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What Is Dirty Boxing?

What Is Dirty Boxing? If you research boxing, you may hear about dirty boxing with powerful and dangerous techniques. But don’t let the name prevent you from learning this sport, as it helps fighters defend and protect themselves with many deadly moves while improving their health each day.

While watching any boxing or MMA event, you can often hear broadcasters using “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.

Boxing has long gotten a bad rap for being a “killer” sport (literally). Cuts and blows to the face, concussions, ankle sprains, and hand injuries are just a few of its many consequences. Can boxing get dirtier than that?

Unfortunately, yes, it can.

Dirty boxing is a vague word, and it doesn’t always spell disqualification during a professional match. However, it can be an effective technique if fighters do it right.

Dirty boxing is a term coined for fighting and boxing inside the clinch. This method of fighting is illegal in competitive boxing but is legal in the likes of Muay Thai, Bare-knuckle boxing, and MMA. The term is often associated with the legendary MMA and UFC fighter Randy Couture who helped shine a light on Dirty Boxing as he often used it to great effect when fighting. Since then, Dirty Boxing has become incredibly popular and commonplace within MMA and is a legitimate winning tactic.

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


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. Most sports where you can see fighters using dirty boxing moves are Muay Thai, MMA and boxing.

Boxers use it to land various legal and illegal strikes like elbows when 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.


The Filipinos enjoy dirty boxing as it has a unique form with their street style in the classic American structure. Moreover, this sport can be a curse and a blessing to MMA fighters at some level. The curse will happen when boxers use too many styles in their fight strategy. They will be confused then destroy all the healthy conflict and boundaries during combats; hence, ruining fair fights. On the other hand, combining all the dangerous moves of dirty boxing with other styles (Krav Maga, Savate, Muay Thai, etc.) will make a fighter invincible. And this is the blessing.


You can learn dirty boxing moves 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. So you need to have a really good base before you can even think about adding dirty boxing to your game.


Most sports where you can see fighters using dirty boxing moves are Muay Thai, MMA and boxing. Boxers use it to land various legal and illegal strikes like elbows when 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.


Dirty boxing is considered a ‘dark art. ‘It’s not about blatantly fouling an opponent by poking them in the eye with your thumb or sending a haymaker down to the nether regions. Instead, it’s about twisting and bending the rules just enough to gain a slight competitive advantage.

What Is Dirty Boxing All About?

Put, Dirty Boxing is when you continue to throw punches from the clinch. This isn’t allowed in boxing, which is probably why it’s considered ‘dirty’. This means you may have one hand on the back of the opponent’s head, with your other hand being used to land punches on them. The term can sometimes be extended to allow for elbows and knees from the clinch, taking from Muay Thai. Taken even further, Dirty Boxing is commonly used in Lethwei too, which allows for headbutts to be hit from the clinch.

Dirty boxing is a term used to describe a group of unorthodox techniques and tactics fighters use in combat sports. Some of these moves are legal, while others are on the borderline of being illegal. This is why we called it “dirty”, as skilled fighters can often land an illegal strike and get away with it. But more about that later. 

In short, it’s using strikes from the clinch, and whilst it usually has one dominant striker, Dirty Boxing can be done simultaneously by both fighters at the same time, where they exchange blows. Although Dirty Boxing was originally not thought about too much in the martial arts world, its popularity blossomed when used in MMA, and commentators started using its nickname – which helped viewers understand it. From there, its use has spread.

Where Did The Term Dirty Boxing Come From?

At first, the Americans came to the Philippines with their military camps and brought dirty boxing there. The local people chose this sport to practice, enhance their bravery and fighting skills, and maintain health. There is no precise record of who was the first 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-defence 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’s fists
  • Back fists
  • Shoulder butts
  • Elbow Strikes

Amazingly, the Filipino martial arts already had a great history. As a result, the local people quickly responded to the learning challenge and even created their style with the same name – dirty boxing.

Now, you know about dirty boxing’s origin and its another name – Filipino Boxing. 

Let’s take a look at the way to perform dirty boxing!

What Is The Point Of Dirty Boxing?

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Dirty boxing is considered legal, and it can be a very good tactic to win fights unconventionally. For example, imagine you’re against a good striker who can kick you from a distance. If you can’t close the distance, you will probably lose as the fight goes on. Imagine a similar case where you can’t manage to wrestle this fighter to the ground either.

This is where Dirty Boxing comes in handy, as it allows you to secure a clinch and start hitting them. However, especially with elbows involved, Dirty Boxing can harm your opponent. Dirty boxing won’t get you an instant knockout like a haymaker or a kick to the head most of the time. However, it will certainly wear down the opponent and get them tired, contributing significantly to the eventual knockout. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that Dirty Boxing is a staple of modern MMA and learning how to clinch correctly is vitally important.

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-defence. You can learn these moves 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. You can land vicious Muay Thai elbow and knee strikes from this position. Or you can go the traditional way and use some Suntukan moves like eye-gouging, hammer fists, or head butts in a self-defence situation. These are all very useful self-defence techniques, whether it’s a bar fight or in the open.

Can You Use Dirty Boxing In A Conventional Boxing Match?

Legally, punching from the clinch in boxing is not allowed. However, that does not mean that it doesn’t go on. If boxers are smart and sneaky, they will often manage to sneak in a few shots during the clinch, sometimes to the head but mostly to the body. Often, these punches are done just as the clinch is entered so points can’t be docked, or just as the clinch is released if the referee isn’t looking.

Usually, though, Dirty Boxing isn’t that effective in boxing matches, and there’s a clear reason. The issue with this is that it can be very tricky to hurt the opponent whilst tied up in the clinch due to the huge boxing gloves. For example, if your opponent is blocking your arm with their arm, and you do the opposite on the other side, you can’t hit with gloves, or if you do, they won’t generate much power, and trying to hit the head can be quite awkward due to the angle. This means that Dirty Boxing does go on in regular boxing bouts but isn’t as effective as elsewhere.

Performing Dirty Boxing

There are two names for dirty boxing in different areas: Panantukan or Suntukan. In particular, the “panantukan” word’s origin came from a Tagalog word – “suntok” (punch), while “suntukan” is trading punches.

As the Filipinos described, the boxers will combat in the hand-to-hand form, and this sport is quite devastating. In dirty boxing, they have to fight by taking advantage of almost all their body parts, including shins, knees, and elbows.

Although you can feel the resemblance to the traditional style, dirty boxing is more about punches. Besides, the only similarity between this boxing type and Muay Thai is its small number of rules.

While the locals used the same uppercut, hook, cross, and jab, they adapted it into their unique fighting styles with weapons. Therefore, dirty boxing also has Filipino knife fighting techniques.

Which Dirty Boxing Moves Are Used In Boxing?

The first thing that comes to our mind when we hear “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:

Referee Blindspot

There are many things you can get away with if you know how to position yourself correctly. Maneuvering your opponent in a position between yourself and the referee will create a blind spot for the official. Therefore, the likelihood of you getting caught executing an illegal move is reduced greatly.

In his prime, former multiple-division boxing world champion Bernard Hopkins was a master of this technique. Hopkins would hide his illegal activity from the referee using this method. As a result, many of his opponents became so frustrated that they threw them off their game both physically and mentally.

Hopkins was notorious for using this blindspot. He would purposely himself back into a corner or against the ropes to limit the referee’s field of vision. He would then hold his opponent’s wrist, hit them with short elbows and shoulder strikes on the inside, and not get penalized because the referee didn’t see it.

Be aware that your opponent tries this technique. As a result, you will notice a distinct movement pattern.

Clinching to recover

Boxing fights often end up in a clinch in every round, so knowing how to fight in this position. 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 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.

Toe Stepping

When an orthodox fighter meets a southpaw in the ring, they often step on each other’s toes accidentally. It’s a natural occurrence in the ring due to the feet placement of the two different fighting stances. But ‘toe stepping’ or ‘foot stomping’ can be done on purpose to impair an opponent’s movement or cause them to think twice about moving at all.

This is done by extending the lead foot forward to purposely step on an opponent’s toe, followed by a punch, usually a quick lead cross. The toe step isn’t painful per se, but because the opponent can feel it, it causes enough shock to momentarily break their focus, allowing you to connect on the punch behind it.

Mexican boxing legend Juan Manuel Marquez used this technique multiple times in four fights against Filipino icon Manny Pacquiao, whether purposely or accidentally. It was an especially controversial topic in their third bout. Fans felt Marquez’s excessive foot stomping greatly affected the fight.

Always be wary of where you place your feet in a boxing match, as the battle for lead foot position is a very important one.

Head positioning

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

Forearm Smash

Another effective dirty boxing technique Mayweather loved to use was the forearm smash. It’s a sneaky move to control an opponent who likes to get in close and punish them with a shot from nowhere.

Using the forearm is an illegal technique in boxing, but you can get away with it as long as you don’t use it to attack an opponent blatantly.

Mayweather often stuck his lead left forearm into an opponent’s face, pushing off slightly before sending a smashing right hook over the top of it. It provides an incredibly accurate and powerful shot that is hard to dodge.

This technique is best combined with speed and quickness, as the forearm shouldn’t linger on an opponent’s face for longer than a split second. It’s used mainly as a setup for the shot that follows it and is very effective if executed correctly.

Which Tools Should Boxers Use In Dirty Boxing?

There’s no glove in dirty boxing, and boxers can flexibly use their knuckles, palms, and fingers. Moreover, experienced fighters will have no trouble applying various useful techniques and tools: knee attack with flying elbow types, bolo punches, sweeps, fish hooks, thumb gouges, hammer fists, slaps, claws, finger jabs, and headbutting.

Famous Fighters’ Dirty Boxing Tactics

  • FLOYD MAYWEATHER JR. The undefeated former professional boxer became popular for his “sucker punch” that knocked out Victor Ortiz’s opponent. During the fourth round, Ortiz had his hands on his side when Mayweather dished out a thumping left hook, followed by a powerful right. The infamous sucker punch of Mayweather was legal but unsportsmanlike, and fans ended up blaming the referee for not being totally in control.
  • RICKY HATTON. This former British professional boxer is often caught doing his dirty boxing combinations, including elbow strikes, clinching, grabbing, and pushing.
  • JUAN MANUEL MARQUEZ. Marquez is known for his very aggressive fighting style. During his 2011 fight with Manny Pacquiao, Marquez took his aggression to the next level. Several incidents happened during that fight, such as Marquez stepping foot on Pacquiao’s six times. He is also known for his dirty tactics like headbutting.


Dirty boxing has been around for many years under Filipino Suntukan. This was relatively obscure, though and on the fringes of mainstream martial arts for years before blowing up in popularity due to MMA. As a result, it’s now fairly common to see Dirty Boxing being used these days, and it certainly has more recognition.

Not only this, but Dirty Boxing is also used in other martial arts, which means if you want to train the likes of MMA, Muay Thai, and other styles, then it’s best to learn Dirty Boxing. This is important both offensively and defensively as it will set up a good foundation for you to rely on if ever you happen to enter the clinch.


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