Plenty of fights see a fighter’s corner team advising them to quit, which even led to the origin of the wider cultural phrase “throw in the towel,” but the opposite happened at UFC 224 Saturday night in Brazil. In the main event, women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes faced top challenger Raquel Pennington, and Nunes dominated through four rounds, leaving Pennington with plenty of bruises and a potentially-broken nose. And that led to Pennington telling one of her coaches in her corner “I’m done, I want to be done,” but he sent her back out there, and the fight was stopped by technical knockout only minutes later after a Nunes knee to Pennington’s nose:
Corner: "No, no, no, no."
— #UFCChile: Maia vs. Usman on BT Sport (@btsportufc) May 13, 2018
At CBS, Brandon Wise has a transcription of the coach’s comments:
“No, no, no, no, no, no,” her coach replied. “C’mon girl. I know it hurts, I know. Let’s power through this, alright. Change your mindset. Throw her everything we got. We’ll recover later.”
Look, encouragement to continue is one thing, but especially in a sport like MMA, advising a fighter to continue when they feel unable to seems extremely dangerous. And given the punishment Pennington had already taken, it would have seemed to make sense to respect her wishes here. As Wise writes, even Nunes said afterwards she was unimpressed with that call:
“It’s sad, because you could avoid something,” Nunes said. “She went to the hospital. It might be a bad injury for her to go to the hospital. I already asked Nina to text her to find out if she needs anything, I’m here. And it’s sad. If she didn’t have the right conditioning to fight, then the coach should have thrown in the towel, for sure. I think my coach wouldn’t let me go through that.”
Of course, there’s another side to it, as there have been some cases where a fighter who felt unable to continue went on to win after encouragement. And it’s notable that Pennington’s fiancee Tecia Torres (a fighter herself) posted on Instagram Sunday that “both of us and our coaches agree with the decision”:
#Forever I am extremely proud of my lady. You are a warrior babe. Fought every second you possibly could. You continue to amaze me daily. You motivate me to work hard and one day too receive the same opportunity to fight for a UFC championship. We are the 1%ers. Very few will ever know what we go thru as fighters and an even smaller percentage will ever earn the chance to fight on such a big stage and for a world title. #RideOrDie #AlwaysProud PS: Both us and our coaches agree with the decision made to go into the 5th round. We know Raquel more than anyone else and know if we let her give up on herself going into the last round she would have always regretted it. She fought with heart and grit until the end. PSS: Exactly one year ago today you asked me to marry you, I can’t freaking wait to wife you! 💍 @raquel_pennington
So maybe this was something Pennington actually wanted. But, as Yahoo’s Dave Doyle writes, it raises some questions for the sport:
That decision turned out to be the equivalent of sending a lamb out to slaughter. Pennington gave whatever she had left, but it wasn’t much. Nunes ruthlessly tore into Pennington, living up to her “Lioness” nickname. By the time the bout was finally waved off in the middle of the fifth round, the blood stains on the canvas looked more like someone had randomly emptied cans of red paint on the mat than the result of a human being’s cut.
…Warriors always want to be remembered for going out on their shield. But fighters’ careers have been broken when machismo has overruled common sense — think Renan Barao after the beating he took from T.J. Dillashaw for four-and-a-half rounds at UFC 173, or Rich Franklin’s brutal five-round beatdown of David Loiseau at UFC 58. And despite Torres’ protestations, the jury will remain out on whether the decision which allowed Pennington to keep fighting will be one that forever changes their fighter for the worse.
We’ll see if anything comes of this, but it certainly wasn’t a good look for Pennington’s coaches, or for the UFC.