Raquel Pennington had a disfigured nose and repeated over and over again that she was “done.”
Her corner’s response: “Let’s power through this. Let’s believe. Change your mindset. Let’s just throw everything we got. We’ll recover later.”
Corner: "No, no, no, no."
— #UFCChile: Maia vs. Usman on BT Sport (@btsportufc) May 13, 2018
Two minutes later, Raquel Pennington was bleeding profusely from her nose in the cage after enduring a pounding at the hands of UFC Bantamweight Champion Amanda Nunes. The referee had no choice but to stop the fight.
The coaches’ decision to let the fight continue was understandably met with its share of criticism. UFC Featherweight Brian Ortega tweeted:
They should have never let her go into the 5th round like that.
— Brian Ortega (@BrianTcity) May 13, 2018
UFC Interim Welterweight title contender Rafael dos Anjos agreed…
Coaches should throw that towel…sad
— Rafael dos Anjos (@RdosAnjosMMA) May 13, 2018
…as did former UFC fighter and color commentator Kenny Florian:
Perfect example why you shouldn’t let a fighter continue if THEY say they’re done. #UFCRio
— Kenny Florian (@kennyflorian) May 13, 2018
Michael Chiesa was particularly harsh:
Raquel’s team most definitely knows how tough she is given all she’s been through with her injuries that have kept her out of the octagon.
For them to send her out for the 5th round when she says she’s done is complete negligence on their part and selfish as ****.
— Michael Chiesa (@MikeMav22) May 13, 2018
But honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, if a fighter’s nose were broken like Pennington’s was and she insisted that she was done, then throwing in the towel is the only reasonable option. What exactly were the coaches expecting in the final round of that match?
On the other hand, this is a championship fight in the biggest mixed martial arts promotion in the world. Matches like these can be few and far between, and there is no guarantee they will happen again. Pennington’s corner obviously knew about about all the hard work she had put into the fight, and they were understandably reluctant to throw it all away.
Furthermore, it’s not like they forced her to keep going. It’s not like there were any threats — e.g., “You give up and you’ll never train at this gym again!” Raquel could have ignored their advice and told the referee herself that she was done. She didn’t. She chose to press on.
But did she? A fighter in Pennington’s shape may not be in the position to make decisions about her own safety. Her head was probably swimming from the punches she had endured, and it’s the job of coaches to protect their fighters when they can’t protect themselves.
And even if she did choose it, does that absolve the coaches of their responsibility to protect their fighter? Probably not. There have been plenty of cases of coaches and referees stopping fights even when fighters believed they could continue.
Which brings us to the referee. Where was he in all of this? If Pennington was in no condition to continue, doesn’t the ref deserve some of the blame for letting the match go on? Don’t referees also have an obligation to keep fighters safe?
I suppose it’s moot point now. What’s done is done and Amanda Nunes still reigns supreme atop the Women’s Bantamweight mountain. Raqual Pennington will obviously live to fight another day, and she may even get another chance at UFC gold.
But these questions are worth pondering. Should fighters in Raquel Pennington’s condition be allowed to fight, and should coaches pressure them to continue if they say they can’t?
Honestly, I can see both sides.