Among boxers, if not fans, the cut man is a revered figure in the sweet science.
In a boxer’s corner, a cut man uses everything in his power to take care of cuts, nosebleeds and swelling.
Don’t confuse a cut man with the fight doctor, who’s neutral. The cut man will do whatever it takes to give his fighter the edge. Though athletic commissions in most states require cut men to be licensed, there’s no formal training.
The good cut men learn through years of trial and error.
The tools of their trade include petroleum jelly, ice packs, cotton swabs and gauze pads. And then there’s the enswell, the small piece of metal with a handle that’s kept on ice and used to cool the area of a bruise or cut.
Cut men create their own medications and consider the recipes to be trade secrets. Ingredients can include Avitene (used to stop bleeding), adrenaline hydrochloride (used to decrease blood flow) and other medications used for coagulation such as Gelfoam, Surgicel and Thrombin.
Clint Eastwood played both a trainer and a cut man in the 2004 Academy Award-winning film “Million Dollar Baby.”
In the classic 1976 film “Rocky,” Rocky Balboa’s cut man was played by Al Silvani, a former trainer. He also served as the cut man in “Rocky II” and “Rocky III.”
Arkansas is home to one of the nation’s most famous cut men, Ray Rodgers.
In preparing a feature story on Rodgers for the March issue of Arkansas Life magazine, I focused on his 14 years as a boxer followed by his many years as a coach and an official in the Golden Gloves and Silver Gloves organizations.
Rodgers is the national president of both Golden Gloves and Silver Gloves, the first person ever to run both organizations at the same time. I touched a little on his years as a cut man in the magazine story, but that could have been the focus of the entire story.
“I learned a lot watching some of the old-time Arkansas coaches and trainers: Bert Ramsey, Buddy Holderfield and others,” Rodgers told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Jim Bailey on the eve of his induction into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2007. “One of my idols was Whitey Bimstein, who had a reputation as the best cut man in New York when boxing hit television in the 1950s.”
Born Morris Bimstein on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Whitey Bimstein graduated from New York City’s Public School #62 in 1910. He competed in track, baseball and basketball while in school.
His father, unhappy with the rough element on the East Side, later moved the family to the Bronx.
Though he was Jewish, Bimstein was taught to box by a priest, Father Ryan of St. Jerome Catholic Church. He was a bantamweight who boxed about 70 bouts under the name Johnny White before joining the U.S. Navy at the start of World War I.
Bimstein began training boxers and serving as a cut man following the war. He was in the corner of James J. Braddock on June 13, 1935, when the “Cinderella Man” upset Max Baer to win the heavyweight championship.
The International Boxing Hall of Fame website notes that Whitey Bimstein was “known for his ability to motivate a fighter psychologically (with encouraging words) or physically (with a needle to a lethargic fighter’s backside or a slap to the face). Bimstein was widely regarded as one of boxing’s outstanding trainers and his expertise as a cut man during the crucial 60-second respite between rounds was second to none.”
Rodgers, who most recently was in the corner of Little Rock’s Jermain Taylor when Taylor beat Jessie Nicklow with an eighth-round TKO on Dec. 30 at the Morongo Casino Resort & Spa in California, now carries the reputation as the cut man whose expertise is “second to none.”
“I’ve got stuff that will hold two drops of water together,” he likes to say.
Bailey wrote: “When Rodgers was successful in keeping heavyweight Tommy Morrison’s eyebrows intact through a national Golden Gloves tournament, Morrison’s camp told him he’d be Morrison’s cut man when he turned pro.
“‘I thought it was just something nice to say, but they went through with it,’ Rodgers said. ‘I was in Tommy’s corner for every pro fight except two.’
“Cut man chores have taken him all over the United States and to Ireland, Scotland, England, Germany — even Hong Kong.
“‘Tommy Morrison was scheduled to fight Herbie Hide in Hong Kong back in 1994,’ Rodgers said. ‘The sponsors couldn’t get the money together, and the match fell through after I got there. I was on expenses so it amounted to a week’s paid vacation in Hong Kong.’”
In the introduction to a 2005 interview with Rodgers at www.doghouseboxing.com, Sean Newman wrote that Rodgers is among “the very best in the business” as a cut man.
Newman said, “In the sport of boxing, probably the most underappreciated yet vital member of a boxer’s team is the cut man. Just as in other sports, aside from the actual competitors, most would surely state that the head coach, manager or trainer is the most important member of the camp.
“A good analogy may be that a cut man is the offensive lineman (another underappreciated profession in the world of sports) of boxing, because without a good one, chances are you will run into some trouble sooner or later. While trainers certainly play an important role in developing strategy and getting their fighter in shape, it is the cut man who is called upon in the corner when a cut or swelling occurs. It helps to have a good one when things become precarious.”
Rodgers told Newman: “I was working with kids back in the ’60s and ’70s and earlier when you didn’t have to wear a headgear and you could actually work a cut in the corner with amateurs, just like you can with pros. I got pretty good at it, and one thing led to another, and they started asking me to do it because I was good at it. There really isn’t any better way to explain it than that. But I didn’t just one day wake up and say, ‘I’m going to be a cut man.’ I just learned the trade by being a coach when we could do it in the amateurs.”
Morrison was born in 1969 in Gravette but was raised in Delaware County in Oklahoma. His older brother and two uncles also were boxers. He lost only three of 52 professional fights, and Rodgers was in his corner for most of them.
Rodgers was there for his first professional win in New York on Nov. 10, 1988, when Morrison scored a TKO in the first round against William Muhammad. And Rodgers was in Las Vegas for a scheduled fight against Arthur Weathers in 1996 when Morrison tested positive on the mandatory HIV test performed by the Nevada Athletic Commission.
“His trainer called me in my hotel room and said he had something he needed to tell me in person,” Rodgers says. “I went to his room, and he said, ‘Tommy has tested postive.’ I asked, ‘For drugs?’ He said, ‘No, for HIV. He’s already on the plane and headed back home.’”
Though he would later attempt a comeback, that HIV test effectively ended Morrison’s career. Rodgers, though, has rich memories, including a Morrison fight against Joe Hipp in June 1992 at Bally’s Hotel & Casino in Reno. Morrison won on a TKO in the ninth round.
“He just got almost dismembered,” Rodgers told Newman. “He broke his jaw, broke his thumb, had a cut under his left eye, had a cut over his right eye and still knocked out Hipp in the ninth round. That was a tough fight to work because I was trying to stabilize his head while I stabilized the cut. When I say stabilize the head, I mean you couldn’t jerk him around because his jaw hurt so bad. … I got the cut under control, and I think it took 22 stitches. It was a big one.
“That was one of the most memorable and exciting moments with Tommy. Of course, one year later, when he outboxed George Foreman in Las Vegas for the world title, that was a highlight. I worked a lot of fights with him — 30 or 35 over almost a 10-year period.”
Other fighters for whom Rodgers served as cut man included Hector “Macho” Camacho and Iran Barkley.
When Jermain Taylor was head butted by Bernard Hopkins in the first of two fights between the men, it was Rodgers who stopped the bleeding and kept the fight going. The date was July 16, 2005. The site was the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Taylor won the middleweight title in a split decision that night. After the fight, he had 16 stitches in the top of his head.
When Iran Barkley fought Henry Maske in Germany in October 1994, it took 63 stitches to sew Barkley up after the fight. But Rodgers has never had a fighter lose because of cuts.
In June 2002, Taylor had a cut over his right eye against Grady Brewer that required eight stitches after the fight.
In June 2004, Taylor had a cut against Raul Marquez over his left eye that took 13 stitches.
Taylor won both fights.
Rodgers, an Arkansas treasure, told Newman: “Being a cut man is just something I do. I’ll fly out a couple of days ahead of a fight. That gives me a chance to rest. On the day of the bout, I go into war mode. I start thinking about a fight just like a fighter does. I’m focused, as the kids say. After the bout is over, I have postpartum depression. And I go right back to work on Monday, just like a walk in the park. I want to die at ringside, but no time soon.”
At age 75, Ray Rodgers shows no signs of slowing down.