Adrenaline, Vaseline and composure - Kerry Kayes on the art of being a boxing cuts man

By Luke ReddyBBC Sport
A cut is attended to
A fighter can lose a contest if a cut is deemed to place him in danger

"You've got to be calm and collected. You cannot flap. If you flap, the boxer flaps. If you're flapping, the referee sees you flapping and all of a sudden you have this black cloud over the cut."

Kerry Kayes could not panic at the site of blood. One mistake could cost a fighter victory... and losses ruin careers.

The likes of Tony Bellew, Liam Smith and Hughie Fury have benefitted from Kayes' fuss-free methods as a cuts man - methods that in 60 seconds can patch a man up both physically and mentally for the next three minutes of battle.

"I don't think there's such a thing as a good cuts man," Kayes tells BBC Radio 5 live's boxing podcast.

"I just think there's loads of bad ones. What's hard about compression, keeping your cool, putting adrenaline into a cut at the right time, letting a boxer feel your confidence and getting him out there again?"

'Clangers, wristbands and lessons'

Kayes has been sought out by fighters for dietary and conditioning work and has become a go-to cut man
Kayes has been sought out by fighters for dietary and conditioning work and has become a go-to cut man

Kayes is the renowned nutritionist and strength and conditioning coach called upon by countless fighters and credited by Ricky Hatton for providing the engine required in some of his landmark wins.

His role in a fighter's corner had seen him hold buckets, water bottles and towels on fight night, but crucially allowed him the close-up view of fine cuts men at work.

When trainer Joe Gallagher asked him to take care of cuts for Smith in a four-round contest he stepped in, dealt with a cut that duly came and consequently got the bug that came with having a more active role in the corner.

"I dropped minor clangers early on and learned from them," says Kayes, 68. "Now, for example, I always have a wristband on with two swabs held in it which are full of adrenaline.

"Then I have the adrenaline bottle with two swabs in it. Then every second or third round I'll swap the swabs so they are always fresh.

"In one fight when I started, I wasn't ready for a lad who got cut with two seconds of a round left. It took me maybe 10-15 seconds to get the adrenaline out. So from that fight I learned I needed swabs in my wristband ready.

"You do learn on the job and if you make a small mistake you make sure you never make it again."

Fight pressure and blood pressure

Kayes says Mick Williamson (left) educated him and is the best cut man in boxing
Kayes says Mick Williamson (left) educated him and is the best cuts man in boxing

The adrenaline Kayes speaks of is provided by a British Boxing Board of Control official at the second the first bell sounds, thus ensuring both corners have the same substance.

It is key in constricting blood vessels to stem flow.

Then there are basics - don't wipe a cut, pressure it instead so a clot can form.

Between rounds there is chaos with fans bristling with nervous energy, breathless fighters, trainers trying to get their message across and yet 60 seconds of calm in the corner is sought.

Kayes continues: "Only one person can be in the ring with a fighter. A good trainer will see if their man is cut and they'll say 'do you need to go in the ring?' Jamie Moore has said it to me, Peter Fury has said it to me.

"You get in the ring - calm - and say to the fighter 'don't worry'. Then you'll apply pressure. If you try to put the adrenaline in too early, the blood pressure will push the adrenaline out of the cut.

"Then depending on the cut you then use that swab with the adrenaline. Take the pressure off, slip the adrenaline in and put the pressure back on to try and keep the adrenaline in there.

"I always say to a fighter, 'when you hear seconds away round whatever, don't get up, stay on your stool, let me then put Vaseline on'. Sometimes the referee will pat you on the back to get out."

Dressing to impress and the slippery substance

Rafael Garcia (left) looked after Floyd Mayweather's cuts, while Jacob Duran oversaw the role with Wladimir Klitschko
Rafael Garcia (left) looked after Floyd Mayweather's cuts, while Jacob Duran oversaw the role with Wladimir Klitschko

Cuts men such as the late Rafael Garcia - who looked after Floyd Mayweather - and Jacob 'Stitch' Duran - who did cut work for the likes of Wladimir Klitschko and even the fictional Rocky Balboa on the movie set - have underlined the craft needed at key moments.

The smearing of Vaseline is often the finish to their 60-second masterpiece and again requires judgment. Too much of it on their fighter's face will end up on an opponent's gloves and could eventually be punched back into the eyes of their man.

"The Vaseline stops abrasion of the glove," explains Kayes. "Don't forget, a glove is leather. If you get hit square on, there's no abrasion.

"But think of it like striking a match. If that glove glides on the face it can cause an abrasion. I watched the Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder fight and nobody put Vaseline on Fury's face for three rounds. Watch it back. Did you see how many marks he had on his face after it?

"So Vaseline is a very important compound that will let the glove slide across it.

"You also have to remember that you're trying to dress up your fighter so he looks healthy and fresh. So if you just work on the cut and he's got blood on his shoulder and chest, the other boxer gets a boost and the referee looks at it too.

"So while you're applying pressure to a cut, you're always cleaning him up. That can be hard but you have to let everyone around you feel confident."

Calm and a referee influence

While Vaseline, adrenaline, swabs and the iced Enswell (eye iron) form part of the physical arsenal at a cut man's disposal, tricks of the psychological nature can begin in the changing room.

Some fight styles - such as Hatton's - attract head clashes and consequent cuts, so the knowledge they have experience in the corner settles nerves.

And then, of course, there is the referee - the one individual capable of calling a halt at any time to smash the dreams of a man beaten on a technicality.

Kayes adds: "Before a fight, in the dressing room trainer Billy Graham would say to Ricky Hatton, 'don't worry we have Mick Williamson on cuts' and you could see the calming impact on Ricky.

"Billy would always say to the referee when he came into the dressing room that we have the best cuts man in the business and ask would he please give the cuts man a chance if Ricky got cut. So there's a lot more going on with a cut than that minute in the corner.

"The referee can immediately see a calm and confident corner which is doing its job properly. So then he will give you every chance."

Stop it, control it or end it

Badou Jack needed 25 stitches in the middle of his forehead after a head clash when he lost to Marcus Browne
Badou Jack needed 25 stitches in the middle of his forehead after a head clash when he lost to Marcus Browne

Kayes scorns at the sight of cuts men "getting busy" after a bout when he feels simple pressure is needed on a cut allowing a doctor to address the situation in the dressing room with no Vaseline or adrenaline to hinder their work.

His chat with BBC Radio 5 live comes just over a week after Badou Jack suffered a horrific cut in a head clash on his way to a points defeat to Marcus Browne.

One publication dubbed it "the cut that broke the internet" such was the reaction on social media and Jack - a former two-weight world champion - later required 25 stitches down the middle of his forehead.

"There are some you can't stop but you can still make it 80% better," Kayes adds. "You'll still have an influence.

"You may stop the bleeding for two minutes and then it may bleed for the last minute of the round. So you either stop a cut or control a cut. Either way you have to be in charge of it.

"I have had one before with a lad right across the eye lid. So if he closed his eye, you could practically see his eye. So how can you possibly put pressure on his eye?

"I thought I can't put adrenaline in his eye. I told his trainer you cannot send him out and fair play to the trainer, he pulled him out."

The fighter who loses his title shot when fate deals him a cut risks a lifetime of 'what if?'.

Amid the punches, there is a weight of expectation on the man with the swab.


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