A UFC championship fight between Amanda Nunes and Raquel Pennington turned uncomfortable on Saturday when a bloodied, demoralized Pennington turned to her corner prior to the start of the final round and said she was "done."
Pennington's corner implored her not to give up, despite being down four rounds. "Change your mindset," was the advice she got back from a coach, identified by multiple outlets as Jason Kutz. "Throw everything we got."
Ultimately, the 29-year-old bantamweight title challenger listened to her corner and went back out for the fifth. According to FightMetric, she absorbed another 19 strikes over the course of 2:36, at which point referee Marc Goddard waved off the bout.
Pennington was hospitalized afterward and had not commented on the matter as of Sunday. However, her fiancee, UFC strawweight Tecia Torres, took to social media Sunday to say she and Pennington "agree with the decision" of the corner to not stop the fight.
Nunes, for her part, said she felt Pennington's corner had "failed."
"It's sad because you could avoid something," Nunes said. "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."
Did Pennington's corner fail her? My opinion, given what we know, is yes, it probably did. But maybe not in the way others seem to think.
It's not surprising to me that, when confronted with Pennington's plea in the fifth round of a UFC title fight, her corner's first reaction was to talk her out of it. That's part of a coach's job: Demand the very most from your athletes -- especially when they believe they have nothing more to give.
Immediately after this exchange happened, though, many of those watching (including UFC fighters) took to social media to declare it appalling. They viewed it as a matter of black and white. If a fighter says he or she is done, that's the end of it. Stop the fight.
That's the part I can't agree with. For the record, I'm actually in favor of more corners stopping fights in MMA. I don't think it happens enough. But to say, "If a fighter tells a corner they're done, that corner should never, under any circumstances, encourage them to continue," is something I don't agree with.
One important question to ask here is: What is to gain from Pennington going out for the fifth round? And in my mind, it comes down to two answers.
First, of course, there's the possibility she could still win. It's very improbable, but stranger things have happened. Pennington could land a takedown, and Nunes could suffer some awkward, fight-ending injury during the fall. The challenger could snatch a guillotine as Nunes tries to take her down. It's not impossible.
And second, fighting on eliminates the chance for regret. Would Pennington be upset later on if her UFC championship fight was stopped, based on something she said in a weakened state, before the last five minutes of the bout? You would hope her corner has better insight into that question than any of us.
I don't blame Pennington's team for its initial reaction. However, I do think the corner could have handled what happened next a little better.
At no point did the corner afford Pennington one last chance to say she wanted out. If your goal is to talk up an athlete, you should also gauge whether or not it's working. If, in the final seconds of the break, Pennington had been asked if she still wanted to quit, it would have been interesting to hear her answer.
And once the fight did resume, the corner should have kept a close eye on how Pennington looked. She landed a couple of punches early, but once Nunes took her down about one minute in, there was no reason at that point to not alert cageside physicians and the referee that the fight needed to end.
At the end of the day, should Pennington's corner have listened when she said she was done? With the benefit of hindsight, of course, we can say it should have. And had Pennington remained adamant she couldn't continue, I would certainly hope the corner wouldn't have fought her on it.
But in that initial moment, I don't think it's an easy call for a corner to make.