If you regularly tune in for professional fights, whether it’s boxing, kickboxing, or MMA, chances are you’ve seen Jacob “Stitch” Duran on multiple occasions. True to his nickname, Stitch is one of the most respected cut men in the world of professional fighting, having risen to the highest ranks of combat sports over the course of the last two decades.
Growing up working on a farm, Stitch would enlist in the U.S. Air Force – a decision that would take him all the way to Thailand and mark the beginning of his life in martial arts. From there, he’s done everything from train fighters to wrapping their hands for their fights alongside his work as a cut man. He’s also had the privilege of appearing, essentially as himself, in every film in the “Rocky” series since 2006’s “Rocky Balboa”, including the highly anticipated “Creed II” – and he’s got no shortage of stories to tell on working with The Italian Stallion Sylvester Stallone, Ivan Drago, and Hollywood Donnie all on the same film set.
Today, Stitch sits down with KFK to recount his life as a cut man in professional boxing and MMA, along with giving a behind-the-scenes look at his involvement in the “Rocky” franchise, and what fans can expect from “Creed II”!
Hi Stitch, thank you so much for your time today. It’s a thrill to connect with you, hope you’re keeping well?
Hi Brad, I’m doing, great, thanks. My pleasure to be with you guys today.
Fantastic. Just to get your view, what do you think of the name Kung Fu Kingdom (KFK)?
That’s a pretty awesome name for a site devoted to martial arts. It’s really attention grabbing!
Thank you. Okay, let’s kick it off with some basics – with a bit of your background and some of the people that’ve influenced you in martial arts?
That’s a good question. In a lot of ways, I kind of have to credit myself and my own drive to learn in that regard. Growing up as a farm worker, I had always had this dream of going to Asia to study martial arts as a kid, and I ended up having a great opportunity to do that when I joined the Air Force and went over to Thailand. I started out in Taekwondo, and then went into Muay Thai while I was there. Later on, I started in amateur boxing with Pete Alvarado, and he became a big mentor for me. When I moved out to Las Vegas about twenty-three years ago, Chuck Bodak became a big mentor for me in boxing, and really kind of started me on becoming a cut man.
You’ve really been around eh! On that note, prior to your career as a cut man, you’d also previously run a boxing and kickboxing school. What interesting experiences can you relate about your time running your school?
Well, I was the first guy to become a member of King’s Boxing Gym in Oakland. Pete Alvarado and I started training a lot of fighters there, and we ended up creating some of the first Golden Gloves champions there. Later on, I started working with Dennis Alexio, (well known from Van Damme’s “Kickboxer”) who was the world kickboxing champion at the time. And after working with Dennis for a while, I opened my own school, the American School of Kickboxing, and as crazy as I was, I opened it all on my credit card! (Laughs) But, I had a dream, and by then, a lot of high-level fighters really knew me as a trainer, so I was pretty confident to go for it. Eventually, I sold my school to one of my students when I got an offer to come out to work here in Las Vegas as a cut man.
Go where the dream takes you! So, what can you share about how you first became a cut man in the world of professional boxing and MMA?
Well, having been a trainer already, I started managing a lot of the fighters and learned all about wrapping hands and working cuts as well. When I first got to Las Vegas here, there was really only boxing. However, I ended up working in a fight for K-1 at the Bellagio, and the next day, I got an offer to work as a cut man for the UFC, and that changed my whole life.
So, what are some of the most memorable professional fights you’ve seen or had the chance to be party to as cut man?
Oh, I’ve had tons man. Ask me about any fighter I’ve worked with, and I’ve got a story to tell! My first big event in Las Vegas was the Raul Marquez vs Keith Mullings fight; Raul ended up with five cuts and about seventy five stitches from that fight, but still won it. When I got into MMA, I got to work with just about every great fighter the UFC brought to the table.
Absorbing these stories already Stitch! So, in working with so many high level fighters, you’ve no doubt seen more than your fair share of injuries. What were some of the most serious ones you’ve ever had to deal with, how did you work around those?
I think the first really horrific one I saw was Corey Hill vs Dale Hartt, when Corey threw a kick, Dale blocked it with his leg, and it compound fractured Corey’s leg. And boy, he was screaming. The doctors had to shoot him up with morphine while trying to set his leg. But Corey really had the heart of a warrior. While they were taking him out on the gurney, he looks at me and says, “Stitch, I almost had him!” (both laugh)
Anderson Silva also had the same kind of injury when he fought Chris Weidman, and I had just wrapped his hands an hour before, so that was really heartbreaking to watch. There was also the cut Brock Lesnar got when he fought Cain Velasquez, it was big enough that the whole swab could fit into it. A lot of bad injuries I’ve seen as a cut man.
Gotcha. On that topic, what’s the best and quickest way to seal up a cut? Any secret remedies that work real quick and leave minimal scarring?
Well, in the ring, its pretty simple. We use a swab and adrenaline chloride 1:1000 to close up the blood vessel. A lot of it also really comes down to just how you handle the cuts, because every one is different.
In your expert opinion, what are some of the most critical attributes a professional fighter needs to be successful in the ring?
Conditioning is the most important thing. When you step into the ring, you need to have that conditioning so you don’t run out of gas halfway into the fight. Endurance is also one of the most important things you need as a professional fighter. I remember a while back, I was interviewing Mike Tyson, and I asked him “Every fighter has that one thing nobody else has, what is it?”, and he said very simply, “Take the pain. You have to take the pain.” And that’s probably the best quote I’ve ever heard about fighting from anyone.
Elemental advice right there from Iron Mike. So, in your opinion, who are some of the most durable professional fighters in the world today?
It’s really hard to say, because there are just so many of them. I remember when I worked Chuck Liddell‘s corner when he fought Wanderlei Silva, and you could just hear the power of their punches from across the cage. I walked over to Wanderlei’s corner to see how he was doing, and he told me he was okay and then said, “And, by the way, Happy Birthday, Stitch.” And I thought, “Wow, he’s in the middle of probably the biggest fight of his life, and he’s wishing me a happy birthday in the middle of it.” And I thought that was a really special moment.
Wanderlei certainly has a lot of heart. Looking ahead now, you first joined the “Rocky” franchise with 2006’s “Rocky Balboa”. What can you share about how you came to be involved with the film, and the experience of working alongside Sylvester Stallone?
That was an interesting story of how I came to be involved with “Rocky Balboa”. I got a call from Joe Cortez, who was the referee in the movie, and he asked me, “Hey, would you like to appear in the new Rocky movie?” I had a fight coming up in Paris at the time, so I didn’t think I could make that work. But my wife said to me “Are you crazy?! Rocky’s an American icon!” So, I thought about it, and I decided to go ahead and do it, and the next thing I knew, I was in Antonio Tarver’s corner on the set of “Rocky Balboa”. And just to be on the set and to see Sylvester Stallone do what he does as a writer, director, and actor on “Rocky Balboa” was just a phenomenal experience.
Can imagine! You also had a cameo role in Kevin James’ 2012 MMA comedy, “Here Comes the Boom”. Did you get to interact with the likes of Joe Rogan and Bas Rutten?
That was when I was working a UFC match at the MGM, and the director of the movie, Frank Coraci, stopped in and asked to take a picture with me. Then he mentioned that Kevin James wanted me to appear in the movie. I didn’t originally have any lines, but Kevin thought I should say something when we were doing our scene. So, I thought about it, and I said, “Well, I like to tell fighters ‘Welcome to the UFC’ when they step into the cage”, and he thought that would be great for the scene. So we were filming our part, and his character walks in and says to me “Oh hey, I’m a big fan!”, and then I slap him and say “Welcome to the UFC!” I hadn’t told Kevin beforehand that I was going to slap him because I thought his reflexes might take over and he might close his eyes when I did. And it made into the movie, and I got residuals out of it. (both laugh)
That’s a cool story! You would also later return to the “Rocky” franchise with 2015’s “Creed”. What interesting stories can you share about making the film alongside Sly, Michael B. Jordan, and director Ryan Coogler?
That was a very unexpected experience to become a part of “Creed”, but a very rewarding one. I’d worked a lot with Andre Ward previously, he was already in the movie, and he actually told Ryan Coogler, “Hey, if you need a good cut man, Stitch is the one.” So I got called up and flew out to Philadelphia to do another movie in the “Rocky” series. When I got there, they were filming the scene where Michael B. Jordan fights Andre Ward in the ring, and I see this really young kid outside of the ring, and he says, “Hey Stitch, I’m Ryan Coogler, I’m the director.”, and that was my first time meeting him. Later on, I mentioned to him, “Just so you know, Ryan, if I see things in the ring that don’t make sense, I’m gonna point it out to you.” And he said, “That’s exactly why we brought you on board, Stitch.” So I could tell right away that Ryan knew what he was doing.
I spent about six weeks in Philadelphia for the movie, and I was wrapping Michael B. Jordan’s hands almost every day. And I was just so impressed with him and the transition he made from actor to boxer. So when I was wrapping his hands one day on the set, I said to him, “Listen, Michael, I’m really impressed with what you’ve done on this movie, and so, right now, I’m gonna knight you as a real fighter.” And he thanked me and told me how much that meant to him, and gave me a big hug. I’m telling you, what Mike did on that movie as an athlete was really tremendous.
Another kind of nice thing about doing “Creed” was that my name was “Marcel” in the script. But when Rocky introduces the team to Adonis, he points to me and says, “This is Stitch, he’s the best cut man in Philadelphia.” Later on, when we were filming the end fight, I went up to Sly, and said, “Hey Sly, I just want to thank you for using my real name.” And he says to me, “Hey, it has to be authentic!”
Indeed. You’re once again, in “Creed II”. What interesting stories can you share about making the film with its returning cast along with the return of Dolph Lundgren to his iconic role of Ivan Drago?
Oh man, what an experience! It’s a really funny story of how I first got involved with “Creed II”. I was doing a fight at the time in Madison Square Garden, and after the fight, this guy comes up to the ring and says to me, “Hey Stitch, I need you for three fights in April.” I thought he was a promoter from Australia who I kind of vaguely remembered at the time, and I told him I was waiting on a call for the next “Creed” movie. And he said, “Stitch, it’s me, Kevin!”, and then I remembered he was the producer, Kevin King Templeton, who I hadn’t seen in quite a while. So, he introduced me to the director, Steven Caple Jr., and they were there at the fight getting some B-roll footage for “Creed II”.
After that, I headed to Philadelphia, I got to meet Dolph Lundgren on the first day, and he probably speaks better Spanish than I do! (laughs) And reuniting with Sly and Mike was just fantastic, and it doesn’t get any better than to play yourself as a cut man in a “Rocky” movie.
Surreal. So tell me, what can fans of the “Rocky” franchise expect from “Creed II”?
I think one of the biggest things is that the story of Ivan Drago and his son, Viktor, is a phenomenal story. Florian Munteanu did such a great job as Viktor Drago, and I think he’s seriously going to break out from boxing to acting with this movie. The storyline of Rocky continuing to mentor Adonis and pass the torch to him is also a really great story. Additionally, Mike has gotten even better as a boxer from the first “Creed” to this one, so I think people going to be amazed by the fight scenes in “Creed II”.
One thing that really stood out to me was when filming the fight between Adonis and Viktor. Mike and Florian were both so exhausted and just kept pushing themselves. There’s a part where Viktor is in his corner after he’s just knocked Adonis down, and Steve Caple came up to Mike and said, “Mike, I need you to give every ounce of energy you have for this last scene.” And I kind of joined in and said, “Mike, this is where the mind takes over. You’ve gotta put everything you’ve got into this.” And Mike got up, and it was like watching the end fight in the first movie where he gets back up, and Mike just threw everything he had inside of him into the rest of the fight.
Sounds like Adonis has his work cut out for him against Viktor Drago. Any other memorable experiences from the making of “Creed II”?
Just seeing how big a star Mike has become since the first “Creed”. When I’d be in the dressing room with him wrapping his hand this time, he was just getting calls from everybody. Mike also would raffle off a lot of wraps I put his hands in for charity after I cut them off, and I thought that was really honorable on his part. And Mike’s such a humble guy, so I took him aside one day and told him, “Mike, you’re such a humble guy, so don’t ever change, or I’ll kick your ass!” (both laugh) Florian also nicknamed me “Stitchy”. And I told him, “Florian, you’re the only guy I’m ever gonna let call me ‘Stitchy’!” (both laugh)
Definitely can’t wait to see it all go down in “Creed II”! Looking at the franchise as a whole, what are your personal favorite movies from the “Rocky” series?
Obviously the original “Rocky” is one. Just the music alone can pump fighters up. I also really have to give props to “Rocky Balboa”. It’s the last time Rocky actually fights, but also it’s just a great story of Rocky coming out of retirement. And to see Sly not only act in it but also write and direct it was extremely impressive to me, and it’s just really nice to be a part of that history.
Agree! So, what are some of “Stitch” Duran’s personal favourite Boxing or Martial Arts movies of all time?
I’d say all the Bruce Lee movies, definitely. Bruce was always my big idol in martial arts. I also really like “Kickboxer” with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Alexio. Those movies have always been at the top for me.
No arguments there! Looking at training now, what sort of training do you do yourself nowadays?
Well, I travel every weekend, and I’m doing fights all the time, so it’s a lot more limited for me today. When I’m not doing that, I usually like to pad up and hit the bag with my son, Daniel. My kids have been in the sport since they were little, and he’s grown now, so I like to train with him whenever I can.
It’s the quick-fire fun and leisure round now! So, what’s one geeky thing about you that people don’t really know?
I’m kind of a fanatic when it comes to ironing clothes. Having wrinkled clothes is a big pet peeve of mine, so I’m really strict about keeping them ironed.
If you could be a superhero, who would you be and what superpower would you most like to have?
Flying, it’s an easy choice. I think everyone’s had the dream of being able to fly, and that would be the power I’d want to have, for sure.
Popular choice! What are some other hobbies of yours?
I think what I do as a cut man is more of a hobby than a job for me. I’ve had people tell me, “You know, Stitch, I bet ninety-nine percent of people in the world would love to have your job.” And it’s never felt like a job to me, so they’re probably right!
True. So, what’s some of your favourite music?
Carlos Santana is my number one. Lynyrd Skynyrd is also one of my favourite rock bands.
Favourite movies (non-combat)?
“Major League” and “Dances with Wolves” are a couple of favourites of mine. “Lone Survivor” is another recent one I really liked. It really resonated with me even more because I had gotten to travel to Afghanistan for a fight and meet a lot of the soldiers over there.
That must’ve been quite an experience. So, what are some things in life that you really like or dislike?
I don’t like liver, and I also don’t like a**holes and kiss a**es! (both laugh) I just don’t need negative people around, and I really don’t like prejudiced people, either. What’s going on right now in the country really breaks my heart with people facing discrimination because of their race or religion.
Yes, it’s very unfortunate – let’s continue to think outside the box and do something about it…So, what would you say is your proudest accomplishment so far?
I think growing up as a farm worker and making it to where I am right now, and not losing my sense of integrity along the way. I was let go from the UFC when I spoke out about their health care practices and the Rebook deal, and I still get people in the business from all over the world telling me how much they respect that I stood my ground. When I go back home, people don’t know me as “Stitch”, they know me as Jacob, and that’s something I’m really proud of.
Integrity is the real unspoken coin of the realm…So, what are you really keen to accomplish in the next 5 years?
Well, I just signed with a group here in Las Vegas called Final Fight Championships. They just signed a three-year deal with Caesar’s Entertainment and CBS Sports, and they called me up and made me an offer to come aboard as the director of regulatory affairs. We’ll be doing weekly shows on CBS beginning on January 24th, with one boxing, two kickboxing, and two MMA fights all in one night, and we’re the first promoter to do that. I’ll still be a cut man, but I’ll also be interviewing fighters and getting behind-the-scenes stories, and it’ll just be really nice to do weekly shows here in Las Vegas and then go home and sleep in my own bed.
A martial arts heaven come true! We really look forward to seeing that. So, what advice would you give to aspiring mixed martial artists and fighters looking to break into the MMA world?
Just keep following your dreams, because they do come true. I always tell people “When times are tough, just give yourself one more round.” I came from the bottom and went to the top of the mountain, and that came through hard work and discipline. I titled one of my books “From the Fields to the Garden”, because I’d always wanted to go to Madison Square Garden growing up and now I’ve been there many, many times. So I chose that title because I felt it was really emblematic of chasing the dream and achieving it. And if it happened for me, it can happen for you, too.
So, what are some warrior-wisdom quotes have helped shape you into who you are today?
I just remember Mike Tyson’s quote, “Take the pain”. That kind of covers everything!
POW! Enough said. So, what special message would you like to share with Kung Fu Kingdom readers and your fans around the world right now?
I just want to thank you for your support, and something I learned after leaving the UFC is always fight for your rights and for yourself. You can’t let anyone else control your life.
In a world easily diluted by distraction, that’s simple…clear…we like that. As we sadly prepare to sign off, Stitch, where’s the best place for people to go and find out more about you?
Superb! Well Stitch, it’s been an honour and a pleasure to have you with us and participate in this interview. We hope it gives our readers a glimpse into one of the sport of boxing and MMA’s ring legends, and we look forward to seeing you in “Creed II”!
Thank you Brad, happy to share my stories today with Kung Fu Kingdom!
“Creed II” is set to hit theaters today, November 21st. Stay tuned for KFK’s official review too! Looking forward to it? What are some of your most memorable Rocky moments? Free vote on your fave fights in the comments below; Like, share and join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter & Instagram. (Make it YOUR creed to explore this FUniverse of knockout content including our exclusive with fight choreographer of the first “Creed”, Clayton Barber!)