing anything spectacular. His career really turned around however, in 2012. Matt Brown started to show something very different in his style. Something that noother fighter in MMA was showing. Brown actually had a real Muay Thai clinch game.
It’s this fact alone, that puts Matt Brown at the top of Nak Muay’s in MMA. While today some may scoff and point to the handful of fighters from Thailand who have transitioned from Muay Thai to Mixed Martial Arts, it’s not right to include them in this discussion. While in a pure Muay Thai context, they are of course, superior to Prime Matt Brown, we have yet to see a Thai Boxer compete at the top levels of MMA, like Matt Brown did. We have no reference point for whether they would be successful. While I will concede, Matt Brown is not the best Muay Thai fighter in MMA, I have yet to see a fighter impose a traditional Muay Thai gameplan in the cage, as effectively as he does against top level opponents. So, let’s talk about his clinch.
First, we should explain what the clinch is. To this day, people still refer to the double collar tie as the Muay Thai clinch. Anderson Silva grabbed Rich Franklin around the head, began kneeing him in the face and knocked him out. Then did it again in the rematch. For a long time, those who had not seen a Muay Thai fight, which in fairness was just about everyone because those fights were very hard to find, thought that was Muay Thai clinching.
They’re not wrong in the same way that it’s not wrong to refer to an oil check as wrestling, but it doesn’t tell the full story. Anderson Silva’s use of the double collar tie showed his proficiency in the most basic clinch position. A clinch so basic that you will essentially never see it in a Muay Thai bout. There are many, many positions to the Muay Thai clinch, and you can describe it as being akin to the MMA’s ground game. He who doesn’t have a clinch game, loses the fight in Muay Thai.Good clinching, to put it in the most basic sense has three stages.
A safe entry into the clinch is paramount. There is a myth that exists in fighting, that there is such a thing as clinching range. In reality, if you are close enough to punch your opponent, you are close enough to clinch your opponent.
A fighter’s guard acts as a barrier between their opponent, and their body, hence the term, guard. From your guard you can parry, block and attack. If a fighter’s guard is disabled, their opponent can step in and get a free clinch.
If you simply reach for your opponent to get the clinch, you’re liable to get KO’d. For a good example of this, look at Ronda Rousey in her two losing efforts. Rousey was a fighter who had nothing outside of her clinch game and ludicrous punching power. She never quite figured out a safe way to enter the clinch, however. As she would reach for the clinch, she did nothing to check the guard of her opponent, which led to her simply getting lit up.
Those invested in Wing Chun, will no doubt be aware of hand traps. The boxing, elbow and clinch game of Muay Thai built around them. You will not see a Thai Boxer initiate a clinch without at first trapping the hands and obstructing the guard to wade their way into the clinch. Muangthai makes for an excellent example of hand trapping into clinch and elbows:
Or alternatively blocking and wading in:
This aspect of clinching is keenly understood by Matt Brown, who in addition to being gritty enough to take a few knocks coming in, is also smart enough to avoid those shots.
A benefit to MMA gloves is your hands are free to grab. While Muangthai has to rely more on his forearms and gloves to control his opponent’s arms, Matt Brown simply walks in, grabs Mike Swick’s wrists, pulls them down and collapses into an elbow strike. He now has his clinch entry, and he moves to the second phase.
After entering, either through a tie up, or a strike. The actual battle in the clinch begins. Due to sweeps being legal in Muay Thai, clinching doesn’t leave you as vulnerable to takedowns as you would expect – and when training clinching in an MMA context, you become very aware of your balance and what positions may leave you at risk of what takedowns. As a result, Matt Brown is able to clinch quite freely in a manner reminiscent of Thai Boxers.
Controlling the clinch is based around controlling your opponent’s biceps and controlling their posture. Controlling the biceps allows you to attack without fear of elbows, or the opponent jockeying for a better position against you. Controlling their posture comes from either controlling the head or attacking the legs of your opponent.
Head control lets you pull down an opponent, to bring them closer to knees and mitigate their attacks. It also allows you to attack the opponents’ legs by pulling and turning your opponent. This forces your opponent to reset their legs, to regain balance, thus breaking their posture and allowing you a free space to throw a knee strike or get a sweep.
In this exchange we see Brown attacking with eye catching knees, but the real work here being done is his commitment to turning and off balancing Erick Silva. As Silva attempts to sweep Brown, he uses it as an opportunity to twist Silva off balance and force him into the cage where he can land additional knee strikes.
Here Brown controls the head of his opponent, forcing them to turn. He then uses this opportunity to sweep his opponent from their blind spot.
Finally, here is a very stereotypical Muay Thai sweep by Brown.
Matt Brown’s commitment to elbows is a rarity even today in MMA, with Leon Edwards being one of the few fighters who actually uses them regularly. In the early 2010s, however, Brown was the only fighter in the UFC building a game off them at all. While maintaining head control and throwing knees, Brown will frequently break contact with one arm and land vicious elbows.
Which brings us neatly to the final stage of clinching.
Breaking from a clinch is a good time to get KO’d. If you need proof of this, watch any Peter Aerts head kick KO. They usually came from pushing out of the clinch and immediately throwing a kick. The safest way to break from the clinch in MMA, is to simply throw an elbow on exit. While your opponent is either hit by, or defends the elbow, you get a moment to turn and step off-line and out of danger.
Here Matt Brown breaks clinch, and immediately follows with another elbow. While Brown has no intention of retreating here, he does create an avenue to escape from should he choose to back off for whatever reason.
There hasn’t been a fighter like Matt Brown before him, or since him. His commitment to excellence in one specific aspect of MMA that is thoroughly unexplored, saw him become a fan favourite in the eyes of many. While he never won a title, and likely never will as he has gotten older – he consistently caused carnage, wherever he went. Through many brutal fights, Matt Brown, is immortal.
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