It would be hard to remember a recent event in UFC history (aside from some of those Fight Pass events held in the 4 corners of the world, which barely even count) that didn’t feature the graceful handiwork of Jacob “Stitch” Duran. The legendary cutman has been an integral part of the UFC for 14 years, both behind-the-scenes and in some special occasions, in front of the cameras — who can forget the scene after Forrest Griffin‘s upset of Mauricio Rua at UFC 76?
In a recent interview with BloodyElbow, however, Stitch had the gall, THE AUDACITY, to speak up about how the UFC’s exclusive apparel deal with Reebok was not only affecting fighter sponsorships/incomes, but those of cutmen as well. He did this calmly, succinctly, and without any ire aimed at the UFC, LIKE A REAL ASSHOLE, stating that the loss of sponsorships and lack of compensation might force him to “start looking at more boxers” for work.
But because speaking up against Reebok is tantamount to speaking up against mein fuhrer, it was revealed this morning that perhaps the best cutman in the business has been released by the UFC for his comments. The media reaction has been overwhelming critical of this dirty, underhanded move by the UFC, so check out their best reactions after the jump.
Over at MMAJunkie, Ben Fowlkes pointed out that, in firing Duran, the UFC has once again made a bigger deal out of something they could’ve just let slip under the rug. Duran isn’t a fan of the Reebok deal, you say? Well guess who else isn’t? EVERYONE. The Internet would’ve glossed over Duran’s comments in a week or less, but now, as Old Dad put it, it’s a story. And oh yeah, there’s this:
It seems like [the UFC] got rid of him to send a message, and that message is, ‘Everybody shut up about this Reebok deal.’ It also sends another message though that I don’t think the UFC intended, and that message is, ‘Fighter health and safety, them having the best possible staff around them so that the fighters can do their job…that apparently doesn’t count for much.
MMAFighting’s Chuck Mindenhall was equally scathing, calling the firing of Duran “petty” and reminiscent of “Nineteenth-Century Prussia” (Ed note: Where you at, Otto Von Bismarck?):
It took only a minute to do away with 14 years of service. Duran, who for those 14 years, mastered the use of a single minute. And it’s a bad look for the UFC to severe ties with a professional like “Stitch” Duran just because he had the audacity to answer a question truthfully. Who knew that the Reebok kit came with a muzzle? Nobody told “Stitch.” The Reebok motto of “Be More Human” is coming to mean “Be More Quiet.”
The real problem here is that the UFC can be so petty. You don’t want to play limbo with Zuffa.
Duran’s complaints were not an indictment on the company. Duran’s complaints are a very real symptom of how the Reebok deal extends beyond the fighters. Like Burt Watson, “Stitch” didn’t come across as just some peon with no value to the operation. As far as anybody can tell — and what many fighters attest to — he just did his job. He’s a legend for being a low-maintenance human being who just steadily does what he is supposed to do. Your cauliflower ear is about to explode? “Stitch” can help.
Yet he became expendable for saying that cutmen should have been consulted/considered during the Reebok transition?
Jeremy Botter of Bleacher Report echoed this sentiment in his piece titled UFC: Stitch Duran’s Firing Yet Another Petty, Immature Display:
Here’s the thing about Zuffa, that collection of folks presiding over the world’s largest mixed martial arts promotion: They are petty and vindictive.
So it goes with the firing of beloved cutman Jacob “Stitch” Duran, who was summarily released on Tuesday from his crucial position as someone who, you know, protects the fighters during this blood sport that makes Zuffa into the rich teenage boys they often come across as. Duran’s firing came as a surprise, but it shouldn’t have. This is par for the course for this company.
The reaction from UFC fighters — you know, the guys Duran has been protecting for years through his work — was no better, with everyone from Chris Weidman to Big John McCarthy voicing their support for Stitch on Twitter. But no reaction was more brutal than that from the man himself. (via MMAFighting):
That’s another thing that pisses me off, that he didn’t have the balls to call me directly, he had some other guy call me. It’s not like I’m going to lack any type of work. It’s just that I really enjoyed working with the fighters and the people in the UFC. To get a nut shot by Dana in him not calling me and having the balls to call me, it just showed me the kind of characters that I was dealing with. Dana has definitely changed. Now it’s all about the economics. It used to be a fighter-friendly environment.
Yup. If you tweet at Dana White about how shitty a Fight Pass subscription is, he will be on you in seconds with a retort ripped from a grade school locker room. If you’re a loyal employee of over a decade that tells a reporter the truth about the economic impact of a deal you weren’t consulted about, he won’t even call you to tell you you’re canned. What a guy.
We often talk about what it would take for the UFC’s fighters to finally man up and start a fighter’s union already, and while the firing of Duran may not be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, the precedent set by it very well could. Fans have already showered Duran with support since the news broke, even going as far as to threaten cancelling their Fight Pass subscriptions and boycotting the organization (which, LOL), which is yet another (albeit feeble) response the UFC could have simply avoided if it didn’t need to bring stubborn pride into every decision it ever made.
The UFC is looking less like a fight organization and more like a totalitarian state by the day, to the point that even speaking aloud your issues in an open, honest manner can get you the axe. At some point, fans, fighters, and everyone else employed by “the world’s premiere martial arts organization” has got to ask themselves: How far is too far?