Jacob “Stitch” Duran: “I went to work and threw everything at the kitchen sink, and I kept him in the fight.”
By Jack Rainbow
Jacob Duran has seen it all in combat sports. Having been in the game for 30+ years, and working in all the mainstream combat sports he has more or less been constantly in work for three decades. That is, of course until March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began:
“Its been a little different, actually a lot. But I go back all the way to March 14th, when Shakur Stevenson was meant to fight at Madison Square Garden in New York, and I get there only for them to tell us on Thursday that the fights are going to go on but there isn’t going to be an audience!
“I thought OK as long as they throw a punch I get paid! But on Friday they told us it wasn’t going to be on and I went home, as everything went into lockdown. But I am really fortunate. I have a great wife and a great home, and we have been spending a lot of time together and waiting for this to pass. It’s been difficult and a lot of people haven’t been getting work.”
For Jacob, working is a habit. When he found out work was available, he started right away, being the in-house cutman in the Top Rank bubble
“I got a call from Brad Jacobs, the Top Rank CEO, saying they were going to start doing weekly shows at the MGM in the bubble. The way Brad Jacobs explained it to me, there was going to be thirteen shows over a six week period on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the fighters could only bring two coaches, and a lot of time those coaches were not who aren’t cut men, so they brought in me and Mike Bazzel to be for the most part the house cutmen like we were for the UFC. Originally they would make stars out of us, as when the fighters got on the scales then they would choose an envelope there whoever was on the name, they would work with.”
Equally, for Jacob, who frequently works abroad in the biggest events in combat sports, being able to work within the comfort of his home was a big benefit to the sustained period working for Top Rank.
“For me, it’s been really good. I’m 68 years, and when this started they were talking about the older generations having to be more careful, but I don’t need to travel. I do work the Bare Knuckle fights and do MMA shows, but seeing as I am doing weekly shows with Top Rank, I feel safe and healthy, and I am COVID free, as I am tested all the time, so it has been a blessing for me.”
Going back to Jacobs’s start brings a legendary story. Coming from humble beginnings, Jacob’s love of combat sports started in Thailand:
“Growing up as a young kid I always wanted to play American baseball. I walked to a college nine miles from my hometown, and I would go there with my friends and then I would need to hitch hike home.
“I was naive and didn’t know about scholarships or grants. In 1972, I joined the military, and I always told myself that I wanted to study martial arts, as that was the era of Bruce Lee. Then I got stationed in a place got Thailand which is where they would pick up the bombs to take to Vietnam.
“I had friends who had been stationed there a few months before and had become acclimated, and they took me to a gym where I saw a guy get knocked out with a head kick, and the following Monday I started training.
“For the base, I started with Taekwondo, as I figured it would be the same as the Muay Thai as it sounded like the same thing, I knew no different. Then the Koreans left and then the Thai took over. that’s when they transitioned us into the Muay Thai system.”
Within his historic and legendary career, Jacob has dealt with multiple potential fight ending cuts. Too many to specifically pick one as particularly bad:
“There have been tonnes of them! In boxing, I had my coming out fight came in Vegas. I didn’t come to Vegas to be a trainer as there were lots of great ones so I solely came to be a cutman. My first big coming-out fight was when Raul Marquez fought Keith Mullings. Raul got a really bad cut and I kept him in the game, and he ended up keeping his world title, which was my coming out fight.
“In MMA, there have been many but I remember when Shogun Rua fought Forrest Griffin specifically, and I was working in Forrest’s corner and he ended up with a big old gash in his forehead, and I went to work and threw everything at the kitchen sink, and I kept him in the fight. After that Forrest bought me a gift card for a restaurant which was really nice.”
Being able to seamlessly transition between combat sports, leads to different challenges to overcome. The array of different weapons used in MMA leads to differences in cuts.
“Yeah definitely. Cuts in martial arts, a lot of time are multiplied because of the elbows and knees. The 4oz cuts make the cuts deeper and bigger to. I always tell people if you are going to hire a cutman, hire someone who has experience in MMA, as unfortunately there is no school for cutmen. If you work MMA it shows you probably have some work under your belt!”
This constant flitting between sports does lead to the question over which is Jacob’s favorite. However, he insists to like them all equally:
“Nah I love them all! Bare-knuckle boxing ( BKB) is exciting as well, as it’s a new sport and has a 60/70% cut ratio. I love working on cuts as we have a really important role in the game, and I have fighters call me all the time in BKB as they want assurances I will be in the corner. Obviously which unfortunately I can’t do at the moment as I am working with Top Rank.”
In part two of our interview, Jacob talks about working with high-profile fighters such as Tyson Fury and touches upon the different dynamic working with celebrity figures like KSI.