One of the most bizarre scenes at UFC on ESPN 11 on Saturday night involved the card’s opening bout. Coming in on short notice, highly touted prospect Max Rohskopf was up against Austin Hubbard — a fighter with three times the experience, and a much longer camp.
Rohskopf acquitted himself well in the opening round, and even won the round on one judge’s scorecard. In the second, however, things went sideways. Rohskopf opened the round with an Imanari roll, and clearly wanted to rely on his wrestling. Hubbard, however, forced a standup war, and the rookie was winded early. Not a huge surprise, given it was a short notice fight. By the end of the frame, Hubbard was teeing off on the newcomer — garnering 10-8 scores from two judges.
Then, in his corner, an exhausted Rohskopf told coach Robert Drysdale to call the fight. Dysdale didn’t listen, urging his student to fight on. “You got this Max, you got this. Stop it. Stop it. You got this.”
“I don’t want to do this anymore,” Rohskopf replied. “I don’t have it. I don’t have it.”
Drysdale told him to stop it, calling him a champion and urging him to use his wrestling. The coach refused to call off the fight. So Rohskopf did.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) June 20, 2020
Observers were immediately divided on an exchange that may never have been heard if fans were in the venue. However, in the empty UFC Apex, the pair’s conversation was clear as day. Only one thing is certain: Max Rohskopf did not want to fight on after the drubbing he took in the second round. Robert Drysdale, his coach, wanted him to continue.
It’s a tough call. Some have piled on Drysdale. Others have chastised Rohskopf for failing to answer the bell. And the Nevada State Athletic Commission intends to investigate the matter.
“We might want to take disciplinary action on [Rohskopf’s corner]. That doesn’t sound like they are looking out for a fighter,” the NSAC’s Bob Bennett said Saturday.
Robert Drysdale defended his actions to ESPN’s Ariel Helwani following the fight. “I stand by what I did. I expect excellence from the people I train because I love them,” he said, before adding that Rohskopf “wasn’t seriously hurt, and I felt he needed a mental push. I would expect the same from my coach.”
Plenty of fighters have questioned themselves between rounds. Plenty of coaches have needed to push fighters. Rarely do fans overhear the exchange clear as day. But on top of a couple of recent lopsided bouts that arguably should have been stopped early — Anthony Smith against Glover Teixeira and Felicia Spencer against Amanda Nunes — the Rohskopf situation suddenly finds itself under the microscope.
UFC President Dana White gave his take at the UFC on ESPN 11 post-fight press conference. Noting that Rohskopf’s manager had been hounding the UFC for a fight, he also cut the young wrestler some slack.
“Listen, let me tell you what. In this f*cking sport, if you’re done, you’re done. You should absolutely be able to quit,” exclaimed White. “I know that it’s frowned upon, but guess what? Anybody that would talk sh*t about you quitting isn’t in there fighting. It’s real easy to be a critic. What these kids do is a whole other level.”
Managers from all over the world work to get their fighters to the UFC, he noted. “When you get here, this is a whole different level. And that guy’s not ready, and he might not ever be ready.”
It’s a situation White can relate to himself. “I believed one day, back in the day, that I was a fighter and I wanted to do this. And one day I found out that I wasn’t,” admitted White. “The realization was that I wasn’t. When you find out, you need to walk away. I’m not saying that’s the case with this kid, but if that kid felt like he needed to quit tonight, who the f*ck is anybody to judge him on that? He had the balls to come here and fight, and take a short notice fight in the UFC.”
“There is no shame in getting here and finding out that you’re not it,” White went on to add. “There’s no shame in that at all. He gave it a shot, didn’t work out. Anybody who would try to ridicule a kid like that, f*ck you. Come try it. Come try and do what he did tonight. Very few people can do it.”