In the eyes of Raquel Pennington, there’s no question that her coaches made the right call by convincing her not to quit between rounds at UFC 224.
Pennington suffered a fifth-round TKO defeat to women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes on Saturday night at UFC 224 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. However, much of the conversation after the fight has centered on a polarizing interaction between Pennington and her head coach and cornerman Jason Kutz, in which Pennington told Kutz between the fourth and fifth round, “I’m done, I want to be done,” only to be sent back out to face Nunes. The fight ended with a harrowing salvo of unanswered strikes less than three minutes later.
Reflecting back on the situation Monday on The MMA Hour, Pennington adamantly defended her coach’s decision. “Rocky” explained that her pleas to quit stemmed from a leg injury she suffered in the opening minute of the bout. Pennington sustained a severe leg break last October in an ATV accident, and believes she re-injured the same leg early in the first frame at UFC 224 after eating two powerful low kicks from Nunes.
Pennington said the injury grew increasingly worse as the fight went on, ultimately leading to her breaking point between the fourth and fifth round. Nonetheless, even with the benefit of hindsight, she is happy that Kutz convinced her to dig deep and not quit on herself.
“I’m actually proud of my coaches,” Pennington said on The MMA Hour. “I know a lot of people are going against what they said and thinking all this different stuff, and it’s easy to judge, but you never know what’s happening in that moment. At the end of the day, my coaches know me best. They know my toughness and they know what I can handle, and I trust my coaches with everything that I have, and I know they wouldn’t put me in a situation that I can’t handle. I was going through a moment where I was obviously frustrated because of the facts with my legs. I was scared to step in and actually let my hands go, because the minute I would start to close the distance, Amanda would attack the leg.
“Those initial kicks really got me to a point where I started to break for a second, and the minute that I turned around and told my coaches that, and then I actually turned around and looked at my head coach and looked him in the eyes, I knew it still had it within me.”
Pennington went on to admit that there came a point during the fifth round in which she acknowledged to herself that enough was enough, because “it just really felt like my knee was going to explode.” But even still, she is glad that she tried to gut things out, and she never once doubted Kutz’s decision.
“I agreed with my coaches as soon as the fight was done,” Pennington said. “I agreed with them in that moment, because at the end of the day, the ball’s still in my court. I could’ve easily waved off the fight. I could’ve sat down and tapped out. But I choose not to. I choose to pull my head out of my ass, basically, and not give up on myself. Because at the end of the day, when you give up, it’s a whole different ballgame there. Quitting’s not an option in that aspect, and in that moment, I was quitting on myself. And that’s when a coach steps in and they push their athlete.
“I would’ve been mad,” Pennington added, “and I would’ve been more mad at myself, so I’m glad that my coaches didn’t let me give up on myself.”
Pennington is still unsure regarding the severity of her leg injury. She said the medical treatment she received in Rio de Janeiro was “terrible,” and after a long and frustrating night on Saturday, she and her fiancée Tecia Torres decided to travel back to the Unites States to seek further medical attention. Pennington expects to learn more about her status after undergoing several x-rays and MRIs on Monday afternoon.
Pennington added that both she and her coaches knew something was wrong with her leg from the moment Nunes’ kicks landed.
“I felt it the minute I stood back up,” Pennington said. “As soon as it made contact with my leg and my legs went out from underneath me, as soon as I tried to stand back up, it felt the exact same way as when I originally broke it. So it was kind of a terrifying feeling, just given the fact that I still had about 24 minutes left in a fight. Then she nailed it a second time and the pain that just sunk in made me want to throw up. So it was from the very get-go.”
It’s no secret that Kutz and the rest of Pennington’s coaching staff have been the subject of widespread criticism since everything went down at UFC 224.
Pennington said the fallout from the situation has not only been extremely tough on her, but on her coaches as well.
“My coaches are pretty emotional about the whole thing,” Pennington said. “They’re just as emotionally invested as I am, and it’s not something that’s easy on them, and especially when people are commenting and making some comments and stuff. Me and my head coach, we had a talk and he’s like, ‘You know I have your best interest at heart. Like, I love you like you’re my daughter, I would never put you in a bad situation.’ And I’m the one who had to talk him out of things, because he was pretty devastated. And I told him, ‘You pushed me to be the better athlete. You didn’t let me give up on myself, because if I gave up on myself, it would be a whole different ballgame. And so the fact that you were there for me, because you know me best in these situations, I couldn’t be more proud.’
“So they’re struggling, but they just have to keep their heads up too, because at the end of the day, they’re a hell of a coaching staff and I love them all.”
With everything still fresh, Pennington said she is unsure where she goes from here, but she remains unshakable in her support of the coaching staff she has been with since 2012.
She also has a message for critics who want to complain from the sidelines about how her situation was handled.
“Everybody needs to relax,” Pennington said. “A fight’s a fight, and at the end day, we have our coaching staff. I’ve taken years to build up trust with my coaching staff and I know that I have awesome people in my corner. Like I said, it’s not an easy sport to go through and do, and sometimes things go your way, sometimes things don’t go your way. At the end of the day, it was a f*cking awesome opportunity and I’m proud that, knowing what I went through in the first round, that I freaking hung in there for as long as I did and I’m proud of my coaches for being there for me, and to keep pushing me and to let me give up on myself.
“Because at the end of the day, quitting like that on yourself — it would’ve been more brutal if they would’ve sat there and threw the towel in, instead of actually letting me make the decision that I made in the fifth round. So, stop judging from the outside, because you’ll never understand what goes on unless you’re in our shoes and in our position.”