The biggest story coming out of UFC 224 has been the moment when Raquel Pennington looked into head coach Jason Kutz’s eyes and told him she was done. Those closely or directly involved in the matter have addressed the controversy, including Pennington herself, but it was only fitting that the last word be granted to the man on the hot seat, who, on the MMA Hour Monday, took us back to that critical moment:
“What I’m going to say is, the way she said it, and more importantly, the look in her eye — that’s what I don’t think people understand,” Kutz said. “When you spend four hours a day doing what she does and doing what we do, I know her. I can read her face like a book. And I know that had she stopped right then and there, and I’ve talked to her about this afterward — like, ‘Hey, in 10 years when you look back at this, I think you’d be kicking yourself in the pants had you not gone out there.’”
Down big on every judge’s scorecard, Kutz has no delusions about the challenge that lay in front of Pennington, but he insists that he believed the challenge was conquerable:
“I knew it was going to take an extraordinary effort, because she had to stop Amanda. She had to do something huge, right? Something extraordinary. And if I didn’t think that Raquel could do something extraordinary, then hey, we would’ve went the other way with it. And the thing is, like I said, the mentality of her at that moment, I just felt if she could somehow flip it around and go out there and do something extraordinary, we got a chance. And you know what? She trained her ass off for a long time to get this title shot, and in the fifth round of the title fight, I know her leg hurts, but hey, I thought that she could go out there and go.
“And in my opinion, she did turn it around mentally, did a 180, and started the fifth round. I’m ridiculously proud of that. And I know a lot of people think I just threw her to the wolves there, but you know, it’s hard, and I know how tough she can be.”
When asked if he could have done anything differently, Kutz’s approach still would have been getting Pennington back in the game mentally instead of prioritizing technique, but he would have granted Pennington more agency in the moment:
“I would say the only thing that I could’ve said differently is maybe put it back into her court a little bit, and said like, ‘Do you really want me to stop this fight?’” Kutz said. “That’s hindsight, but again, because that throws it right back on her, and then she says yes, it’s over. But when she says, ‘I don’t want to do this, my leg hurts,’ my first initial reaction is, ‘Okay, yeah, your leg hurts, let’s power through this.’ Honestly, that’s what I was going with, and I didn’t want her to stop the fight because her leg hurt.” On why technique couldn’t be integrated with the psychological boost, Kutz later added, “I think we ran out of time there, as far as getting something technical going.”
Kutz also echoed the words of Miesha Tate, who suspects gender is playing a role in the public commentary on the subject:
“I also think that it could be different had Raquel been a guy, and then [us] saying that,” Kutz said. “I think things would get looked at a little different. And I’ve had that conversation with Raquel and I know how tough she is, I’m not going to treat her any different than I would treat a guy. So, that’s where we’re at on that.”
In the end, neither Kutz nor any member of the Pennington camp has any regrets, despite the heavy external criticism:
“I made the decision,” Kutz said. “I’m not regretting that decision at all. The coaching staff isn’t regretting it. But most importantly, Raquel is not regretting it. So there you have it. We’re going to move forward and learn and grow from this, and keep on keeping on.”
What would have you done if you were Jason Kutz in this situation?