Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight contender Raquel Pennington believes her coaches made the right call in allowing her to keep fighting despite telling them she was “done.”
Pennington took on Amanda Nunes on Saturday night at UFC 224 in Rio de Janeiro, where “Rocky” suffered a fifth-round TKO defeat. At the conclusion of the fourth round Pennington verbally told her corner that she didn’t want to continue to fight. Her coaches encouraged her to dig deep and she went into the fifth and final round of the fight badly beaten before Nunes inflicted more damage until referee Marc Goddard stopped the fight.
Pennington appeared on “The MMA Hour,” and defended her coach’s decision to remain in the fight, explaining the reason she wanted to quit was due to the leg injury she suffered in the opening minute of the bout. Pennington had only recently returned to fighting after recovering from a severe leg break last October.
Pennington suffered two early ferocious leg kicks from Nunes, which got worse over the fight. Regardless, she believes her coaches made the right call to continue.
“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 said that during the fifth round the knee felt like it was going to explode and was happy to at least try and fight on.
“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.”
The extent of the injury to Pennington’s leg is unknown at this stage as she said the medical treatment she received after the fight in Rio de Janeiro was “terrible” and her fiancee Tecia Torres and her decided to wait until they were back in the United States to seek further medical attention. “Rocky” said she will undergo several x-rays and MRIs on Monday afternoon to learn how long she’ll be on the sidelines.
Pennington told Helwani she knew something was wrong with her leg as soon as Nunes’ landed the very first kick.
“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.”
Pennington said the criticism of her coaches has been extra draining after also losing the title fight which they all worked so hard for.
“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.”
She also addressed the armchair critics who have been critical of how the 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.”