The former lightweight champion was tuned in to UFC 224 this past weekend when he saw the between-rounds exchange of Pennington and her cornermen that sent the MMA world into a tizzy. UFC cameras caught Pennington telling her head coach Jason Kutz that she was “done” between the fourth and fifth round in Rio de Janeiro, however Kutz convinced Pennington to answer the bell for the final frame. Less than three minutes later, Pennington lost to Nunes via fifth-round TKO.
Opinions in the ensuing days over Kutz’s decision were resoundingly split. Some voices within the MMA community felt like Kutz did a disservice to Pennington by not stopping the fight at her request, while others felt as if Kutz saved Pennington from a lifetime of regret of quitting on the stool during her first title fight. For what it’s worth, Pennington fell into the latter camp — she and her fiancee Tecia Torres both steadfastly defended Kutz’s call.
While Alvarez can see both sides of the argument, his own experiences of having to overcome adversity in the heart of a firefight gives him a unique perspective on the discussion. And he can understand exactly why Pennington feels the way she does.
“I have conflicting views of the whole thing,” Alvarez said Monday on The MMA Hour. “My honest opinion is, I was there where she was in a fight before. I was there. I was exactly where she was, where I told my corner, ‘I think I’m out of this.’
“Gilbert Melendez broke my nose and orbital in the first round of the Mexico fight [at UFC 188], and I believe I went back to the stool and I talked to Henri (Hooft), and I didn’t say what she said, I wasn’t very clear, I was just like, ‘Man, I’m messed up.’ And you could tell my spirit was a bit broken. And Henri brought me back off the ledge and let me know, ‘Hey, we’re going to deal with this.’ And I came back and I won the fight, and I kind of owed that to Henri Hooft, who brought me back to the fight. If it was just myself negotiating with myself in my own mind, my spirit was low.”
“A corner’s job is to protect the fighter, but a corner’s job is also — they’re like the pit stop,” Alvarez continued. “Like, when a car’s doing Indy 500, the car’s going to be worn down, the car’s going to be messed up, sh*t’s going to break, sh*t’s going to fly off. It’s those guys’ jobs at the pit stop to revive that car, to revive the spirit of that car and send it back out there on the road — but at all costs, send it back on the road. So it’s a double-edged sword. I think there’s not one answer to that question. The better the corner knows the fighter, the better decision the corner can make to that fighter. But that relationship between the fighter and the corner, there’s no one answer for what you’re saying.”
Alvarez, 34, faced off against Melendez back in June 2015 at UFC 188. After badly losing the opening round, “The Underground King” mounted a gritty comeback with only one eye and a busted nose to earn a split decision victory over Melendez and capture his elusive first Octagon win. Alvarez attributes a much of that victory to his then-coach Henri Hooft, who convinced him to keep digging deep after a tough first frame.
So while his end result may have been different than Pennington’s, Alvarez can still remember that feeling of hopelessness he felt at UFC 188 and put himself in Pennington’s shoes. It’s the main reason he isn’t going to be quick to judge a private moment that ultimately played out in front of the public eye.
“Remember, we’re looking at it from the outside,” Alvarez said. “We’re looking at it from a very cognitive view. When I’m a coach and I care about someone in there, and they just told me they wanted to quit — which kinda throws me for a loop — I have one minute to talk to this person and my mind and heart rate are probably the same as the fighter’s. Like, I’m making very rash decisions that I hope are the right ones. So for us from the outside, to see outside coaches and say ‘this should’ve been said’ or ‘this should’ve been done’ — there wasn’t a protocol in line. Like, she didn’t tell him before the fight, ‘Hey, if I decide I want to quit, this is going to be the plan. We’re going to do this, that, this and that.’
“Literally, in the fourth round of a very intense situation, she hit him with, ‘I’m done,’ and they probably were [taken aback], because she probably never told her corner that ever and there was no protocol in line. They’re not used to a fighter saying, ‘I’m finished,’ so they just kinda did what they felt in their heart was right at the time, considering the relationship that they have with her.
“The relationship between the corner and the fighter, that’s what’s going to determine whether that person’s sent back out there or not,” Alvarez added. “And that’s something that’s only between them two. Nobody else can judge it.”