Raquel Penningon’s head coach regrets nothing about the words he used with the UFC women’s bantamweight title challenger this past Saturday at UFC 224.
The coach, Jason Kutz, said he knew Pennington (9-6 MMA, 6-3 UFC) well enough to know she didn’t truly want out of a fight against champ Amanda Nunes (16-4 MMA, 9-1 UFC), as she told him between the fourth and fifth round of the fight.
If they were in the same position today, Kutz said he would tell Pennington the same thing.
“In my mind, I had it as more of a mental battle than physical battle for her going into the fifth round,” Kutz, a former Division-I wrestling coach at Lee High University and East Stroudsburg University, today told MMAjunkie after his between-round speech to Pennington touched off a firestorm of criticism. “And knowing her and coaching her for years, and knowing what she’s capable of, I felt if she flipped the script and did a 180 in her own mind, and just went for it, hey, you never know. It is a fight.”
Pennington could clearly be heard saying “I’m done – I want to be done” after the fourth round of the title fight, which headlined the pay-per-view card at Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro. In response, Kutz repeatedly said no and added, “Don’t go out like this. C’mon, girl. I know it hurts. Let’s power through this. Let’s power through this and believe. Change your mindset. Let’s throw everything we got. We’ll recover later. Throw everything we got.”
Pennington went out for the fifth round and briefly waged a counterattack before being overwhelmed midway through the frame, suffering a badly bloodied nose and a damaged leg from Nunes’ kicks.
After the bout, Kutz went to the hospital with Pennington and her team and waited for five hours at a local hospital to receive medical care before they ultimately decided to head back to the U.S. for a more definitive diagnosis on her leg.
Kutz said the fight instantly shifted from the first or second kick Nunes landed to Pennington’s calf area of the leg she broke this past October in a vehicle accident.
“We had her very well prepared,” he said. “I know that watching it might look otherwise, but she was ready to go hard for 25 minutes. Her technique was crisp. Everything was going well, and then, the first couple leg kicks changed the whole tone of that fight.”
Several active UFC fighters and MMA industry observers criticized Kutz’s actions, saying he acted without regard to Pennington’s safety, a charge he called “totally false.” He added Pennington thanked him backstage for talking her out of quitting.
“Had she been gimping around and hopping on one leg for any period of time, different situation,” Kutz said.
Kutz said his job when he realized Pennington’s leg was damaged was to convince her to push past a mental block that her injury presented. He wanted her to rob Nunes of space so she could use her boxing technique. Unfortunately, that also involved exposing herself to more kicks.
“She stepped up multiple times, and we were just looking for a second flurry of things to come, he said. “It was a lot for her to process given the gravity of the situation. It was tough, and I feel like she battled her ass off for 20 minutes.”
Still, as the fight progressed, Kutz realized the possible outcomes increasingly favored Nunes and that Pennington would need to pull off something incredible to turn the tide.
“Headed into that fifth round, she knew what she had to do,” he said. “It was going to require extraordinary effort on her part to stop Amanda.
“I wouldn’t have given her a pep-talk to get her to go into the fifth round if I didn’t think she had an extraordinary effort inside of her. Because I know her – I know how tough she is. I know the looks on her face, so I can read her like a book, and that’s kind of what you want between coach and athlete. So when she said what she said, when she looked me in the eye, I knew that’s not what she wanted to do.”
Although it was clear to Kutz that Pennington was trying to pull off the equivalent of a hail Mary in the final round of the fight, he also felt the alternative was worse.
“I always tell her, in 10 years, yeah, you were losing the fight, but you look back at this, you look back at that moment in your life, and you would be asking yourself, what if?” he said. “What if I’d went out there and something clicked and I had the best round ever and won the title. What if?
“And now, she doesn’t have to do that in 10 years. She knows. I think that’s huge. I think her battle wounds from this fight, they’ll heal. But she gave her best effort that she could possibly give on that day, under those circumstances. What more as an athlete, what more as a coach, can somebody ask?”
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Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie
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