Top boxing cutman honored by chance to inspire

sjansen@mercedsunstar.comJune 4, 2013 

BEA AHBECK CASSON/bahbeck@mercedsunstar.com Jacob “Stitch” Duran poses for a portrait in Merced Thursday. (5-30-13).

BEA AHBECK

— Jacob "Stitch" Duran's career as a cutman in boxing and the Ultimate Fighting Championship has allowed him to travel all over the world.

Duran, 61, has worked with some of the greatest fighters. His career has given him an opportunity to have a part in movies with Hollywood stars like Sylvester Stallone and Kevin James.

However, the highlight of his career came when he was asked to be a commencement speaker at Friday's Le Grand High graduation.

"It's the biggest honor bestowed on me during my entire career," said Duran, who grew up in Planada and graduated from Le Grand in 1970. "To come back home and give kids the encouragement I wish I had. I'm going to try to put them on the same path I took. I'm going to talk from my heart."

Each year the Le Grand senior class is given the opportunity to choose a keynote speaker for graduation. The administration then reaches out to the person selected to try to make it happen.

"He was excited to come back," Le Grand Principal Javier Martinez said. "We're delighted to have him on board. He's pretty good at working his magic in the corners to keep fighters upright. We're hoping he can use some of his magic to uplift the graduates."

Learning the craft

Duran's path started in Planada, where he grew up working on farms. After graduating from Le Grand, he had a short stint at Merced College, where he tried to play baseball.

"Getting to school in the morning was easy because I could catch a ride with friends," Duran said. "I just couldn't find a ride home after practice. Eventually I had to quit, and I decided to join the Air Force."

After his time in the service, Duran moved back to California, eventually opening a kickboxing gym. While training fighters, he began learning the craft of a cutman — the person in the corner armed with swabs, Vaseline, gauze and other tools used to help control bleeding and keep the swelling down during fights.

Much of what Duran learned was picked up on the job.

Duran moved to Las Vegas in 1994 and quickly built his reputation in boxing. One of his biggest nights came in 1997 when he amazingly was able to keep Raul Marquez in a fight with Keith Mullings.

"He had two gashes on his forehead, two big cuts on his cheek and one on his nose," Duran said. "He was a bloody mess, but I kept him in the game. There's not many people who could have kept him fighting. Marquez needed 75 stitches after that fight."

Making move to UFC

In 2001 Duran joined the UFC and has become one of the most recognizable figures in the sport.

"People come up to me all the time in restaurants or airports," Duran said. "I love it. When we traveled to Brazil for a fight, the customs agent said, 'Stitch, welcome to Brazil.' "

Duran started out with UFC 32 and since has worked every UFC event (UFC 160 took place last weekend in Las Vegas) unless there was a boxing conflict.

Since then he's worked with the top talent in the UFC, including fighters like Randy Couture, Brock Lesnar, Anderson Silva, B.J. Penn and Jon Jones.

"I'm very comfortable doing what I'm doing now," Duran said. "I've seen every cut. I've seen every knockout. I know the importance of what I do with fighters.

"It's not only about the bleeding. There's a psychological aspect to it too. They know I'll take care of them. I'll stop the bleeding so they can go out and do what they have to do."

His job doesn't go unnoticed.

"Having Stitch in my corner means everything," UFC fighter Victor Belfort said. "He does everything good. Just looking into his eyes, he just gives you this look that makes you comfortable and calm. When he's wrapping my hands before a fight, the words he uses, it's very calming. He's the best."

Side benefits

There are definitely great opportunities that come with being the premier cutman in the UFC and when you work with boxers like Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko. Duran's relationship with the Klitschko brothers landed him a part in the movie "Ocean's Eleven" (2001).

Sylvester Stallone selected him for a part in "Rocky Balboa" (2006). He was in Kevin James' recent movie "Here Comes the Boom" (2012).

On Wednesday, Duran was part of the filming of the UFC's reality TV show "The Ultimate Fighter" in Las Vegas. He's been with the show for all 18 seasons.

Duran's career has taken him to places like Canada, Australia, England, Ireland, Japan and Sweden.

"I've been all over the world," Duran said. "I've been to the greatest cities. I've been in the greatest venues and seen the greatest fans. It's been tremendous.

"I grew up as a farmworker in Planada. I remember being in Tokyo, Japan. We're in the middle of the Tokyo Dome in front of 70,000 people. I remember thinking at that moment, 'Look at this. How is a kid from Planada in the center of this action?' "

Friday night Duran found himself back home, away from the glitz and glamour of the UFC as he spoke to the graduates from his alma mater.

The message he had for the kids was if they were able to work hard enough, if they're able to fight through the pain and go one more round, they too will succeed in life.

Reporter Shawn Jansen can be reached at (209) 385-2462 or sjansen@mercedsunstar.com.

'Having Stitch in my corner means everything. … Just looking into his eyes, he just gives you this look that makes you comfortable and calm.' — UFC fighter Victor Belfort

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