The best new book of the holiday season for MMA and boxing fans is From the Fields to the Garden II: A second chapter in the life story of legendary cutman Jacob “Stitch” Duran.
In a few days, I’ll be posting an exclusive interview with Stitch.
Here’s an exciting excerpt from the book — with special thanks to Stitch and co-author Zac Robinson for permission to post it on my blog.
We made our way through Camp Morehead and chatted with almost everyone there. One young man asked me if I ever heard of Danny “Little Red” Lopez, WBC Featherweight champion. Of course I had. “He was a great Latin fighter in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” I said.
Turns out, Danny Lopez was his grandfather. I could see the pride in his eyes knowing that I remembered him. Moments like these are what made our tour special because we were able to give these American Heroes some positive memories.
Another great story while in Bagram happened at the chow hall. I was sitting next to a soldier from Poland. He said, “Stitch, you know, I studied Brazilian jujitsu and that has given me the calming effect to accept death. As I hear these bullets buzzing by me, I tell myself, if I go, I am taking you with me.”
Strong words from a soldier that was there as part of the coalition. I was mesmerized by his comment. What mental strength these soldiers have to have in order to survive in the battlefield.
Another time, Amir, Jake and I were walking around the market on base. A soldier from Croatia recognized us and wanted to take a photo. We took one, and then he turned to Jake and Amir, “No offense to you guys, but I want to take a picture with Stitch.”
I guess he recognized me wrapping the hands and working the corners of Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, the famous MMA fighter from his home country. As we had our arms around each other and ready for a photo, he glanced up at me and said, “I’m not a fighter. I’m a killer.”
I believed him. These soldiers deal with life and death on a regular basis.
By the end of the tour we were all feeling quite important as we flew from base to base in Blackhawks. Our next visit was NKC, which is the home to ISAF. ISAF is a NATO-led security mission. I felt like I was in the movie Blackhawk Down as we closed in on our destination. The compound is located in Kabul. Once again, we flew over the area and I kept my eyes open looking for any unusual movement. I did have the complete confidence in the gunners, but I couldn’t keep myself from scanning the ground.
Our scheduled landing was in the center of a soccer field, and there was a game going on as the choppers approached. The athletes ran to a safe place before the two Blackhawks landed and blew dust everywhere.
When we approached the field, armed guards rushed to their positions and ushered us into a safe place where we would meet and greet with soldiers who came to support us.
I’d wrapped so many hands by now, but I saved enough tape and gauze to wrap the hands of a couple soldiers who had covered our backs throughout the tour. It was my way of showing them my respect and appreciation for taking care of us.
One was Major Hood, a man who took pride in his uniform and was the one who made things happen for us. He always kept a stern face, so I made it my goal to make him smile. I gave him the knockout wrap, and we posed for a picture with both of us smiling.
Working with so many fighters in the past, I have learned how to read their eyes. Eyes say everything! Sergeant Perkins was one of these fighters. He’d been with us during the whole tour. He had seen me wrap dozens of soldiers’ hands. He walked up to me with his M-16 hanging over his shoulder. “Can I ask you a question,” he sheepishly asked.
I knew what he wanted and beat him to the punch. I stopped him in the middle of his question. “I would be honored to wrap your hands.”
I did wrap his hands, and this became one of those special memories from my trip. These two soldiers gave us everything they had and that was a small way for me to thank them.
We finished the stay at ISAF when the staff ran flags up the pole. Each flag was used during a combat mission. Together, we folded them in military style and then they were gifted to us as a token of their appreciation.
It was such an honor to receive the flags.
The Blackhawks had arrived earlier than scheduled to pick us up and take us back to Bagram. The fear of being parked too long in the middle of the soccer field was a major concern because of incoming mortars. We had to cut our tour short and rush to the two Blackhawks.
As we ran towards the choppers, it was dark and all the lights were off. Despite being there for over a week, from time to time I still slipped into civilian mode. We strapped in, and during the lift off I decided I wanted to take a photo of the gunner manning his 50-caliber machine gun. I realized that our tour was basically over, and I think a part of me wanted to hold onto it. I gave it no thought and made a huge mistake by taking the photo. Both gunners had their night vision goggles on. The flash screwed up their night vision. Though I could not see his eyes, his body language said it all.
The lights were off because of the fear of having incoming directed at the two choppers. At that moment I recognized what a dumb thing I just did. I’d screwed up their vision for a few moments, and even worse, I could have given our position away. With my headphones on and listening to Santana, I just sat there like a little kid, punished for screwing up. Thankfully, we were able to fly out of there without incident.
Another incredible part of our trip was when we got to meet USMC four-star General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Dunford who at the time was Commandant of the Marine Corps International Security Force. As of writing, he is Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff. You don’t get much higher than that.
He was at Camp Phoenix for a ceremony where the base was changing hands from one General to another. Security was extremely high because of all the dignitaries present. I could see guards on rooftops and around the perimeter of the event.
After the ceremony, we were invited to meet the General. At the party, there was a long line of officers waiting to meet him. We picked a place to wait, loaded our plates with food, and chatted with some of the guests.
Soon we were escorted to the front of the line where we met and talked to General Dunford. Our presence there meant so much to the troops’ morale that the General thanked us personally for taking the time to visit. We finished by taking pictures with him and many others.
During our three-day stay at Camp Phoenix, we had a chance to relax a bit, see the base, and spend time with the troops. Goze also managed to get enough of a strong signal to host MMAJunkie live. I’m sure it’s the only MMA show to ever be live from Camp Phoenix.
On our last day in Bagram, we had some free time. While Jake was shopping at the market by the entrance to the base, there was a huge car explosion. Jake ran back to meet with us near the bunkers, and said he felt the blast and the tin roofs of the market were shaking and rattling.
Sergeant Perkins and his team immediately assembled. They were the first responders and quickly reported to the scene. It turned out that the explosion had killed something like ten people. It doesn’t make sense to me. One moment people are walking around shopping, and the next they are killed in an explosion. It just isn’t fair.
We were relieved to see the team come back safe. We asked Sergeant Perkins what happened. He simply replied with, “The Special Forces have neutralized the situation.”
I don’t know what that exactly meant, but knowing the capability of the Special Forces I understood that it didn’t look good for the bad guys.
We had met some wonderful people on our tour, and our sendoff was an unexpected surprise. A group of supporters that we had hung out with had set up a festive area leading up to the flight line with lights and music. They had learned that I was a big Santana fan, so they had his music playing in the background. We hugged everyone that came to say good-bye and thanked them for having such a wonderful time.
With flak vest and helmets on, we boarded the C-17 with hundreds of soldiers who had finished their tours in Afghanistan, and headed back to Manas. We were proud to be flying home with these heroes and looking forward to our two beers and watching the Cain Velasquez/Junior Dos Santos fight with them.
We all assembled at the main Rec Center/bar to see the fights. It was a festive night as the soldiers enjoyed their two beers.
UFC 166 was held at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, and transmitted to all the Armed Forces worldwide. What a night of fights. The one that stole the show was Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez. I’d worked with both fighters, so I knew it was going to be a barnburner, and it was. Gilbert won the decision in an all-out battle. After that, Daniel Cormier took a decision over Roy Nelson setting up the main event.
That fight left no question that Cain Velasquez was indeed a true Mexican warrior. He stopped Dos Santos in a grueling fight that had Cain connecting on 274 total strikes to Junior’s 62. The punishment that Dos Santos took was hard to watch as his face turned into a swollen mess.
It was a huge win for Cain, as it was almost two years earlier when dos Santos had taken the belt from him at Fox’s debut event in Anaheim.
It was a high-energy night that we finished by taking pictures with the soldiers. It was a nice way to end our trip.
After eleven days on tour, we would be returning home with a new respect for the men and women in uniform. They sacrifice their lives so that we can live in a free nation.
Months later, our newfound friend and now brother, Jim “Silverback” Mahurin, attended our annual MMAJunkie gathering in Las Vegas. With approval from Lieutenant Colonel Moses, he surprised George, Goze, and I with a (CIB) Combat Infantryman’s Badge that is worn by soldiers who have seen combat. In front of all the MMAJunkie family, we proudly received our pins. Along with my Autism pin, I proudly wear my CIB pin on my cornerman jacket in honor of the men and women we met and all the men and women who fight for our country.
Use this Amazon affiliate link to pre-order From the Fields to the Garden II for Kindle.