Raquel Pennington’s coaching staff — in particular her head trainer Jason Kutz -- have been at the receiving end of non-stop criticism after they pushed her to go back into the fifth and final round against Amanda Nunes at UFC 224 after “Rocky” told them in between rounds she wanted out.
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Now, Pennington herself has talked about the incident 48 hours removed from the show, and to nobody’s surprise, she is defending her team for allowing her to 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,” she added as transcribed via MMA Fighting.
“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.”
Indeed, Nunes’ leg kicks were problem for Pennington from the opening bell, at one point dropping her early in the fight. And like a true “Lioness,” Amanda saw blood and she kept attacking. To hear Pennington tell it, that’s where the pain was coming from, the same leg she broke during a horrible accident last October.
“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,” she added. And though she felt her knee would pop at anytime ,she is glad she was allowed to continue.
“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.”
A few minutes into the fifth and final round, Nunes went to work, battering her friend and busting her up even more which ultimately forced a stoppage from the referee. Rising with two black eyes, a busted nose and leg, “Rocky” holds no resentment.
“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,” she said. Still, the backlash, according to Pennington, has taken a toll on her coaches.
“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 added.
At the end of the day, Pennington wants the critics to relax because the fight game is already as tough as it is. Furthermore, Raquel is proud of the effort she put in.
“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.”
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