Book Review: ‘From the Fields to the Garden’

The most common type of sports book – at least in regards to MMA – is the straight narrative biography.  Why is that?  The straight narrative is the easiest to write and, for the reader, easiest to follow, and the biography aspect is a safe hook that draws in the eyeballs.  What matters then is the strength of the hook, i.e. if the subject under scrutiny has witnessed events from a compelling enough perspective.  For “From the Fields to the Garden”, that subject is Jacob “Stitch” Duran, the man you’ve seen a million times in the Octagon patching up battered fighters with gauze and judiciously placed Vaseline in between rounds.  Has Stitch been around and seen it all?  You bet your forehead laceration he has.

Stitch and writer Zac Robinson have put together a pretty decent book packed with insight, and the story encompasses everything from the famous cut man’s younger years in the military (and even younger years as a migrant worker) to his transformation into the best cageside friend a fighter could ask for.  (The “From the Fields” part of the title comes his time picking cotton; the “to the Garden” refers to Madison Square Garden).  The narrative goes back and forth between his work in MMA and his work in pro boxing – apparently Stitch and Wladimir Klitschko are thisclose – but there’s plenty there on everything from the UFC (UFC 33 was his first taste of Octagon blood) to Affliction.  Here’s a sample of some of the tidbits that stood out:

-At UFC 54, both Terry Martin and Tra Telligman suffered crushing knockouts.  As one of the first to reach their respective sides once the cage doors were re-opened, Stitch was surprised to find them snoring.  Loudly.  Turns out that when someone is badly KO’d, snoring is not an uncommon reaction.

-At UFC Fight Night 7 Stitch was working Karo Parisyan’s corner for his bout against Drew Fickett.  In between rounds, the Armenian was mentally breaking.  Parisyan’s corner men (of which included Manny Gamburyan) turned to Stitch for help – not for any cut, but for actual fight guidance.  Though initially reluctant to give any advice (“I can’t tell you what to do… My job isn’t to give instructions.  My job is to work on the cuts.”), Stitch caved in.  “Listen, you’re doing real well on the stand up.  Stay on your stand up this last round and you’ll be fine.”  Parisyan went on to take the unanimous decision.

-Being a cut man is far from a thankless job when it comes to personal gratitude.  For his efforts in helping Parisyan, Stitch got an invite from the fighter’s dad to have dinner with the Parisyan family, and Fedor Emelianenko had Stitch join him and his entourage in the locker room for a post-fight shot of vodka.  And as you can imagine, superstitious fighters who won after Stitch wrapped their hands of course wanted him to wrap their hands forevermore to recapture his perceived “good luck”.

How does “From the Fields to the Garden” stack up against the other MMA books out there?  Well, it’s not quite “A Fighters Heart” (by Sam Sheridan) or “Blood in the Cage” (by L. Jon Wertheim), but certainly no “Made in America” (by Matt Hughes and Michael Malice).  Therefore, I recommend it.

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