Raquel Pennington’s head coach and cornerman Jason Kutz unwittingly ignited a firestorm of controversy at UFC 224 for his decision to not throw in the towel during Penningon’s title challenge against women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes.
UFC cameras captured Pennington telling Kutz that she was “done” between the fourth and fifth round at UFC 224 on Saturday night in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rather than stop the fight, Kutz convinced Pennington to answer the bell for the final frame, a decision that resulted in Pennington losing to Nunes via fifth-round TKO less than three minutes later. Kutz has since received plenty of criticism for his words, however Pennington adamantly defended her coach’s call Monday on The MMA Hour, saying that she was “proud” of Kutz for convincing her to dig deep and not quit. Pennington’s fiancée Tecia Torres echoed that sentiment on social media.
Kutz also appeared Monday on The MMA Hour and defended his decision. Having coached Pennington since 2012, Kutz admitted that it was “rather uncommon” to hear Pennington say that she wanted out of a fight, but explained that the bond he and “Rocky” have developed played a massive role in how he approached her mid-fight request.
“What I’m going to say is, the way she said it, and more importantly, the look in her eye — that’s what I don’t think people understand,” Kutz said. “When you spend four hours a day doing what she does and doing what we do, I know her. I can read her face like a book. And I know that had she stopped [the fight] right then and there, and I’ve talked to her about this afterward — like, ‘Hey, in 10 years when you look back at this, I think you’d be kicking yourself in the pants had you not gone out there.’
“I knew it was going to take an extraordinary effort, because she had to stop Amanda. She had to do something huge, right? Something extra ordinary. And if I didn’t think that Raquel could do something extraordinary, then hey, we would’ve went the other way with it. And the thing is, like I said, the mentality of her at that moment, I just felt if she could somehow flip it around and go out there and do something extraordinary, we got a chance. And you know what? She trained her ass off for a long time to get this title shot, and in the fifth round of the title fight, I know her leg hurts, but hey, I thought that she could go out there and go.”
Pennington revealed Monday that her calls to stop the action at UFC 224 stemmed from a leg injury she suffered in the opening minute of the fight. With the memory of the broken leg she sustained last October in an ATV accident still fresh in her mind, she said she believes she potentially re-broke the same leg early in the first round because of a pair of powerful low kicks delivered by Nunes. Pennington called the pain “excruciating” and admitted that she became nauseous after eating the second kick. She expects to learn more about the severity of her injury later in the day Monday.
As for Kutz, he said that Pennington’s coaches knew her leg was hurt, but didn’t understand how bad things actually were because of the way Pennington was masking her pain.
“That goes back to her movement, her stance, this and that. She, to me, was not showing any signs of dysfunction of the limb,” Kutz said. “Yeah, it hurt, but as far as gimping and limping on it, I didn’t see it. If you look at the beginning of the round, she’s moving again and she was light on her feet. I was like, ‘Okay, okay.’ And then obviously things didn’t work out, the way it was, but at that moment what do I have? A half a second to give some advice there? That’s what I thought … and looking into her eyes and seeing it on her face, that’s what I felt needed to happen.
“And in my opinion, she did turn it around mentally, did a 180, and started the fifth round. I’m ridiculously proud of that. And I know a lot of people think I just threw her to the wolves there, but you know, it’s hard, and I know how tough she can be.”
The criticism that has been directed Kutz’s way since UFC 224 has been ample. Pennington said Kutz was “pretty emotional” and “pretty devastated” by the way things have played out since Saturday night.
One of the most common attacks of Kutz’s decision has been the lack of direction given by his coaching staff after convincing Pennington to continue fighting. Kutz said that he regretted that his team simply ran out time between rounds to address that issue. He also acknowledged that, in retrospect, he could’ve approached her words in a different way.
“I would say the only thing that I could’ve said differently is maybe put it back into her court a little bit, and said like, ‘Do you really want me to stop this fight?’” Kutz said. “That’s hindsight, but again, because that throws it right back on her, and then she says yes, it’s over. But when she says, ‘I don’t want to do this, my leg hurts,’ my first initial reaction is, ‘Okay, yeah, your leg hurts, let’s power through this.’ Honestly, that’s what I was going with, and I didn’t want her to stop the fight because her leg hurt. And granted, we already discussed that I knew it hurt, but the nausea and this and that, I wasn’t really aware of at that moment. ... I didn’t know that. I’ll speak to what I did know and I’ll stick with that.”
Some voices online have speculated whether money played a role in the situation. Coaches generally receive a percentage of fighters’ incomes, and the “show/win purse” format of MMA means that a victorious fighter often earns much more money than a losing fighter.
But to say monetary concerns played a part at UFC 224 is, in Kutz’s eyes, a ridiculous claim.
“I don’t subscribe to that at all, especially with Raquel and now working with Tecia either,” Kutz said. “We’ve never discussed money. That’s not why she does it. She doesn’t fight for money. I don’t coach her for money. None of the other coaches coach her for money. If I were to make a decision based on money, whether on her getting more or myself getting more, if I make a decision like that based on money, dude, fire me. I quit. That’s not it at all. Zero chance money had anything to do with that.”
Kutz also speculated whether Pennington’s gender played a role in the outrage to his team’s decision. He wondered whether that anger would be the same if “Rocky” had been a man.
“I also think that it could be different had Raquel been a guy, and then [us] saying that,” Kutz said. “I think things would get looked at a little different. And I’ve had that conversation with Raquel and I know how tough she is, I’m not going to treat her any different than I would treat a guy. So, that’s where we’re at on that.”
As it stands, the situation is in unfortunate one but Kutz reiterated what Pennington said — namely, that everyone on the team is content with how it was handled.
The disappointment of the loss still stings, but Team Pennington is simply hoping to move forward toward a brighter future.
“I made the decision,” Kutz said. “I’m not regretting that decision at all. The coaching staff isn’t regretting it. But most importantly, Raquel is not regretting it. So there you have it. We’re going to move forward and learn and grow from this, and keep on keeping on.”