Post-Fight Thoughts: Amanda Nunes -vs- Raquel Pennington
The main event of UFC 224 was a less intriguing match-up than many others on the fight card. Since winning the womens' bantamweight title from Miesha Tate at UFC 200, Amanda Nunes has dominated her division and faced little in the way of credible opposition. Nunes destroyed Ronda Rousey, easily out-pointed Valentina Shevchenko, and her most recent loss was the result of a last-minute Hail Mary rally from an otherwise utterly defeated Cat Zingano back in 2014. Since then, no one has been able to do anything except tire Nunes out by taking a beating from her.
So, when it was announced that Amanda Nunes would defend her title against Raquel Pennington, I was not overly enthused. Taking nothing from Pennington, I just did not see her as being in the same league as Nunes — whose worst performance as-of-late was a clear decision win over a stifled, tentative Valentina Shevchenko. Nunes' last win may not have been a violent finish, but she has plenty of those already and was able to silence critics who felt that she only had 1 or 2 rounds worth of conditioning and would lose to anyone who took her beyond that time limit. Pennington's last win was over the ghost of Miesha Tate — who retired, following that loss — and she had also spent over a year out of competition, dealing with injuries.
As a result of the womens' bantamweight division lacking significant depth, Raquel Pennington was still the best opponent available — even with legitimate concerns regarding the competition she had faced and her time off. Much like Cris Cyborg, champion of the womens' featherweight division, suffers as a result of her dominance, Nunes is in a similar position: she has challengers on paper but, in reality, no one is giving anyone who steps up to "The Lioness" much of a chance right now. Pennington is a skilled fighter, and anything but a push-over, but her accomplishments pale in comparsison to Amanda Nunes' achievements to date. I went into this fight with the expectation that Nunes would be dishing out a beating and handily defending her title.
To the surprise of exactly no one, that ended up being what transpired in the main event of UFC 224. Nunes came out looking sharp, aggressive and composed; Pennington spent the almost the entirety of the fight on her back-foot, backed against the cage, and competely defensive. Amanda Nunes metered her output, and handily won each round, pressuring the challenger and giving her no time to breathe or adapt. The rounds ticked by, with Nunes piling on the damage, busting Pennington's face up and accumulating a lot of significant strikes. Pennington finally seemed to have had enough by the end of the 4th round, imploring her corner to end the fight and throw in the towel — specifically saying "I'm done."
But then, to my utter shock and disbelief, Pennington's corner began to argue with their fighter, and eventually sent her out for the final round. I could not believe what I was seeing; a fighter's corner staff are supposed to look out for their well-being and safety, and Pennington's team did anything but that. Not only did Pennington's corner fail to save their fighter from additional damage, they wasted the time between rounds — which could have been used to coach their figher — on arguing her into continuing a fight she clearly stated she wanted no further part of. And, for her troubles, Pennington answered the 5th round bell and was TKO'ed 2-and-a-half minutes later — left a crumpled, bloody heap on the floor of the octagon.
There is no excuse for the conduct of Pennington's corner, and they should all be ashamed of themselves. I won't even waste time speculating as to why they felt it necessary to browbeat a physically hurt, mentally defeated fighter into going out for another round in a fight they were hopelessly outmatched in. There is no justification for it; this was a dereliction of her team's duties to protect their fighter from unnecessary harm. Some have made the point that if Pennington had come out landed a miraculous, fight-ending punch, that her coaches would have been lauded as geniuses. This is absurd, and just plain wrong. Also, "if this scenario were completely different then I bet you'd feel differently" is not a rebuttal, it's a waste of everybody's time. If a fighter says they're done, you listen to them; this isn't a deathmatch, let them survive to fight another day.
Corner issues aside, Amanda Nunes' peformance was outstanding, as she showcased excellent conditioning as well as further refinements to her striking game. No longer just a ferocious brawler with terrifying strength and 7 minutes of cardio, Amanda Nunes has evolved into a technical striker with fighr-ending power in her shots. Nunes' only problem at the moment is a lack of challengers, with Holly Holm being the only notable name she has not fought yet. Unfortunately, Holm has a fight coming up at 145 pounds against Megan Anderson, making her unavailable for the foreseeable future — or worse, should Holm lose. I would not be surprised to see the UFC try and pursue a champion versus champion fight with Cris Cyborg again, seeing as there is no other exciting options.
A solid, dominant performance from the champ, somewhat marred by the shameful behaviour of Raquel Pennington's corner staff. Hopefully the former finds a better team for future fights, one more concerned with her health and well-being.
Published: May 13th, 2018.