Guide to being a Cutman for MMA Athletes

Cutmen at an MMA fight are responsible for treating a fighters lacerations or swelling in the one-minute break between rounds. Therefore, a cutman’s duties include getting the fighters to perform at their highest level of ability by minimising the effects of cuts and lacerations that could hinder their performance. Also, if cuts become too severe, it may lead to a fight being called off by a referee or doctor so in some situations a cutman’s work could make the difference between winning and losing a contest. 

All major MMA promotions will provide corners with their cutmen; a smaller show may provide one cutman per fight and rely on the chance of both fighters requiring a cutman from not occurring. However, at smaller regional shows a cutman may not be provided at all, and it will be expected that the coach or cornerman of a fighter will fill this role. 

Legendary cutman Jacob "Stitch" Duran going to work.

Learning the skills required to be a cutman can be through an informal apprenticeship where you could help out a more experience cutman in their duties and learn on the job. In this case, you will have more success finding experienced cutmen in boxing clubs and venues rather than in the MMA circuit. Otherwise, a few formal training courses exist online and around the world that attempt to pass on the knowledge while providing an “Official Cutman” certification upon completion. The article below will give an overall guide as to what is required, but real insight will come through working corners and getting experience 60 seconds at a time. 


The equipment of a Cutman

The lists of equipment for a cutman will be as follows and may include some crossover with the equipment you would be expected to carry as a cornerman. Enswell, coagulant, vaseline, gauze, cotton swabs & towels. 

Enswell

The Enswell (Sometimes called an End Swell or No Swell) is the most distinctive piece of equipment in a cutman’s toolkit, and It is merely a flat piece of metal that is kept cold and used to apply pressure to cuts or swelling on a fighters face. Different styles and variations on design exist for enswells, but their essential use is all the same and can come down to personal preference as to what type you would use. As you want to keep the enswell cold for its use, it should be kept stored in your bucket of ice on fight night, and a thin layer of vaseline can be applied to the enswell to prevent the metal from being so cold that it would stick to a fighter’s skin when used. In the event that you cannot find an enswell to use any small piece of metal can be used as a makeshift enswell providing that it doesn’t have any sharp edges that could cause a cut. A simple bent spoon is always a good option that is available to use if necessary.


Coagulant

A coagulant is a medicine used to assist in clotting the blood to stop or slow the flow of bleeding from a cut. The most common and available coagulant used by cutmen is adrenaline 1:1000 or epinephrine. The epinephrine can be applied to cotton swabs and then pressed directly onto a cut to in-between rounds. It can come in bottles that are designed to be used for injections so it can be useful to transfer the liquid into an eyedropper bottle which is easier to apply to a cotton swab. Also, you may need to get the adrenaline from a doctor or nurse, so if it is unavailable, a hemostatic gauze is also another option to use. Hemostatic gauze is a medicated gauze strip that contains a coagulant in it to promote blood clotting that usually is either zeolite or kaolin. The hemostatic gauze can be cut into smaller pieces that can be applied directly to a fighters cuts in between rounds. Other coagulants do exist, but adrenaline is the most commonly used by cutmen, and hemostatic dressings may be the most easily available over the counter option available from pharmacy or military surplus stores. 


Cotton Swabs

A cotton swab is used as the application method for the coagulant and to apply pressure against a cut. Many cutmen will use a wristband that they store multiple cotton swabs in that they have prepared before a fight. Cotton swabs can also help in treating a bloody nose as they will be able to fit up a fighters nostril and help with stopping the bleeding. The cotton swabs used by famed cutman Jacob “Stitch” Duran are not your regular swabs used for cleaning out the ear. Instead, he will purchase cotton balls roll them out as much as possible and then cut and attach them to smaller cotton swabs to help bulk them out so they can contain more adrenaline and cover a larger area (Bartlett, 2008). 


Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum jelly is more commonly known by the brand name vaseline and is an essential piece of kit for any corner to have. Vaseline will be applied to a fighters face before they enter the ring or cage as a preventative measure to avoid cuts by helping gloves slide off the fighters face rather than sticking and breaking the skin. When dealing with an existing cut, vaseline will be applied entirely over the wound as a filler to help “seal” it up and help prevent further bleeding. When using vaseline as a filler, it can be kept cold which will make it harder and more malleable, but this can also make it more difficult for a doctor to clean and stitch together after the fight. The vaseline can also be mixed with adrenaline 1:1000 to provide an additional application of the coagulant to the wound. 


Towels

One large white towel should be kept for wiping down a fighters shoulders and back and in the unfortunate situation where it may need to be thrown into the ring or cage to halt a contest. Multiple smaller face or hand towels should also be in the toolkit and kept damp on fight night for use in wiping fighters face clean of any blood or vaseline between rounds or at the end of the fight. The smaller wet towel will be easier to handle and manipulate along the curves of a fighter’s face than the standard large towel which has a rough texture when kept dry.


Other Equipment

A cutman may use various other pieces of equipment with a lot of crossover with standard corners supplies. Latex gloves are one piece of additional equipment. Wearing gloves is simply a hygiene issue as dealing with open cuts you want to keep your hands as clean as possible to prevent infection. A bucket will be required to help store all the other piece of the kit and taken to ringside. Fishing tackle toolboxes can also be useful to store all the smaller pieces of equipment between fights. Icepacks to help keep your enswell cold or apply to a fighter are also helpful to keep in your tool kit. Plastic zip lock bags make for cheap and useful ice packs as you can fill them with ice you get at the venue. Ziplock bags should be double wrapped to help prevent them from accidentally opening and spilling ice on the floor when used. 


What to do In-Between Rounds

During the closing thirty seconds of a round, you should begin to assess what work will need to be done during the break. While a cut could still occur from the last punch in the last second of a round, you should always begin to form a general plan before the bell rings. After the bell rings, you will then need to asses the severity of cuts as soon as you are allowed into the ring or cage. A judgment will then need to be made about what will be worked on during the minute break with priority going to preventing the fight from being stopped and then too, which cut impairs the fighter the most (Matuszak, 2015). In general working out how you will work with other members of the fighters corner who will be wanting to provide technical instruction should be discussed backstage before the show starts. 

The following image is a guide to help asses the severity of the cuts according to their placement on the fighters face. The most common and severe cut you will deal with are ones running horizontally along the eyebrow. These cuts are dangerous as they can bleed into the eye and obscure the fighter’s vision and if they are deep enough they can damage important nerves (Gelber, 2016). 


Laceration Zones

Cuts that have occurred within zones 1 and 2 are the most serious and may need you to consider ending the bout. Cuts within all other zones will require careful inspection of their depth to make a judgement call

SUMMARY OF LACERATION ZONES

  1. tarsal plate, lacrimal sac
  2. vermilion border
  3. supraorbital/supratrochlear nerves
  4. nasal bridge
  5. infraorbital nerve
  6. nasolabial fold with facial artery
  7. superficial temporal artery, facial nerve (at the zygomatic bone)
  8. facial artery at masseter
  9. mental nerve
    (Gelber, 2016).


Working with Cuts

The number one technique to use when dealing with cuts or swelling is to apply cold direct pressure to the affected area to compress the blood vessels and help contribute to the clotting that needs to occur. Doing too much else can end up making things worse, so unless you are confident in what you are doing or find yourself in a unique situation, it would be best to stick to the basics. Even without adrenaline to apply to the wound merely adhering to the basic principle of applying cold direct pressure will be the most important thing you can do. 

The first thing to do when dealing with a cut is to quickly clean the area with your small wet towel, which should be cold from being kept in the ice bucket. Then as soon as possible, applying pressure to the cuts with gauze or your cotton swabs soaked in adrenaline should be done if you have them. You could also place the enswell on top of the swab to apply pressure and cold at the same time. When the break is coming to an end, then you will remove the gauze or swab to apply vaseline to the cut. The vaseline should be used over and into the cut to act as a filler and should be seen to seal up the wound to the best of its ability. 


Treating Nosebleeds

Nosebleeds will be another common injury you will deal with as a cutman. Again wiping the blood away from the nose with your small wet towel should be done straight away. Then immediately placing an adrenaline-soaked cotton swab up the bleeding nose of the fighter while applying pressure to hold it in place from the outside of the nose should be done. It would help if you were careful not to pressure both nostrils as you still want the fighter to be able to breathe but as you work on stopping the bleeding advise the fighter to breathe through their mouth, so they do not swallow blood. You should also caution a fighter no not blow their nose if you suspect that the nose is broken. 


Dealing with Swelling

As with cuts, the most important technique you can do is to apply cold direct pressure to the wound using your enswell o if you didn’t have one then even an ice pack will do. Some cutmen will advise to rub swelling out to try and lessen it, and I have seen this used to move swelling away from the eye, but this is a technique that Jacob “Stitch” Duran strongly advises against as it can make the swelling worse (Markarian, 2010). Cold direct pressure to any swelling will still be your most used technique in dealing with swelling. Vaseline should also be applied to any swelling before the break ends to help with reducing the chances of the skin tearing on a swollen area and turning into a cut. 


Other Duties of a Cutman

Dealing with cuts between rounds is the primary duty of a cutman, but other skills may also be useful to master and cover the scope of a cutman. Wrapping hands would be the number one skill cutmen would also be expected to have, and I will cover this in another article. Along with wrapping hands, general skills in applying sports tape to other parts of the athlete will also be useful and general first aid skills to help assist in fighters well being after the fight will be suitable to acquire. 

General people skills are also useful for a cutman to have as they will need to negotiate with corners to figure out how they will operate in between rounds. On top of that, giving the fighter confidence that they are working with is also helpful as they can help calm them in-between rounds and provide them with confidence backstage going into a fight. Part of the trust you can instil in a fighter can be done by building a reputation as being the best at your craft so that when they know you are working with them, they feel confident in your abilities.


Sixty Seconds to Work

Being a cutman will always be a pressure-filled role as you have sixty seconds to work within where you will need to prioritise what you do and work effectively with the rest of the corner. It may be repeated twice or four times within a fight. With that in mind have a good handle on your equipment and what you will do with them ahead of time will make you better prepared when the time to work on a cut comes. 

If you spend time in a fight gym, you may want to keep your toolkit in your gym bag. If a fighter gets cut during practice or sparring, then it may allow you to work with a cut without the pressure of the 1-minute time limit and gain some experience. Otherwise except for the few cutmen courses that are available then first-hand experience working on fights will be your best teacher or if you are lucky you will be able to find someone willing to let you shadow them and learn the craft. 

Dealing with cuts is all about helping your fighter be the best they can be and also keeping them as safe as possible during their fight. The above article is a good rough guide, but if this is a topic that you are serious about mastering, then you should seek further instruction, particularly from medical professionals. 

(Although this didn’t fit anywhere in the article I thought it was interesting to include at the end. While researching this article, I found a study they did on fighters in the fifties on sewing a single stitch to fighters cuts between rounds which I found fascinating: “Closure of Boxing Lacerations Between Rounds”. )


References

Bartlett, S. (2008). A look at the tools Stitch Duran uses to stop the bleeding. Retrieved 26 January 2020, from https://www.espn.com/espnmag/story?section=magazine&id=3686568

Duran, J. (2008). Jacob “Stitch” Duran Presents DVD: Giving the Fighter One More Round [DVD]. America: Jacob Duran.

Fleischer, N. (1951). How to Second and How to Manage a Boxer. Nat Fleischer.

Gelber, J. (2016). The Ultimate Guide to Preventing and Treating MMA Injuries. ECW Press.

Markarian, R. (2010). “Stitch” Duran: This Cut Man Gets Priority Position. Retrieved 26 January 2020, from https://tss.ib.tv/boxing/articles-of-2010/11826-qstitchq-duran-this-cut-man-gets-priority-position

Matuszak, S. (2015). UFC 189 From a Cutman’s Perspective | FIGHTLAND. Retrieved 26 January 2020, from http://fightland.vice.com/blog/ufc-189-from-a-cutmans-perspective

MMA Junkie Staff. (2013). Alex Davis, Jacob ‘Stitch’ Duran discuss the science of the cutman. Retrieved 26 January 2020, from https://mmajunkie.usatoday.com/2013/07/alex-davis-jacob-stitch-duran-discuss-the-science-of-the-cutman

Reddy, L. (2019). Adrenaline, Vaseline and composure – Kerry Kayes on the art of being a boxing cuts man. Retrieved 26 January 2020, from https://www.bbc.com/sport/boxing/47026147