Coming later this week in part 2 of our BoxingScene interview with Jacob Duran, "Stitch" talks about the tricks and challenges of being a cutman, and of trying to educate fighters to look out for their own health and safety.

About 20 years ago, a small promotional outfit called Guilty Boxing staged a monthly club show at the Orleans Hotel and Casino west of the Las Vegas Strip. It was a proving ground for Vegas-based boxing talent: the likes of future featherweight contender Augie Sanchez and future junior middleweight world titlist Ishe Smith made their bones in the ring, while the cards were put together by up-and-coming matchmaker Brad Goodman, who is a now a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. If a Vegas official wasn’t working any of the fights, the odds were pretty high that they would be sitting ringside. Not-yet-superstar Floyd Mayweather Jr. and right-hand man Leonard Ellerbe were regular attendees.

For cornermen and cutmen, the shows were an opportunity to pick up work, sometimes at the last minute, as not every boxer necessarily had the budget to bring a full complement. One person who frequently found himself working several fights a night was a local cutman called Jacob Duran, who for understandable and professionally appropriate reasons went by “Stitch.”

“During those times, I was trying to get a little bit of credibility here, little credibility there and, you know, doing what I could and just kind of promote myself through performance,” he said recently. “And things worked out pretty good, man.” 

They certainly did. Two decades on, he is one of the most recognizable faces in combat sports. (Google “cutman boxing,” and his is the name that pops up first and most often.) He has worked with champions including Wladimir Klitschko, who adores him still (as does Vitali, Wlad’s brother). For several years, he was one of the main cutmen for the UFC – and his forced departure from that organization only made him more popular. He even plays a version of himself in the movies, working with Mason “The Line” Dixon in “Rocky Balboa,” and Adonis Creed in the “Creed” films. (Michael B. Jordan, who portrays Creed, is yet another Stitch fan.)

In a sport and a business in which having snide or negative things to say about others is almost the price of entry, Stitch – he is always just “Stitch;” no other name needed – is the exceptionally rare example of whom very few, if any, have anything negative to say. Probably not entirely coincidentally, he isn’t one to play the game of sniping behind the backs of others, either.

“I grew up with that philosophy,” he explains. "My parents were always hard workers. They were farm workers and they were always helping people out. And they were always fighting for the rights of the people, alongside Cesar Chavez. There’s eight of us – five boys, three girls – and we all follow the same philosophy: be good people. Don't be an asshole. Be fair. And, you know, it's not that hard to do.” 

That upbringing was unglamorous.

“I grew up in a migrant camp in California,” he says. “I picked tomatoes, peaches, cotton, apricots.”

In 1972, at age 21, Duran joined the Air Force. “And I had friends already stationed in Thailand, and they invited me to some fights. It was Muay Thai, and the guy threw a kick and knocked the guy out. And I said, ‘Man, I gotta do that.’” 

He began studying Muay Thai, taekwondo and kickboxing. After leaving the military, he added boxing to the mix.

“Then I opened up my own school of kickboxing in Fairfield, up in the suburbs, with just a credit card,” he says. “So I was a trainer and I promoted fights, and I managed some guys. I did everything – but I had to learn to be a cutman.”  

In February 1986, he was at the Auditorium in Richmond, California, to watch Marvis Frazier outpoint James “Bonecrusher” Smith over 10 rounds, "and I’ll never forget it. This guy did a good job on the cuts, and I said, ‘Hey, man, you did a good job. I'm trying to learn to be a cutman. Can you tell me what you did?’ He said, ‘F*** you. I'm taking this to my grave.’“

True to his nature, Duran has never revealed the man’s name, but many years later he encountered him again while he was working with Andre Ward, who at the time was super middleweight champion. “He must have forgotten, because now he and his son wanted to take a picture with me. And I just obliged. But I was thinking, ‘Alright, you piece of s***.’”

Over time, he developed experience working cuts in kickboxing events, and he moved to Las Vegas in search of cutman work. But because the boxing community was unaware of the experience he had in kickboxing, he found himself largely being hired to hold pads – until one day, the UFC came calling.

“I was working a K-1 kickboxing event, and after the fight Dana [White] hit me up for my card and said, ‘Look, we bought the UFC. We want to know if you'd be one of the cutmen, along with Leon Tabbs.’ I thought it was a smart idea because back then MMA guys didn’t know how to wrap hands and didn't know how to work cuts. So Dana was smart enough to have a professional cutman in each corner. And then it grew from there.”

Duran continues to praise the role White played in “changing my life.” Which made the circumstances of his departure from the UFC all the more disappointing.  

In 2015, the UFC signed a deal with Reebok in which fighters, officials and corner teams would all wear the apparel company’s specially designed outfits and would no longer be permitted to wear sponsorship patches. For fighters and for cornermen, those sponsorships were an important source of income. “At that time, the UFC was paying garbage,” Stitch says, “and a lot of fighters were getting just $50,000, $100,000 a fight.” When he was asked by an MMA journalist to comment on how the Reebok deal would impact him and others in the company, he assented.

“Maybe I pissed off Dana when I said I’d have to start working boxing more because that paid more,” he says.

Next thing he knew, he was on the phone with an official from the UFC, who told him that, because of the interview, the company would no longer be using him. 

“And I told him: ‘Do me a favor. Go tell Dana he doesn’t have any balls, because he’s the one who brought me in, so he should have been the one to tell me I’m out.’”

Duran had by that point become as recognizable a face in combat sports as some of the competitors, and his departure set off a firestorm among fans and fighters in the UFC. White was unwavering in his decision to remove him, but if anything, the cutman’s popularity only increased – and so did his workload. It is rare to see a major boxing card in which Duran isn’t working at least one corner, and he continues to be a regular presence in MMA. 

He has no regrets about the stance he took that precipitated his UFC departure; he was simply following the template his parents had set for him, to always be on the side of the working man or woman. It’s the same attitude he takes into the corner. He knows that being a cutman is about so much more than merely tending to bumps, bruises and gashes; it’s about making the fighter feel at ease and encouraging him or her to relax, know that they are in good hands and focus on the task ahead of them. 

Perhaps his proudest moment and the most ringing endorsement of his approach to work and life came on April 29, 2017, when he worked Wladimir Klitschko’s corner for the Ukrainian’s final fight, against Anthony Joshua. The two had been together since 2004, and over the years they had formed a tight bond. At the weigh-in for the fight, the cutman could sense the former champion was tense and sought to soothe his nerves. 

“Psychology with a fighter is a big thing,” Duran says. “It isn’t something you learn. You have to have been there to understand. And at the end of the weigh-in, I put my hand up and said to Wladimir, ‘Hey, don’t you worry about nothing tomorrow. I’ll take care of you like you’re my son.’ The next day, I’m putting the final Vaseline on him, in front of all these people, right before Michael [Buffer] does the announcements. And Wladimir says, ‘You can call me “son.”’ Well, s***. That was pretty powerful. The last time I saw him in person was in Germany a few months afterward, and I asked him: ‘Wladimir, that one moment. Why?’ And he said, ‘Stitch, there are very few people in my life that I trust. And you are one of them.’” 

He plays a recording of a message from Klitschko, who is now of course deeply enmeshed in an even higher-stakes battle.

“Stitch saved my career on a number of occasions,” says the instantly recognizable voice. “Without Stitch in my corner I would never have achieved my record of being 12 years a champion.”

Stitch pauses.  

“That’s pretty powerful,” he repeats quietly. “That’s what my relationship with fighters is all about, man. You have to look after them. You’ve got to do right by them.”

It’s a sentiment that his parents, standing alongside Cesar Chavez all those years ago and campaigning for the rights of farm workers, would undoubtedly recognize – and of which they would surely be proud.

Kieran Mulvaney has written, broadcast and podcasted about boxing for HBO, Showtime, ESPN and Reuters, among other outlets. He also writes regularly for National Geographic, has written several books on the Arctic and Antarctic, and is at his happiest hanging out with wild polar bears. His website is