Raquel Pennington's coaches' devastated reaction to backlash is a very good thing 3 years ago

Raquel Pennington's coaches' devastated reaction to backlash is a very good thing

It's easy for Raquel Pennington to tell the detractors to ease up on the criticism her coaches - she got lucky.

When Raquel Pennington's coaches sent her back out to fight Amanda Nunes after she told them she was done, they couldn't have possibly known what was going to happen next. But, in a sport where anything can happen, we have to recognise which outcomes are more likely in certain scenarios.

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Prior to UFC 224, Pennington had never been to championship rounds. The only knockout on her record came in her professional debut in 2012. She only has three submission victories to her name, none of which came after round two. So when Nunes put the beating on her for four rounds, all the evidence pointed towards one result - more damage incurred in the final round.

Sure enough, that's exactly how it played out. Nunes piled on the pressure and brutally finished her. Pennington's reward for being cajoled back into the fight was leaving a grisly pool of blood on the canvas.

Facing the music

On the MMA Hour, Pennington explained that she was proud of her coaches' actions. She admitted that she would have been mad if the fight had been conceded on the stool. Her defence of her coaches highlighted a rather worrying mindset that is commonplace in MMA.

“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’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."

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This is what Miesha Tate was alluding to when she said Pennington was given the chance to 'lose with dignity'. There is a perception in MMA that not going out on your shield is somehow a shameful act. It's hard to shake the awful feeling that this attitude won't change until tragedy strikes.

Does anyone think any less of the great Georges St-Pierre because he tapped from strikes in his defeat to Matt Serra? Sparing yourself from unnecessary damage is intelligent. Maybe GSP wouldn't have been able to come back, exact revenge and become arguably the greatest fighter ever had he endured more punishment that night.

Raquel Pennington

The struggle is real

Pennington also revealed on the MMA Hour that her coaches are 'struggling' to handle the fallout from UFC 224's controversy. The fact that they were forced into critically assessing their own decision is a good thing. There is no school for cornermen. There is no protocol for these situations. So perhaps the backlash they receive will prevent this from happening again down the line.

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“My coaches are pretty emotional about the whole thing. 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.’

Time for change

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There was a very uncomfortable atmosphere when Pennington stood up off her stool before the final round. She is known for her incredible toughness. Excelling as a professional fighter after suffering a broken back earlier in life is a testament to her perseverance. So when she said she wanted out, there was an overwhelming sense that her coaches were in the wrong to tell her otherwise.

This ominous air was absent in the National Stadium the night that Joao Carvalho competed in his final fight at Total Extreme Fighting. He was cheered on as he exited the cage that night. No one could have foreseen that he was going to die two days later. An inquest into his death ruled it as a result of misadventure.

Fortunately, it looks like Pennington came out of this fight with no serious injuries. To reiterate, there was no way her corner could have known that all was going to be well when they ignored her plea. Had Pennington suffered a catastrophic injury, or worse, after indicating she was no longer consenting to the fight, it would have been very difficult to prove there was no negligence from her corner.

The taboo around throwing in the towel needs to be addressed before it's too late. If there isn't a significant change in how damage limitation in this game is perceived, the unthinkable will happen sooner or later.

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