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Exclusive Interview: Cutman Jacob “Stitch” Duran

Photo by Roger Williams

If you’ve watched an MMA event in the last decade, chances are you’ve seen Jacob “Stitch” Duran doing his thing — patching up fighters’ faces to give them one more round. The legendary cutman — who has worked thousands of fights in boxing, kickboxing, and mixed martial arts — recently took some time to chat with us about blood, living the cutman life, the worst gash he’s seen, and stitching Dana White’s mouth shut.

CagePotato: When did you decide you wanted to rub vaseline on guys’ faces and fix gashes for a living?
Jacob “Stitch” Duran: Well, it was actually when I saw my first pint of blood coming off of one of my kickboxers. I kinda’ smiled and said, “You know what, man, this is kinda’ freaky, not everybody does this.” I got hooked on it right from the get-go and that was about 1988.

Who taught you the trade?
I studied some of the legendary cutmen that were in the game — in boxing at that point — and tried to emulate some of the techniques they did. Really, I had no pattern. I didn’t know whether what they were doing was right or was wrong. I tried to ask some of the cutmen as I was up-and-coming and for the most part they kinda’ blew me off, “Hey, fuck you. You’ve got to learn just like me. I learned off my master. I’m taking this to my grave.” So I kind of studied on my own, I started asking a lot of questions to the ringside doctors, I read manuals on blood and arteries. For the most part it was on-the-job training.

Because of those things that happened to me, it’s important for those things not to happen to other people. I’m in the process right now of producing a DVD called “Cuts, Cornermen, and Confidence: Giving the Fighter One More Round”. It’s real important. I was going to do it when I was in boxing years ago and when I got mixed up with the UFC, I realized their are so many trainers that want to learn how to properly take care of the fighters. Wrapping their hands, working corners. And I think, as an instructor, I’m qualified to do it. I figured I might as well pass on some of the ideas and work experiences that I’ve gone through, so that these guys don’t have to go through what I went through. For the game to get better, we have to teach the trainers how to take care of the fighters — and give them that one more round.

An instructional DVD is great, because no one can just go to school and get a cutman degree, right?
Exactly. It’s going to be for the layman. It’s designed for the trainers, the fighter, the armchair quarterback — or the weekend warrior, we call them in this sport. Even if you train yourself, at least you can learn how to properly wrap your hands for training. My wife’s birthday is July 7th and I’m committed for it to come out before that, if not on that date.

Who gave you your nickname?
That came from my early years in kickboxing. I worked with this one fighter that got cut. I knew nothing. Really, that was my first experience working on a cut — I had no medications, so I just applied direct pressure on him and covered it up with vaseline. After the fight, I did what every other cutman would do: I put a butterfly on the guy to close up the cut. And he goes, “Hey, you saved me some stitches. Stitch.” So that’s where the name came from. You know what? That’s a pretty nice name. I was coming home from San Jose today and I was at the San Jose Airport, and this young kid was coming by in a TapouT shirt and he said, “Hey, Stitch!” So the name has penetrated to the fans. A lot of people don’t even know my real name!

When and why did you transition from working at boxing matches to MMA fights?
Well, I’m a martial artist by trade. Kickboxing was really where I got my roots in combat. I had my own school, the American School of Kickboxing, in California. I trained fighters and I really enjoyed it. But I wanted to come to Las Vegas and challenge the number one industry and the number one capitol in the world for boxing. And see if I could hang with the big boys. Thirteen years now I’ve been in Las Vegas. Dana White was the one that called me when they first bought (the UFC) and asked me if I would be one of the true cutmen at the time with them and I came along and started working with them.

Is this an decent way to make a living?
Yeah. I’m doing real good right now, thank God. It’s been great working with not only the UFC, but with a lot of independent fighters. In boxing, I work with the heavyweight champion of the world, Wladimir Klitschko. I have a sponsor — in fact, I’m the only cutman that I know of that has a sponsor. The company is called One More Round. They came to me and said, “If anybody gives the fighter one more round, it’s you. Because you’re the cutman.” They’ve given me that security blanket for me to go out there and venture into the things that I’ve wanted to do like the DVD and working with so many different fighters. Yeah, it’s a solid industry for me , right now — my wife’s happy! Actually, she says I don’t even work. Normally I’m home Monday through Thursday, my fights are Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays. She treats me like Cinderellamopping the floors, vacuuming the carpets. (laughs) She’s kept me grounded. Just to make the move to Las Vegas was a major move. To come over here and follow my dreams, she believed in me and has given me 150% support ever since.

What’s the nastiest cut you’ve ever seen on the job?
It has to be the cut that Marvin Eastman had when he took that big knee from Vitor Belfort. That was a nasty cut. It kind of freaked me out! It looked like he got hit with a hatchet.

What’s that stuff you put on a q-tip before sticking it up a fighter’s nose?
You’ll have to buy my video to find out. (laughs) It’s called adrenaline chloride 1:1000. It’s also known as ephenephrin. It’s a vessel constrictor, so it closes up the blood vessels. That, with direct pressure, and hopefully you’ll close the vessel enough to control the bleeding.

Do you prefer MMA or boxing?
I’m a major fan of mixed martial arts. I love it. Boxing is great, kickboxing is great. Mixed martial arts to me — these guys are true gladiators. I say it all the time. Just to work with these guys one-on-one is an adrenaline rush in and of itself. The thing with me…I’m the guy that really is starting the process of the fighter getting ready in the dressing room to go out and do battle. I start wrapping their hands — I’m like the guy in the old gladiator days that put the armor on the gladiators and then they would go out there and fight ’til their death. (But) I’m just the guy putting their hand wraps on and giving these fighters their confidence. I’m real honored just to be working with these guys.

Have you ever trained in boxing or MMA?
Yeah. In 1974, they stationed me in Thailand. I think that’s before the general public knew what Thailand was — I didn’t know what Thailand was until I got there! (There) I studied Tae Kwon Do and then I got into Muay Thai. I kinda put those two styles together with American boxing. When I came back to the States, that’s when I created the American School of Kickboxing. So yeah, I’ve gotten my skull cracked, gotten that little buzz in the head when you get punched, My shins have hurt, my thighs have hurt, my knuckles have hurt. Everything that fighters have to go through. I appreciate where they come from.

Who’s the best cutman ever and what makes him the best?
The cutman who I always followed — and I really respected — was Chuck Bodak. He used to be Oscar De La Hoya‘s cutman, the man that kinda’ looked like Colonel Sanders and would put the tape on his forehead of the fighters that he was representing. Chuck Bodak was definitely a legendary cutman, he was really the top.

How many fights have you worked in your career?
Thousands. I’ll try to put it into perspective: last year, I had 62 TV events that I worked. Right now, I’m going on that same pace. I guarantee you I’ve worked more fights, I’ve wrapped more hands, and I’ve worked more cuts than any other cutman in history. That I know for a fact.

Out of all of those fights, is there one that stands out as your best performance — a night where you just handled your business brilliantly?
The last one that stands out in my mind — and I’m sure you remember — is the fight that Forrest Griffin had with “Shogun” (Rua). That big old gash he had between his eyes could have been a fight-stopping cut. (After fixing it) It turned out that for 4 ½ minutes, Forrest didn’t bleed and he ended up tapping out “Shogun” and was victorious in that.

Have you ever given yourself stitches?
No! (laughs)

When you’re watching a fight, are you enjoying the action or looking for potential cuts you’ll have to fix?
Actually, both. My number one focus is the whole face. I’m studying the opponent also and what kind of techniques he’s using on the fighter. Some techniques are more probable to cause a cut than another techniques — the elbows, the ground-n-pounds, the knees. If you have a fighter that’s very (trained) with those skills — I’m getting my stuff ready. But I enjoy the fights. I don’t care who wins or loses, I’m just here to give the fighter I’m working with a fair advantage.

What fighter consistently causes the most cut damage match-after-match?
The guy who has kept me busy of late has been Anderson Silva.

Do you always agree with the decision to stop a match?
The final line is, we’re here for the safety of the fighter. You have three judgement calls: the referee, the doctor, and even myself — there’s been times where I’ve worked with the doctors and let them know, “This guy is pretty severe. Let’s stop this.” Things that we look at are nerve damage, damage to arteries, is there going to be blood in the eyes, is the fighter going to have an unfair advantage. Those are the things we all look at. I’m not going to question them. These guys, especially in the UFC, are very good at what they do. We have to work as a team.

Are you under contract with certain organizations or are you hired on a “per event” basis?
Everything I do, I do on a freelance basis. The UFC — they give me top priority for working with them and obviously I give them top priority also. For a cutman, it’s a cutman’s dream to be a cutman with the UFC.

Has there ever been a moment where you feared for a fighter’s life?
When Cro Cop got knocked out by Gonzaga. After Herb Dean, I was right there with him. He got knocked out so cold — I didn’t see his leg being twisted, I saw it in the replay and that kinda’ turned my stomach a little bit — literally, his body just stiffened up and it was like he was snoring. His whole body just locked up. I’d seen it with Terry Martin and I’d seen it with Sean Salmon, when they got knocked out they just kind of locked up. I knew it was pretty serious. That to me was a serious moment. Plus, Cro Cop, I really enjoyed working with him.

You’ve been close to a lot of sweaty dudes in MMA. Who has the worst B.O.?
Maybe they shower before the fights — no one has ever asked me that question — I’ve never really smelled a guy that smells bad, so unfortunately I can’t really give you an answer. I’d love to, but…

Well, my money was on Tim Sylvia.
(laughs) Surprisingly enough — he looks like he would be funky! But nah. I’m right there with him, puttin’ the vaseline on him — that’s a good question, I’m going to start keening in on my senses a little bit more!

Are tampons still used to slow the bleeding in noses?
In the past I have used them, but now things are a little more sophisticated. Now what I do, I go to my dentist and they give you these cylinder filters that I use for the nose and it’s a little more pliable than a tampon.

Do you recommend a brand?
It’d have to be Kotex, right? (laughs) I should do a commercial for Kotex!

What’s your advice for a young guy wanting to get into the cutman game?
Obviously, once the DVD comes out — not to presale it — is to study it. (But) First and foremost, you have to have a passion for what we do. If you’re doing it for the money, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. There has to be a passion. You have to have a love of the game. Working on a cut, working in a corner, you have to keep your composure. And know your proper applications.

Would it be possible for you to stitch Dana White’s mouth shut?
(laughs) I don’t know if I have enough sutchers for that! (The) Thing with Dana — I like what he does — he had the foresight to bring in professional cutmen to help the UFC fighters. No other organization had done it. These fighters…they don’t realize the importance of what Dana has brought to the table for them saftey-wise. But Dana, he’s a guy from Boston — he’s a guy who doesn’t pull any punches!

(Special thanks to Ben at FightHype for tracking down “Stitch” for us.)

Cagepotato Comments

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Chad Jackson- May 4, 2008 at 1:06 am
I cannot wait to read the book. I really want to learn more about the art of being a cutman. I might have 2 fighters that need my services in the near future. I sure wish there was some type of cutman school that I could attend.
Mike- April 3, 2008 at 7:39 pm
Great Cutman...Even better human being, had the pleasure of meeting stitch and was most impressed with the fact that even though he is legendary in his idustry he is so down to earth and always offering words of encourgement to all the young Homies to make something of thier lifes.Good Lookin Out Stitch
Peterw- March 26, 2008 at 6:00 am
Great read!
Jonathan- March 26, 2008 at 4:44 am
great article/interview!!!
Steve- March 26, 2008 at 1:45 am
Very good interview, I'd never really given much consideration to cutmen before but Duran makes it sound pretty interesting.
Hywel Teague- March 26, 2008 at 1:44 am
Stitch is an absolute gent. I had the pleasure of interviewing him just after UFC 80 and he was sooooo cool. A lady in my office overheard the interview and afterwards said "I want to be a cutman now!"

He is really, really too cool for school...
Captain Popetastic- March 26, 2008 at 12:15 am
Nice work, Cage Potato. It's not often you get to see this perspective.