Pennington and coach defend fighting on to final round
One of the chief qualities that a fight coach tries to nurture is gameness – the will to win greater than the will to live. In practice, that can be jarring. It can be particularly jarring when the fighter is a woman.
At UFC 224 Raquel Pennington declared herself done after four rounds vs. women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes, but her corner talked her into going one more round. She was stopped in the fifth. Her coaches received a great deal of criticism, but both Pennington and head coach Jason Kutz both recently fought back.
“In my mind, I had it as more of a mental battle than physical battle for her going into the fifth round,” explained Kutz to Steven Marrocco for MMAjunkie. “And knowing her and coaching her for years, and knowing what she’s capable of, I felt if she flipped the script and did a 180 in her own mind, and just went for it, hey, you never know. It is a fight.”
One of the latest techniques to become popular in MMA is the calf kick, and almost immediately Nunes kicked a leg injured previously in a car accident.
“We had her very well prepared,” said Kutz. “I know that watching it might look otherwise, but she was ready to go hard for 25 minutes. Her technique was crisp. Everything was going well, and then, the first couple leg kicks changed the whole tone of that fight.”
“I wouldn’t have given her a pep-talk to get her to go into the fifth round if I didn’t think she had an extraordinary effort inside of her. Because I know her – I know how tough she is. I know the looks on her face, so I can read her like a book, and that’s kind of what you want between coach and athlete. So when she said what she said, when she looked me in the eye, I knew that’s not what she wanted to do.”
“I always tell her, in 10 years, yeah, you were losing the fight, but you look back at this, you look back at that moment in your life, and you would be asking yourself, what if? What if I’d went out there and something clicked and I had the best round ever and won the title. What if?
“And now, she doesn’t have to do that in 10 years. She knows. I think that’s huge. I think her battle wounds from this fight, they’ll heal. But she gave her best effort that she could possibly give on that day, under those circumstances. What more as an athlete, what more as a coach, can somebody ask?”
Pennington herself appeared on Ariel Helwani’s The MMA Hour, and defended her coach.
“I’m actually proud of my coaches,” she said, as transcribed by Shaun Al-Shatti for MMA Fighting. “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.”
“I agreed with my coaches as soon as the fight was done. 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 is 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, and I would’ve been more mad at myself, so I’m glad that my coaches didn’t let me give up on myself.”