The most discussed topic on social media in the aftermath of UFC 224 has been how Raquel Pennington’s corner responded when she uttered the words, “I’m done” to them. Many fighters and journalists have bemoaned how the corner handled the situation by encouraging her to head into a fifth round in a fight where she was down on all scorecards and would ultimately lose. There have also been individuals close to Pennington, Miesha Tate and Tecia Torres, who have spoken in defense of how the coaches handled the situation. Today, on the MMA Hour, we finally heard from the woman herself who stated, in no uncertain terms, how she feels about her corner’s actions:
“I’m actually proud of my coaches. 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. And 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.”
Pennington says the biggest factor that led to her uttering those words were the early leg kicks Amanda Nunes landed in the fight:
“I was going through a moment where I was obviously frustrated because of the fact with my leg.” Pennington continues, “Those initial kicks really got me to a point to 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 I still had it within me. But there just comes a point where you just make a decision.”
Pennington’s agreement with her coaches is not something that developed in the time since the fight. Instead, “Rocky” insists that she agreed with the coaches immediately:
“I agreed with them in that moment because at the end of the day, the ball’s still in my court. I could have easily waved off the fight. I could have bent down and tapped out. But I chose not to. I chose to pull my head out of my ass and not give up on myself. Because at the end of the day, it’s easy to give up. It’s a whole different ball game there. Quitting’s not an option.
In that moment, I was quitting on myself. And that’s when a coach steps in and they push their athlete.”
One of the arguments put forth in defense of her corner is that outsiders may not be privy to the relationship she shares with her coaches, thus everyone should reserve judgment. Pennington’s remarks supported this hypothesis:
“They’re not just my coaches. They’re my friends, my brothers, they’re everything to me, every relationship that you can think possible. We’re a family outside of this and I know that they have my best interest at heart. And they know me in the gym, especially, better than I know myself at times.”
After the fight and with so much of the criticism circulating, it has been difficult for her coaches to cope with the way the night ended in Rio de Janeiro:
“My coaches are pretty emotional about the whole thing. They’re just as emotionally invested in this as I am, and it’s not something that’s easy on them, and especially when people are coming out there and making some comments and stuff. And me and my coach, we had a talk. And he’s like, ‘You know I have your best interest at heart. I love you like you’re my daughter. I would never put you in a bad situation.’
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 ball game. And so the fact that you were there for me, because you know me best in these situations, I couldn’t be more proud.’”
When asked if she regrets saying she was done, Pennington reiterates the nature of her relationship:
“No, I had a moment. I also like to verbally express myself, and I’m very close with my coaches, and I tell them everything. And in that moment, I obviously needed their encouragement for a second, so no, because if I would have held it in, I feel like it would have been a different ball game. But the fact that I talked to them, and then I got their words and I looked into their eyes and that trusting bond was there, it gave me the courage to go back in and do what I needed to do.”
Finally, Pennington has a message to everyone criticizing her coaches from the outside:
“Everybody needs to relax. A fight’s a fight. And at the end of the day, we have our coaching staffs. I’ve taken years to build up trust with my coaching staff, and I know that I have awesome people in my corner.
At the end of the day, it was a f**king awesome opportunity, and I’m proud that, knowing what I went through in the first round, that I freakin’ 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 not let me give up on myself. Because at the end of the day, quitting like that on yourself would have been more brutal.
So stop judging from the outside, because you’ll never understand what goes on unless you’re in our shoes and in our positions.”
Has hearing from Pennington changed or strengthened your position in this debate?