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Exclusive Interview with Irish UFC Cutman Joseph Clifford

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Despite the fact that much of their work frequently goes by relatively unheralded by many fans of the sport, the role of cutman is vital to MMA. In fact, the term ‘cutman’ itself is somewhat misleading, as they do more than just what we see in that minute in between rounds. One of these cutmen who works for the UFC is Ireland’s Joseph Clifford. I had the opportunity to speak with him at length about a number of topics recently.

Obviously when people think of UFC cutmen, Jacob “Stitch” Duran and his recent situation comes up. Joseph told me he doesn’t know anything about his situation and, as such, he can’t comment on something he doesn’t know about. He did say that he worked with Duran before and that he was a very nice man, describing him as the “icon for cutmen internationally.” On the subject of the working for a promotion such as the UFC, many wonder what they provide to officials such as the cutmen. “Everything” Joseph told me, “Absolutely everything. Whether I’m working internationally for the UFC, Cage Warriors, BAMMA, all of those shows provide accommodation as standard and then you get paid daily for expenses so you’re not cutting into the money you earn for the week.”

Having worked for many companies in various sports during his career, Joseph has visited countries all over the world. I took this opportunity to ask if anywhere stood out. “I worked on the World Series of Boxing in Azerbaijan.” He answered “35 boxers, 5 coaching staff and the majority of them came from Russia, Belarus and Azerbaijan. I was working with that team for 5 and a half to 6 months just on the Dagestan border in Azerbaijan. It was different socially and religiously. It was very isolated and the people living outside of the Olympic complex we were working in were really poor.” He went on to add that “The hard thing was, one guy had broken English and the interpreter only came out intermittently if there was a team meeting on. So other than that I was left to my own devices to try to communicate in Russian. The weird thing was, I ended up as their physical trainer so I worked as that, a sports rehabilitator and a cutman.” Concluding the story, he said that, on the days off they got “There was nowhere to really go. It was up in the mountains, there were no bars, no cinemas, it was the most different place I’ve worked compared to what we’re used to as westerners.”

Another question often wondered is that of the worst cut or injury these experienced officials have seen. After a little thought, Joseph replied “I haven’t really seen anything too gruesome in terms of lacerations. We’ve inherited the name ‘cutman’ but it isn’t really what we look after. Lacerations are what we look after – they’re caused by blunt force trauma, cuts are caused by knives. I’ve come across bad lacerations but the worst situations for me are concussions if someone gets badly knocked out. That person needs to get looked after as fast as possible and unfortunately the standard in many places internationally is so poor, especially in second or third world countries. We (as cutmen) are generally not called in to look after that unless there may be bleeding, but we go in and help the attending EMT’s and paramedics, usually on smaller shows.” He elaborated further on the subject of concussion saying “I have friends in boxing who’ve suffered it and I’ve witnessed the effects of head trauma so I don’t like that injury. The way I see it: a laceration heals with stitches or whatever, but the long term effects of concussion are a whole different story so that’s the worst injury for me. It’s the stuff you don’t see that’s the worst thing for me.”

Fighter safety is always a big issue in MMA and for Joseph it’s the most important element of the sport and runs his own cutman course. “We started this whole thing: Cutman. The reason is, my first experience in a professional dressing room was to see a journeyman fighter with a laceration across his nose, bleeding profusely and, because he was a journeyman he had no cornermen with him to maximise his earnings. He was basically just left in the dressing room bleeding. I didn’t like that whole scene or how it looked. It was so wrong. The more I worked in professional boxing and in the corners I saw the sheer lack of proper sanitation, hygiene etc.” So Joseph, who earned a BSc in Applied Health Sciences, decided to take action. “I put the cutman course together to basically create an A-Z for people to arrive at the side of the ring and attend to a wound, nosebleed etc effectively, using evidence based treatment because they were using all sorts of obscure stuff.” This was initially implemented for boxing, as MMA was still in its infancy. When it began to grow, Joseph saw the opportunity to cross over, with fighter safety, again, at the front of his mind. “What we’ve been doing over the years is trying to put together an international standard because nobody is doing what we’re doing. Most recently, we had a girl fly over from Canada to do the course because she couldn’t find anywhere offering a course in North America that encompassed what we teach here. She stayed for 2 weeks with the team doing the course and the first aid elements of it etc. Basically, the whole theme of this is fighter safety and fighter care first. We don’t endorse the use of dangerous drugs such as adrenaline 1/1000, we use natural haemostatic agents etc. We’re all about using real first aid; combat first aid specific to combat sports.

Joseph took his cutman teachings to the next level, getting involved with the Dublin Fire Brigade Institute and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and then to the UK. “I flew to SAFE MMA meetings in London and spoke to Izzy Carnwath and Dr. Mike Loosemore, the head doctor over there. I presented the case of what we’re trying to achieve. They liked the idea and wanted to grasp it. I asked for their stamp of approval so we could do this with them in the UK, work there and educate people. They thought that was a great idea and they approve our cutman course now. So, when we work an event, we have a standard that has to be met: 4 EMT’s, an ambulance available, doctors etc. What we’ve created is very unique. Nobody is doing what we’re doing internationally. There’s 14 of us in Cutman and we’re all very proud of it.”

So what advice would Joseph give a prospective cutman? “The first thing I’d do is download the Red Cross manual online and look at wound care in terms of arterial bleeds, venial bleeds, general wounds, different types of wounds; lacerations, abrasions or cuts. Then have a look at epistaxis which is nosebleeds, the different types of nosebleeds, septal haematomas, then general haematomas which are swelling and gain an idea on how to treat those using evidence based treatment on what actually does work. If you start with that, you have a good foundation. Then I recommend to take the first aid and wound care course we’ve started up in conjunction with the Irish Heart Foundation. It lets you hit the ground running with the cutman course because it’s a requirement for the whole team. Oh, and practice handwrapping. Wrap thousands of hands to get really efficient at it. So, first aid, wound care and hand wrapping. That’s a good start. Practice like a demon.”

Joseph is not just a cutman, he also works with Team Ryano whenever head coach Andy Ryan needs him to, often as a boxing coach, a sport which he used to compete in himself. As of yet, neither Team Ryano fighter currently signed to the UFC, Neil Seery or Paul Redmond, have fights scheduled for the UFC’s upcoming event in Dublin. “I’d imagine because Neil and Paul are two Dublin boys they’re in with a great shout of being on the card.” Joseph said. “The thing with Neil Seery is, he’s entertainment all day long. You’ll never get a bad fight involving Neil. That’s what he does, he goes out there and entertains. He is a junkyard dog, he loves to fight. Neil hasn’t had an easy fight in the UFC, he’s been in there with some tough guys and he’s proved he belongs. For Paul, he’s had a bad run so far in the UFC, but it’s not a reflection on who he is as a fighter, he just hasn’t had the breaks yet. But a UFC card is put together on entertainment value and any fighter that comes out of Team Ryano, I guarantee they’re pure entertainment. I hope to see the two boys on the UFC Dublin card.”

Conor McGregor is the name everyone thinks of when MMA in Ireland is discussed, but, despite his huge Irish support, there are still some in Ireland, and indeed abroad, who criticise him and his sport. “Conor McGregor has opened the door and shown the way for young fighters.” Joseph began. “There’s an awful lot of talent in this small island. Professional sport is entertainment. Conor McGregor is entertainment. Who cares what these people seriously think? Nationally it’s a shame if we don’t celebrate our successes. It irritates me to hear or see someone pulling a fellow Irish person down and not giving them the accolades they deserve. Celebrate the successes, they come and go quick and fast.”

Away from all of that, Joseph is involved in another project called “He Ain’t Heavy”, which he explained a bit about to me. “My brother Ciaran is physically and intellectually disabled, he has very basic communication but he’ll tell you a lot through his eyes and facial expressions. We’ve been running since he was a child and in 2009 we entered a 10k race in Phoenix Park in Dublin and since then we’ve been running. Someone showed me a YouTube video of Dick Hoyt and his son Rick who had run I think 1000 races together, something like 26 marathons and 9 or 10 ironman races I think – the numbers were staggering. That was in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s. He was the godfather of it all. When I started in 2009, it wasn’t as acceptable. People within healthcare said I was using my brother for advertising or charity, I can’t remember entirely, but I ran with it anyway because myself and Ciaran love running. He lights up when he’s in the chair. We went from 10k races to 10 miles, to half marathons and numerous three quarter marathons so a marathon was the next step. So we did the Dublin marathon last year in 4 hours 33 minutes with a specially made wheelchair bike, similar to the racing ones, but I can steer it from the back. This year we’re doing the Berlin marathon in and the Dublin marathon on. We hope to grab people’s attention and get more people like Ciaran who enjoy the sensation involved. The whole spirit of a marathon is human endeavour and endurance so we get a lot of support from the racing community. I love it and more importantly, he loves it. I would never have run a marathon if it wasn’t for him because I don’t like running long distances. He’s great, he constantly keeps you distracted from it, if I get water, he wants water etc. The funniest thing, we were running the marathon going through water stations etc and we came to a jelly baby station. I ran through, grabbed the jelly babies but dropped them. He’s a big fan of jelly babies and he gave me a look that I wouldn’t have wanted to interpret verbally! Luckily someone down the road had a few and gave them to me for him. He loves the whole experience. The message we’re trying to get across is that my brother, and people like him, love inclusion.” In doing this, the duo raise money for the Sunbeam House Services charity, which provides a range of supports to adults with intellectual disabilities.

I have to thank Joseph wholeheartedly for agreeing to this interview and giving me so much of his time. He is fountain of knowledge and information and was a real pleasure to talk to. If you have any interest in his cutman course or want more information, visit www.cutman.ie and irishcutman.wordpress.com, also follow @irishcutman on twitter. For more on Joseph’s inspirational story with his brother, Ciaran, follow @heaintheavy1234 on twitter and like the Facebook page He Ain’t Heavy. You can also find more information on the charity they raise money for at www.sunbeam.ie and, if you feel moved to, you can also donate on that website.

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Brad Pickett, “I owe a lot to this sport, it’s helped me out so much”

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As Saturday looms closer, a new championship belt lies in waiting. Not just a new title, the first title bestowed from a young and growing promotion. Rise of Champions hosts its fifth event Saturday, in which new amateur and pro champions will be crowned.

Saturday is a great opportunity for the young promotion. Co-owner and former UFC veteran, Brad Pickett doesn’t look to compete with the bigger promotions like Cage Warriors or ACB, let alone the UFC. To his luck, Rise of Champions 5, doesn’t have to. While the UFC does have an event scheduled for the upcoming weekend, it happens to be the somewhat rare occurrence of a Sunday night show. Though, it does make sense, with the North American market free from the anaconda like stranglehold the NFL (American football) maintains for nearly 5 months of the year. Nonetheless, the Sunday night cards are strewn from the norm. Which is essentially what ROC looks to provide.

The regional circuit in Europe holds a good portion of quality promotions and Pickett wants to add ROC to that list. “I just want it to be a really recognizable name. Like for (people to say), ‘Oh, that’s a good show’. You hear that name and go, ‘that’s a really well worked, a really good show’.” It seems for the retired UK MMA legend, he couldn’t be happier. In describing what it meant to run a promotion, he said, “I just feel great to be a part of it. I owe a lot to this sport, it’s helped me out so much, and I just like to put back what I’ve learned over the years with my coaching but then also later, run a promotion, give guys a good platform to grow and showcase their skills. For me, in a way, I feel it’s my duty to do something like this and stay within the sport”.

 

 

The other co-owner, Mickey Papas and he began the promotion together, while Pickett still competed in 2015. Papas and Pickett have a long-standing relationship stemming from early in the former Bantamweights career. “My relationship with Mickey started off like this; I remember when I was fighting in Cage Rage back in the day, I knew nothing on the floor really. I was just like a stand up fighter. I knew a little bit but I was unversed, and then I remember going to do some Jiu Jitsu and then also bumping into Mickey. Mickey was more Pankration, which I thought back then, the wrestling side of MMA was more important than just Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in the gi… he’s been one of my coaches ever since, even when I (went) out to America, I trained in America for a lot but also I’d come back in and train here. I had two teams, I had ATT and Team Titan.”

Upon further discussion of his promotion, Pickett revealed an aspect of his promotion which separates ROC from the rest of the popular regional promotions. “I like the fact when I have a pro main card of 4-5 fights and the rest of my card is amateur fights. Where shows like Bamma and Cage Warriors are predominantly only pro fights.” He continued, “I want to keep to my emphasis of young talent. And also in my pro fights people like Mike Ekundayo (an undefeated fighter coached by Pickett at Team Titan) who is the main event… I’m still trying to promote younger, unbeaten talent to help build themselves”.

 

 

Through his MMA journey, the retired fighter took many personal experiences while competing and coaching under a litany of promotions. He depicted one odd story in which, “I remember one of my fighters fighting on the show getting quite a bad cut on his eye. I remember seeing it backstage where I had other guys fighting on the show, later on the card, (guys) that I’m cornering. He’s just sitting back there and I said, ‘What’s going on, are you going to get stitched? The doctor going to see you to get you stitched up?’ He goes,

‘No, no, they gave me these steri strips’.

‘What do you mean they gave you steri strips?’,

‘They gave me steri strips to do it myself’. And I’m like,

‘You’re taking a piss’…

I went and complained, and they said, ‘Oh no, there’s one doctor, he’s by the cage side. He can’t come back and do the stitches. There’s a hospital just down the road why don’t you leave and go there?’ and I’m like you’re expecting one of my fighters to leave your show looking like he does with a massive gash on his face? It’s just like loads of things like that, it always happens.”

Having experience in the regional circuit, at the time that he did, Pickett was exposed to a lot. When asked about the preliminary conception of Rise of Champions, he explained it as so, “I’ve been to a of lot good shows in my career and I’ve been to a lot of bad shows. I’ve been to the best shows in the world as well. So for me, I knew that I have a very good insight on how a show should run, in front of the camera and more importantly behind the camera, because you get a lot of promoters who know how it should look for the camera but don’t know how to treat the fighters backstage or how things should run. Me (having) competed at the highest organization for many years, I know what that means.”

Pickett continued, “And it’s not a case of always about having money, it’s about proper organization, doing things well and at the end of the day knowing that, the fighters are the stars of the show. Where at some shows, they’re treating the fighters like cattle. (They treat them) like, go in fight and see you later, who’s next? For me, I am very much against that. Also, I felt the emphasis of my shows is to try and help grow and nurture, young developing talent… when I was doing it, it wasn’t really a career path for anyone, but now it’s a legitimate career path for young and aspiring athletes to be able to go out there and earn life changing money.”

As a self-critical person, Pickett believes ROC’s first four events turned out well, although he sees room for improvement. “I do believe they always can get better. One thing I can’t complain with, is the fights. The fights have always been really good, and at the end of the day that is what matters. There is no point of having this glitz and glamour, and spending thousands and thousands of pounds on lights, cameras, and just having complete dud fights.” Without much of a pause, he continued, “I do all the matchmaking myself. I do believe I know what are good fights and I put on some really good fights on my show. That’s what I am happy with. If the show keeps growing, then I can add a bit more glitz and glamour. A bit more on the production and things.”

One aspect he wishes translated better to the broadcast, is the ROC fighter ceremonies. “I do like a Pride thing, where there’s a ceremony before the start of the show where all the fighters come out in front of the audience, (all the fighters) on the under card. Then midway through the whole event, there’s a pause, a break and then we have another ceremony for the main card fighters.” In this certain structure, he believes the ceremonies not only add to the spectacle of the event but excite audiences for the fights to come. “It gives the (fighters) a bit more time in front of the crowd. And where, you may go (to) see Joe Blocks fight, but then you just see these two other guys come out and think, ‘Man, these two guys look like they’re gonna have a great scrap. I wanna watch that fight as well’… if you can get people interested in other fights on the card, it’s a win. That’s why I’m trying not to just make a good fight, I’m trying to make a good event where people go, ‘this is good, I would love to come to this show next time no matter who’s fighting’.”

 

 

While ROC does not occupy all his time, the hectic nature balancing multiple jobs earned Picketts attention as soon as he retired. He claimed, “Its weird, I’ll be honest with you, it was so much easier when I was a professional fighter. All I had to do is concentrate on myself, get up in the morning, train for a couple (of) hours, relax, (then) train a couple of hours in the evening and that’s it. It was so much easier. Also, I earned great money when I was fighting towards the end of my career. But now, I have to go back to the hustle… it’s not always about being financially rewarding but that obviously is important, I have a kid. I’ve got a house, a mortgage to pay. So that is important but, it also is to try to do what I like doing as well”.

It is evident, even from afar, that retirement hasn’t worn out the rugged mentality training and fighting gave him. Besides co-owning a promotion with his friend and business partner, Mickey Papas, Pickett hosts a weekly podcast (The One Punch Podcast), has a beautiful family (with an adorable son you can catch on his Instagram account), coaches fighters, trains average citizens, and travels for seminars. Yet, he finds time for all of it.

I imagine it would be hard to find another human like Brad Pickett. His youthful exuberance, tough mentality, and pragmatic nature make him an impossible character to clone. Speaking to him and feeling those qualities, only magnified the respect and admiration I had for the man. The MMA community is lucky to have Brad Pickett, and even luckier to keep him inside of it.

Rise of Champions 5, takes place this Saturday, February 16th at the Brentwood Leisure Centre, in Brentwood, England.

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Jonas Magard, “This is all I do. I don’t have anything else”

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In the late hours of this upcoming Saturday night in the Greenwich Mean Time Zone, a new Bantamweight champion will earn his crown. A little over 300 feet from the A12 in Brentwood, England, inside the Brentwood Centre, is where it will all happen. The medium sized venue will host Brad Pickett and his Rise of Champions promotion, for their fifth event and second with the venue.

An important event, ROC 5, represents something greater to a few different people involved with Saturdays show. For the promotions co-owner Pickett, it represents an opportunity to capture American audiences on a UFC-less Saturday while being broadcast exclusively on the world-leader’s streaming service, UFC Fight Pass. Although the former UFC contender has a lot riding on the success of his shows, ROC 5 may mean less to the owner than to both his main event fighters. Currently, the ROC 5 main event is set to determine the promotions first ever champion when Denmark’s Jonas Magard takes on London’s own, Mike Ekundayo.

Both young, talented, and riding unbeaten streaks, this main event represents a major stepping stone in their careers. In the case of Jonas Magard, “It’s just a new opportunity to do something, to put my mark on things. With or without the title I just want to fight. He’s in my way to something bigger”. His words echoed his demeanor. While the Danish Amateur MMA Champion, wanted to behave excited for the opportunity, fighting under the ROC banner, his attitude simply would not allow him. “I can’t wait to see how they put on the show and stuff, I think it’s going to be fun. But again it’s just me and him, it’s not about the show… I have not been training to fight at that event. I’ve been training to fight that guy and if it’s that’s event or if it’s in the backyard, it’s the same for me”.

Not only was the young Danish fighters’ mentality impressive but his record as well. At 8-3, Magard owns 7 stoppages, 6 by Japanese neck tie. The same submission he defeated Michail Chrisopoulus, with a little less than half of the opening round remaining, in his most recent appearance at ACB 75. And the same submission in which he holds the record for most finishes.

His journey to this point could not be described by the meager word, easy. After training for a year and two amateur fights in his home of Jutland, Denmark, Magard decided to make a change. “I went to Copenhagen to try to train there, in one of the bigger gyms and they just opened their arms and welcomed me. So, I thought why not move? I was 19 at the time. I didn’t really know anybody in Copenhagen”. He continued, “the first couple of times I was over there, I would live with some of the guys from the gym. I would have an amateur fight coming up, so I’d stay there for a month… I would still have my address and live back in Jutland, but I would just go over there do my training and my training camps”.

Magard travels quite a bit for his MMA training. In his current situation, Magard splits time between Rumble Sport in Copenhagen, Denmark and All Powers gym in Manchester, England. “I think a lot of fighters, they get too comfortable in their own little circle of fighters and in their own gym, where I like to just go out, get the best training work whether it is in Denmark or wherever. I don’t care about traveling or getting pushed as much as I can”.

He’s made a routine of being uncomfortable, something he does not think can be said of his opponent, “I think he hasn’t been battle tested, the same way as I have. Yeah, he’s a good opponent, he’s a guy I have to beat. He’s undefeated… but you know, I don’t think he’s been battled tested as he’s going to be now, with me (in) this fight, it’s just different”.

“I’ve seen his opponents and his opponents are okay but, they didn’t have a lot of fights either like he don’t. Not even as an amateur. As an amateur, I fought the guy who just fought for the Cage Warriors title, Alexander Jacobsen, he had like 125 boxing matches… I fought the guy who is going to fight for the Cage Warriors flyweight championship, Sam (Creasey)… I had the hard fights as an amateur, I don’t think he had the hard fights, that’s the difference about over here in Scandinavia. We get battle tested,” he continued to elaborate, “in amateur, people don’t get built up, people are getting hard fights. I had two fights the same day, for the Danish MMA amateur championship… I’ve been facing guys who I know come there to win, who’s just not there to be food… this is all I do, I don’t have anything else, I don’t have a day job I’m going to everyday and that’s the difference. I’m a professional, I live off this, I live for this, this is all I do. He has not met anybody like me before, who has the experiences I have.”

Magard believes the experience he earned through his MMA journey is what separates himself from his opponent. Outside of MMA, the Dane fought two shoot-fighting matches and one professional boxing bout.  “He is a good fighter, he is a good strong fighter but I know the guys over here, there stronger side is not the ground. The wrestling in England, people want to punch each other in the face they don’t want to wrestle. I come from a place where people like to wrestle. And during this fight camp, I’ve been training with the (Danish) Greco Roman Olympic silver medalist [Mark Madsen]. I’ve been training with Martin Kammpman the former Danish UFC fighter… I eat I sleep I breathe MMA every day and I don’t want anything else. That’s going to be the difference in this fight one hundred percent”.

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Interview: The Sit Down featuring Manny Bermudez

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Staff writer, Brian Gerson, sits down with undefeated Boston prospect, Manny Bermudez. Bermudez talks about his recent signing to the UFC, his upcoming opponent at UFC Fight Night: Stephens vs. Emmett, and more. 

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