Recently, FightMedicine had the opportunity to speak with legendary UFC cutman Jacob “Stitch” Duran about his start in the business and mistakes cutmen can make. If you missed Part 1 of our interview, you can read it here. In Part 2, Stitch discusses Invicta FC and Womens MMA, hand wrapping, fighter unions, and other safety issues in MMA.
FightMedicine.NET: Shannon Knapp sought you out to work with Invicta. In your experience, is there any difference with female fighters? Is there something different that you have to deal with or is it just “a cut is a cut is a cut”?
Stitch: A cut is a cut is a cut. And it’s funny because these girls, they can fight and it’s going to be a very successful program that Shannon put together. But I laugh at them because they get all bruised up and banged up and all that and if you’re a guy and you had those same bruises and cuts on your face and you’re going through the airport and you’re getting on the plane, people would ask you and you tell them you’re a fighter. And, for the most part, those are trophies, right? But if you’re a female and you’re all banged up and you’re wearing sunglasses or you’re swollen or your eye’s swollen, first thing they’re gonna think is it was spousal abuse. So that’s the only difference. But no, these girls, they’re no different than guys. They come to fight and they do a good job.
When the ringside physician stops the fight, do you feel that you’ve lost a battle? Does that affect you at all? Do you feel like you could have kept the guy out there? Or is it just” it is what it is” and you did what you can?
Well, it used to bother me at a point. But knowing what I know, there will be times where I would recommend stoppage when a guy’s taking a pretty damn good beating. But in the same token, and in all fairness, it doesn’t happen as often as it used to. These guys know what we’re capable of doing and they give us every opportunity. And I remember there was a fight which Stefan Struve was – I can’t remember who he was fighting but his lip was all shredded, it looked like a shark took a bite out of his lips. And the doctor was ready to stop the fight and I’m looking at Stefan, looking at his face and he’s saying, “No, no, no, I’m okay.” So I convinced the doctor. I said, “Look man, if you guys have a pretty good plastic surgeon, he’ll be fine. Let him continue one more round.”
And the doctor did and he went one more round and knocked the guy out. So yeah, a little shredded lip won’t hurt. It’s not that all that serious.
Because you know what you can and can’t do and what your limitations are, do you ever tell the ringside doc, “Hey, I can’t do any more with this, you got to call the fight.”
Yeah, I haven’t been asking them for a while, but if it’s a real big old nasty, gnarly cut that let’s say it’s above the eyebrow or something that’s been bleeding into the eye, you can start getting into optical nerve damage and double vision and all that. And if it’s getting real, real bad, then it might be time. If you can work on it for that one minute and he goes out and right off the bat it’s gushing blood and it’s going into his eyes and he’s starting to wipe his eyes and all that, and you give it another shot and it’s just not working, then it might be time to go ahead and call that a night for the fighter so he can come back another next day.
Are the fights called more often due to blood dripping into the eye or due to the size of the cut or is it either or?
Either or. And a lot of it really depends on who the doctors are and who’s working the cut. But if you’ve got a big old nasty ass cut and it just doesn’t look good on you and it’s not gonna get better, then a doctor will stop the fight. If you get continuous blood over the eye and the guy’s wiping it and then he’s complaining that he can’t see – and as soon as a fighter says they can’t see, whether he’s poked in the eye or whether he’s got blood in his eyes, then the referee automatically stops the fight.
Are there any locations for cuts that you think are worse? That if that happens, it’s doomsday for the guy?
Nah, not really. I’m known to keep my composure and I’ve seen a ton of cuts and there’s not one specific one outside of that big vein between our eyes, if you can control the blooding for half the round, then you’re okay. But the rest of them, when you got a big old scalp wound or something like that, then yeah, there’s bigger wounds to work on and we’re pretty good at that.
When guys get broken finger bones or hand bones, are you dealing with that between rounds or is someone else dealing with that?
If you break a metacarpal or something like that, then guys start talking pain and that’s really kind of the corners decision to keep fighting and just do something with it. What we’ll do is wrap their hands and try to protect them as much as possible.
And one thing I always tell people, because I have a very good wrap, but a good wrap doesn’t guarantee you won’t break your hand. It minimizes the possibility of you breaking your hand, but a lot of these guys, especially in MMA, where they’re throwing a lot of their punches as big hooks and on top of the head, there’s no support factor when it comes to making contact with the knuckles and the hand is bent away from the palm, there’s just no support. Pretty easy to break it that way.
In boxing, the punches are a little bit straighter and the gloves are a little bit bigger. And I know a lot of these guys in MMA are trying to stay away from those big old looping hooks. And with the boxing gloves for the most part are eight or ten ounces. When a guy hurts his hand, it’s usually through the metacarpal. And a lot of that is attributed more to how they punched the guy on the top of the head than anything else.
Who pays for the cutmen? Is it the promotion or is the fighter’s camp? Who’s paying for you guys to be there?
Well, both actually. And we’re all freelancers. So I don’t work for the UFC, I work with the UFC. But the UFC on their shows, the Invicta shows, the promotion will pay us for doing our services. I work in Russia Viali Klitschko. He’s a boxer, but he’s the one that pays me.
Does insurance coverage factor into any of this? A lot of fighters don’t have insurance, and with your experience in and out of the ring, does that affect a lot of things?
Every fighter that gets hurt during an event is automatically insured. And so in that aspect, that’s not a problem. But let’s say a fighter gets hurt in a gym preparing for a fight. The UFC is a little bit different because the UFC has actually insurance for all their fighters, whether they get hurt in the gym or whether they get hurt during the fight. But in the smaller shows, the fighters are insured only during the fight.
But in boxing for many years, we were always trying to campaign to have some kind of kitty or some kind of program where if a fighter that was licensed by whatever state or whatever organization got hurt during training, that there would be a fund that would at least cover some of the expenses. He would be able to go to the hospital or a doctor and there’d be a kitty that would be able to compensate and will pay the doctor or the hospital for the services that were provided for them.
Do you think there should be something like a fighter’s union, somebody that can organize these things?
That’s been a program that they’ve been trying to work in boxing for years. Jimmy Hoffa Jr. about ten years ago in Boston tried to bring the teamsters in and they tried to create a union for the fighters, but it’s really difficult because fighters and trainers, we’re all independent contractors. And it’s really kind of tough to organize something that will be able to satisfy somebody that’s an independent contractor. So none of that has ever happened. It’d be nice if there were some kind of a program where fighters are protected in and out of the ring, but unfortunately, there’s not.
I think whenever you’re in any kind of combat you’re gonna have some kind of injuries that go with the type of sport that you’re in. In football you get the concussions and you’ll even get a broken hand. I know I did a show with Junior Seau before he passed called Sports Jobs with Junior Seau and I showed him how to be a cutman. And one of the things I showed him how to do was wrap bandage. And he showed me his hands and just about every finger was broken from doing what he did as a linebacker. And so those are the causalities of war I guess you call them. I think whenever you’re making some kind of contact with fists or elbows or knees or hands and all that, you’re gonna receive some kind of damage. And as long as we can contain that damage to its minimum, I think we’re doing a pretty damn good job.
Do you have any crazy stories going up through the ranks or even in the UFC as a cutman that just stick out in your mind?
I have tons of stories from guys and we’re talking about the importance of a cutman. When B.J. Penn fought Joe Stevenson, I think we were in England, I was working B.J. Penn’s corner and Joe Stevenson ended up with a big old gash between his eyes. He’s bleeding like a pig and we stopped the fight. And in the dressing room, his trainer is telling me now after the fight in the dressing room Joe was saying, “Where was Stitch? Where’s Stitch?” And those guys kind of look up to what we do. I think, especially of all the cutmen, they have a lot of confidence in me and that was just a nice little gesture. It was nice that he made that kind of comment.
You’re obviously known as one of the best in the business, how does one guy get to have you in his corner rather than the other fighter?
Well, it’s just the luck of the draw. When it comes to wrapping hands, and keep in mind now it started off with Leon Tabbs in UFC 1 by himself. When I came onboard in UFC 32 when Dana and Lorenzo and Frank first bought it, there was only two of us. And the thing that we offered the fighters is the opportunity – they could either have their own corner wrap their hand or we could wrap their hands.
And it got to the point where everybody wanted us to wrap their hands. Then we brought in the third man, which was Don House, and even that got so busy that we brought in a fourth cutman. And now we use five cutmen in each night. When the fighters get through the weigh-in, Burt Watson, our coordinator will ask, “Who wants their hands wrapped by the UFC cutmen?” There’s 12 fights, there’s 24 fighters. We’re gonna end up wrapping anywhere from 20 – 22 guys. And the majority of those guys want me to wrap them.
So now it’s to the point where Watson will assign guys to which fighter. And a lot of the time I’ll get the populars automatically, I’ll do eight or nine guys because it’s tough for me to say no to a guy because I know that if I give them that little ounce of confidence, then I know it’s gonna mean a lot to them. And I go out of my way and bust my ass a little bit more and work a little bit harder just to get two or three other guys in there. But there’s many times where I’ll wrap both guys that are fighting each other. And come fight time to be in neutral, if you’ve noticed I’m always in the red corner. And I’ll let the UFC determine who goes in the red and who goes in the red and who goes in the blue. And we’re as neutral as possible and we want to keep it that way.
Is there anything that you would say to the medical community that can help MMA or help the fighters? Is there an issue that you think could be better addressed?
Well, that’s a very good question. When I look at the sports, I look at both boxing and MMA. Boxing still is so far behind. Even now, it’s so far behind from MMA that nobody has really come forward and tried to educate the fighters and trainers and all that.
If the docs could come forward and maybe explain to these guys during the weigh-ins or something like that about how these injuries are caused or here’s what you could do to prevent it or here’s what you could do if you do get hurt, and just give them a bird’s-eye view of their profession and what’s the best way to treat an injury after it happens. I think that’s very important.
Also, maybe let us know if there’s any new techniques, because for the most part we’re doing the same ideas that boxing was doing in the ‘30s and the ‘40s. And the techniques are all pretty much the same. I’ve polished them up a little bit, but they’re all the basic techniques. And sometimes old is good. And those seem to work.
Let the medical community come forward and give their two cents. And anybody that’s doing articles like you, your website and I think that’s great. I chose to do an interview with you because education is the one thing that I want to bring to the table. And I’m good at what I do. But, I only got a high school diploma. I’m just good at what I do in that first minute. But what happens before and after is not my life.
So, Rehab of injuries is a big thing for fighters to deal with?
Absolutely, because so many guys get hurt in the gym. And years ago I produced a documentary called Boxers Nightmare and it deals with all this stuff that fighters go through behind the scenes. And one of the scenes I sent out a bunch of survey sheets and got a bunch of responses. I knew what the answers were just because of experience, but the point is every fighter gets injured in the gym. And the majority of the fighters, when they go into a fight, they go into a fight already injured.
Also, a lot of fighters don’t know that if they take simple things like the ibuprofen, the anti-inflammatories, that if they take those before a fight and then they get cut, it makes our job a lot harder.
And you’ll notice now as you watch these fights on TV so many guys are just doing the wrong thing. But I was looking at the fights on HBO last night and just one that guy that’s working the corner – it makes me feel good because he’s doing everything that we do. And really, everything that I put together at the UFC that the other cutmen are doing is using the clean towel to wipe the face and he’s putting the Vaseline on the back of his hand so he could grab it like an artist and apply it to the face. And little things like that, a lot of guys weren’t doing before. And now I see that really I have made a difference in cutmen working and cutmen using the same techniques that we use.
Because you are working under a 60 second time limit, is economy of movement important?
Oh yeah. And even in setting up my bucket, everything is always in its own little location at all times. I know where the end-swells are, left side of the bucket. I know where the Vaseline is at. I know where’s the epine is at. I know where the towel is at. Everything goes in the same location. And I’ve had guys that work for us in UFC say, “Hey, Stitch, let me use your bucket.” And I said, “No. You got to get your own”. I let a guy use it one time. He had no formula. And the next thing I know, he just grabs the stuff and puts it back wherever. When you’re dealing with a cut that could happen right away, as a lot of times they do, you got to know without even looking, just reach in there and grab what you need.
And one of the things I always tell cutmen that are learning to be trainers, when they ask me what to do, I say, “Always prepare and expect the worst case scenario. And always have a swab ready and keep it sterile”. Some guys, you’ll see in boxing, a guy gets cut and he has his bottle of epine and he’s already in the ring. And he’s putting the swab into the epine, already getting it wet. So that should have been done a long time ago. You just wasted six, seven seconds. And those are techniques that we improved and they work.
A lot of times when I see guys, they’re just going at it toe to toe and the guy’s taking a beating, I’ll have my stuff, I’ll put my Vaseline on my hand and I’ll have my swab ready and I’ll have my towel ready. I’m ready to jump into the ring and I’m looking at him and at that point he’s not cut, but there’s that possibility that before the bell rings he will get cut. And it’s happened, three or four times before, and at that point, boom, I’m in there. So you got to always prepare for the worst scenario. If the guy’s not cut, then just get back to square one.
Better to be safe than sorry?
Exactly. That’s the difference between what makes a good cutman and a bad cutman. When a guy gets cut, first thing I do is I start counting the seconds when the bell rings to see how long it takes the cutmen to get into the ring. And some guys, it takes them 10 seconds, 12 seconds. We do it under five, so that’s a good thing. A lot of it depends on how quick they open the gate. But we’re right there. As soon as the gate opens, we’re the first ones in.
FightMedicine.NET would like to thank Stitch for talking to us. There is no doubt he is a legend at what he does. You can purchase his video “Giving the Fighter One More Round” at cutman4hire.com or titleboxing.com. His autobiography is also available at Amazon.com or you can it through Kindle.
Keep an eye out for Stitch in the red corner this weekend at UFC 153: Silva vs. Bonner in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
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FightMedicine.Net would also like to thank Sandra for her transcription services. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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