Why you should care
Because being punched in the face is something very few of us plan for.
Jacob “Stitch” Duran
It was a blessing made in heaven to be in Creed. I got a call that they wanted me to be in the film, and I didn’t have to audition. I was the cutman for Michael B. Jordan, and what a great time I had. I spent six weeks wrapping his hands and talking to him one-on-one. I told the director, Ryan Coogler, “If I see things that don’t make sense, I’m going to bring them up to you,” which he appreciated.
When I got the script, I saw that my character’s name was Marcel. I thought, “I don’t know anybody named Marcel. How can I change that?” When it was time for Sylvester Stallone’s character, Rocky Balboa, to introduce me to Michael’s character, Adonis, Rocky said, “This is Stitch, the best cutman in Philadelphia.” Well, who’s going to tell Rocky no? We kept the line. The next day, we were up in the ring, and I said, “Sly, thank you for throwing my name out there.” He said of course; it had to be authentic.
The fifth week working with Michael, who’s just a super kid and super humble, I said, “Michael, I like the way you are right now, but if you ever change I’m gonna kick your ass.” There’s a mental game in working with fighters, so as I was wrapping his hands in his dressing room, I said, “You’re doing such a great job in this movie, I’m gonna knight you as an actual fighter.” In Creed II, there was a moment where it’s the last fight of the movie and Florian [Munteanu], who plays Viktor Drago, and Michael were exhausted. Michael is down on the canvas, I’m there taking care of him, and he’s like, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” I said, “Michael, here’s where the mind takes over.” I put him in that fighter mentality: We gotta finish that scene. And he did it.
There are no schools to learn how to be a cutman, and I kind of followed the format of the cutman trainers before me. I grew up as a farmworker in California, in a migrant camp. If you ate it, I picked it for you — almonds, figs, nectarines. I dropped out of Merced College and joined the Air Force, and when I was stationed in Thailand I saw my first muay thai fight.
When I got let go by the UFC after doing the interview where I spoke out against the Reebok sponsor deal … it created opportunities for me.
After the military, I moved to Oakland and opened my own kickboxing school, American School of Kickboxing. But I wanted to focus on being a cutman, so I put in for a job transfer to Las Vegas. I had two weeks to move here. I took a $25,000 pay cut and put my family in a U-Haul. I knew Dana White [current UFC president] through my gym, and one day he called and told me he had bought the UFC. Working for the UFC literally changed my life.
When I got let go by the UFC after doing the interview where I spoke out against the Reebok sponsor deal, which was bad for the fans and the fighters, it created opportunities for me, because I was speaking out against unfair practices. It’s still creating opportunities. I’m with Final Fight Championship, a new group in Las Vegas founded by Orsat Zovko that just signed a three-year deal with Caesars Entertainment. They gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I used to travel all the time, and now I get to stay home, working fights on Friday and spending time with my family on weekends.
When I have a fight, I always start by ironing all my stuff. I’m a big fanatic when it comes to ironing; I don’t like wrinkles. I’ll iron my outfit, and then I’ll go through my inventory — my gauze and tape and cut medicine. When I get into the dressing room, that’s when everything starts, when the fighters come in. I get the gauze and tape prepared to start wrapping their hands. I get my bucket with ice and medications prepared. Once it’s time to fight, I go out and take care of these guys like they’re my sons and daughters. I’m very good at the psychological aspect of it.
Then I got the call for Creed II. To play myself as a cutman at this magnitude, it doesn’t get any better than that. Creed II is going to be astronomical. I’m going to the premiere, on Nov. 14, in New York, and taking my youngest son and my wife. I’m on top of the world. I’m a proud Chicano who grew up as a farm worker, and I didn’t want to ask for anything, but it’s all been given to me.
As told to OZY reporter Michelle Bruton.