Around a year ago I did the 2nd of my interviews with the famed cut man Jacob ‘Stitch’ Duran, obviously a year has passed which explains why some answers seem a little dated now, but I have left the full interview as it was first published.
Interview with Jacob ‘Stitch’
MMAUK: Some moments obviously pushed the sport further, like the Tito v Shamrock feud, these two had a genuine dislike of each other, what was it like being around during their fights?
Jacob: The Tito Ortiz vs Ken Shamrock feud was one of the early hype fights. Having worked with both of them it was pretty magical to see these two gladiators going at it verbally. At that time, before Chael Sonnen and Conor McGregor, they where the best at what they did. The second fight they had, was heart breaking to see Ken take such a beating
MMAUK: One of my favourite MMA fights was Randy v Tim Sylvia that must have been some night
Jacob: Randy Couture has always been one of my favourite fighters. Not only because he could fight, but he was always a gentleman and very respectful to the fans and myself. His fight against Tim Sylvia was legendary. I wrapped his hands and worked his corner for that fight and to see his hand raised in victory was a historical moment. On the other side of the coin, Tim was also a beast. Losing his belt to Randy was also a sad moment for him and his fans.
MMAUK: Sadly Fedor Emelianenko never competed in the UFC, how good was he. He seemed to have a habit of coming back from adversity to win. The Arlovski fight, a prime example, Arlovski will regret that flying knee for ever?
Jacob: Fedor Emelianenko was a horse of a different colour. He has to be the quietest fighter I have ever worked with. His presence in the ring or cage was always intimidating to the other fighter and I can understand why. He had a weapon, whether it was his hands, feet or knees. He mastered them all. A funny story and one of my all time favorites was when I went to Japan for a Pride show with Josh Barnett. Fighters would always want me to wrap their hands and Josh would say, “I paid to have him come and work with me, If you want him to wrap your hands it will cost you $500.00”. I would come home with extra cash every time I worked with Josh.
Fedor was making his comeback fight after breaking his thumb. The promotion asked if I could wrap Fedor’s hands. Having wrapped the best fighters in MMA I was happy to put Fedor on my resume. I was so exited that I didn’t even negotiate a fee. I was happy to be wrapping the hands of the, Last Emperor!
I dart off to his dressing room and like many Russians, their dressing rooms are quite. I prepare my gauze and tape and have Fedor sit down and extend his right arm and hand. When I wrap fighter’s hands, I like to talk to them to keep them relaxed. I would ask Fedor questions and he would quietly answer them with either yes or no. He had no interest in carrying a conversation with me. I finished wrapping both hands and I asked him how they felt. He looked down at his right hand, opened and closed it 3 times, looked up at me and simply said, “Super, super”. Trying to keep my composure I acted as if this was a routine wrap. We shook hands and deep inside I was so exited that I walked out of his dressing room without my feet touching the ground. That was only the first half of my introduction to Fedor. After the event finished, Fedor had won by KO, Josh, the team and I walked down the hallway to the bus. The Emelianenko dressing room was open, Fedor sees Josh and myself, invites us in and pours us both a shot of vodka.
Wrapping Fedor’s hands and drinking shots of vodka with him, life doesn’t get much better than that. I have since wrapped his hands when he fought in Affliction and Strikeforce.
MMAUK: You were part of UFC 100 again that must have been some occasion
Jacob: Having begun my career with the UFC at UFC 33, I was happy for the UFC when they announced UFC 100. UFC 100 was going to be a week of festivities to include the Fan Expo and Hall of Fame Inductees. The fights would also be the best of the best. Knowing that the UFC would be inducting fighters into the Hall of Fame.
I proposed to have Leon Tabbs inducted also. He was the last of the original members of from UFC 1 to be working UFC 100. Unfortunately, they did not see any value or appreciation for what Leon had done for the game and that never happened Leon was the Godfather of cutmen and deserved more respect than to be forgotten.
I had mentioned this story to Rob Hewitt, owner of Fighters Only magazine and also host of the Annual MMA Awards. He stepped up and we made arraignments to have Leon receive the Life Time Achievement Award. Now retired, Leon proudly has his trophy sitting in the enter of his living room
MMAUK: After Brock Lesnar destroyed Frank Mir at UFC 100, Lesnar went berserk after the fight , what was Brock like behind the scenes?
Jacob: The biggest hands I have every wrapped in boxing or MMA belong to Brock Lesnar. After the weigh-ins for his first fight in the UFC, I was asked if I could do a test run and wrap his hands. Once off the scales, Brock, my daughter Carla and I walked into one of the dressing rooms to begin wrapping his hands. He liked them and I became the chosen one to wrap him for all his fights. My daughter Carla is a big wrestling geek and for her to meet Brock was like me meeting Fedor. Once I cut the wraps off, Brock signed them and gave them to Carla. Talk about having bragging rights when it comes to having stories about Brock Lesnar, I think Carla has a story no one will ever have.
Brock is so intimidating that after he beat Frank Mir during the rematch that when I walked into his dressing room to congratulate him, his corner sat across the dressing room from him. He was all pumped up sitting next to his wife. I walked in and he looks at me with a big smile and asked me what I thought. Of course, I was happy also and told him that as I was cutting off his wraps.
One of the last times I saw Brock was when he was sitting ringside after his surgery. Like two-gun slingers, we walk to each other and I am expecting to get a hug. Instead, Brock gives me a chest bump that sends me back a couple of feet. We laughed and then hugged.
MMAUK: What do you make of Conor McGregor, what’s he like when the camera stops rolling is he the same or is that just his public persona?
Jacob: The UFC has created some super stars. Conor McGregor is probably the best at what he does. The first time I saw him fight was in Stockholm, Sweden. He did not disappoint the fans. Walking into the dressing room, I see Conor and his coach John. I mentioned to him that I liked his aggressive style and that I compared the Irish fighters to Mexican fighters.
I have to commend Conor for all of his accomplishments and what he has done to give MMA a world-wide audience. I just read that he applied and got his license to box in California. Being a strategic man, I see Conor McGregor accomplishing multiple objectives. First of all, I have to say that the hype he created about fighting Floyd is just that, hype. That fight will never happen and if it did for some crazy reason, the Hype would be bigger than the Fight! The skill level to be in a 20×20 ring definitely favours Floyd.
Every great fighter has a plan “B”. If Conor gets to box in the US, he would then be protected by the Muhammad Ali Reform Act. My question would then be, being that he has a boxing license, can he still be protected by the Ali Act in MMA, huh?
MMAUK: Do you have a favourite MMA fight and moment?
Jacob: I have experience many great fights in my years of working as a trainer or cutman. One special fight has to be when Chuck Liddell fought Wanderlei Silva. I was working in Chuck’s corner and Leon Tabbs with Wanderlei. The action started and finished with each fighter landing thunderous blows that I could hear at ringside. After the sound of the bell to end the final round, I rush to Chuck to work on his cut and clean up the blood on his body. I then walk over to Wanderlei’s corner to see how he was doing.
About a week before the fight, I had jokingly mentioned to Wanderlei that it would be my birthday when him and Chuck would fight and hopefully I could send some positive energy his way. That being said, when I walked up to him I asked him if he was OK. If you remember that fight, it was a vicious fight. The Ax Murderer said he was fine, and though he was busted up and swollen, Wanderlei never forgot our conversation and wished me a Happy Birthday.
MMAUK: The sport has moved on so much since its dark days could you ever envisage how big the sport has got?
Jacob: When I joined the UFC, I did it because Dana and company had implemented new rules to keep the fighters safe and make it more viewer friendly. The talent that I saw during those early years where guys who had skills and big hearts. I was totally impressed by how hard these guys fought and how friendly they where to each other and the fans. Not like boxing where a majority of the fighters are either black or Hispanic. In MMA it was the complete opposite with many being white and having college degrees with world-class wrestling skills.
Fast forward to today and the game has gotten better with fighters training in multiple disciplines and the talent has spread world-wide. I love seeing young kids training in MMA and vision this sport to make another adjustment when they get older
MMAUK: If you could change one thing about MMA what would it be?
Jacob: When I made the transition from trainer to full-time cutman, one of my goals was to educate fighters, trainers, cutmen and the fans on how to keep these fighters safe. When I see other organizations and different cut men using the techniques that Burt Watson and myself put together, it makes me proud to know that they have learned our system.
I just finished working a Bellator show and cutman, Sid Gee mentioned that I have done so much for the sport. Coming from a colleague, those words meant so much to me. Another project I would like to be involved in would be to create a system where the fighters have a fighting chance with promoters. I have seen unfair practices in boxing and now MMA. It has to change.
MMAUK: The new ownership of the UFC will obviously run things differently, but isn’t it sad that someone like GSP can’t resolve his issues and agree a new contract?
Jacob: Now that the UFC has new owners, the question people ask me is, “if the UFC asked you to come back, would you”? I long as Dana is in charge I would not expect to get a call. I can say, with all the negative attention they are getting, bringing me back would be a positive.
Now guys like GSP is a different story. In the past, the UFC promoted George as their cash cow during his prime. Speaking the truth about many issues and injuries, put him in the back burner with no or little support from the staff. I agree with GSP that he would have sold out the arena in Toronto. Being pushed aside gave him more options to look at. It will be interesting to see how the new company makes its adjustment to smooth things over with the fighters, fans and media.
MMAUK: We are probably heading into an owner v labour battle now in the UFC. How much success do you think the various new organisations popping up will have, the latest being the Bjorn Rebney led one?
Jacob: Shortly after the UFC released me, Nate Quarry called me and invited me to attend the Association of Boxing Commissions Conference in San Diego. I would be there to support him, Wanderlei Silva, Jon Fitch, Brandon Vera and the late Ryan Jimmo when they would present their Fighter’s Association to the Commissioners. The support has been slow, but I would encourage every fighter to consider being part of this growing concern for fighter appreciation. Having read that the UFC only gives the fighters 8% of the monies compared to 50% in every other organisation it is time for a change. Bjorn Rebney and an “A” list of fighters have teamed up to form a union. I think both groups have good ideas, but I also think it is important to become one.
MMAUK: You have a new autobiography about to hit the shelves what can we expect from the book?
Jacob: You are correct Mark. I have written, my second book along with author, Zac Robinson. The first book was called, From The Fields To The Garden. It became a top seller for the combat sports and the fans kept asked for a second book. Five years later and a year after my release from the UFC, Zac and I decided it was time for a second one.
Our goal was to have it available in time for Christmas. We did that and it is now available on Kindle and Amazon.com.
I have definitely been blessed with a very exiting life and many of the stories that I have lived are in the book. With so many request for a second book, Zac and I decided to start this one where the last one finished, which was UFC 104.
You’ll get to read what actually happened when I got the call. My trip to Afghanistan to visit the troops and many of the great behind the scene stories that I have been involved in.
Actually, some of your earlier questions are answered with stories from the first and second book.
I would like to close this interview by thanking you for reaching out and making this interview special. Also, the fans who have supported me from day one and never left me when the chips where down.
From the Fields to the Garden and From the Fields to the Garden 2, the autobiographies from Jacob Stitch Duran are both available now.