After the fourth round of Saturday night’s bout at UFC 224 in Rio de Janiero, a very tired and discouraged and busted-up Raquel Pennington told her corner “I’m done. I want to be done.” She’d taken plenty of punishment from Amanda Nunes to that point—her nose was broken, her eyes and mouth were swollen—and a loss to Nunes, the defending bantamweight champion, is nothing to be ashamed of. Unfortunately, her corner had other ideas:
Pennington’s corner talked her out of quitting, and into going back out for the fifth round, telling her to “power through” it, “change [her] mindset,” and “recover later.” It was enough pushback that Pennington eventually did turn around and go back for more. I’m afraid this isn’t the stirring tale of a competitor being encouraged into one final heroic push to glory—what followed, in the fifth found, was an absolute pounding, one that ended with Pennington getting pancaked and smashed up and TKO’d, and then finally getting sent to the hospital. You can imagine, this didn’t sit especially well with anyone, including her opponent. Per ESPN:
“It’s sad because you could avoid something,” Nunes said about Pennington’s corner. “She went to the hospital. It might be a bad injury. ... It’s sad. If she didn’t have the right conditioning to fight, the coach should have thrown in the towel for sure. I think my coach wouldn’t have let me go through that.
“It’s sad. ... I think she really needs to surround herself with people that want the best for her so she can evolve in her next fight. Unfortunately, tonight he failed.”
Pennington was basically out of the fight. Nunes outlanded her 152-79 in total strikes, and spent the fourth round turning her face to mush with a series of knees. The chances of a Hail Mary comeback were remote; the chances of a brutal finish were high; the realistic best-case scenario had Pennington absorbing more needless punishment for the moral victory of finishing the fight on her feet. That obviously did not happen.
Part of what coaches do is encourage athletes to push beyond physical discomfort, but in most sports that means getting reps or sprints in through muscle ache and fatigue. The math should be a little different when the athlete’s face is broken and the sport involves getting tackled and punched and kicked by a superior athlete. Amid all the potential indicators that a person should not be fighting someone, a pretty straightforward and simple one is whether that’s what they want to be doing.