What makes a fighter? To some, it’s any man or woman who competes in a combat sport. Someone who, well, fights, professionally in a cage, ring, or on a mat.
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To Max Rohskopf (3-0), fighting is much more than that. Today, Rohskopf is an undefeated mixed martial arts prospect in Final Fight Championship, but he’s been a fighter for as long as he can remember.
“My dad was an alcoholic, a really very mean, violent person, and he basically, when I was – this like one of my first memories,” Rohskopf told The Body Lock. “When I was 5 or 6 years old, he held me, my brothers; my mom at gunpoint, and I had to basically escape out the two-story window, jump, and go get the police when I’m like 6 years old, and, like, save my mom.”
Rohskopf doesn’t pause as he recounts the harrowing tale so many years later. To grow up with an alcoholic parent, not to mention being held at gunpoint by him or her, is a difficult upbringing for a child of any age. For a six-year-old, it can be downright traumatic.
“From the time I was 6 until I was about 12, my mom and my dad were fighting over custody over me and the other boys, which, looking back now, is really stupid because I don’t know how my dad was even still in that fight. He should’ve been in prison for life and shouldn’t have had any say in what us boys were doing,” said Rohskopf.
Rohskopf revealed that his father’s presence in his life was a severely negative influence.
“I was around him from the time I was born until the time I was twelve and being around people like that… you don’t know any better. You’re going to learn what you’re around, and so I was almost, kind of, like my dad until I was, like, 12 or 13 and started realizing that you’re not supposed to act like that.”
For Max Rohskopf, wrestling became an outlet for the latent aggression and emotion he felt as a result of his father’s looming influence.
“Then, once I found wrestling, I fell in love with it. It was something physical and violent that I could do almost legally, and I just took to it very well, and ever since then, I’ve just been growing as a person [as a result of my involvement in wrestling],” said Rohskopf.
“I started wrestling when I was 12 in Ohio. That’s kind of late; where I’m from, you normally start when you’re 4or 5. I just fell in love with it right away, and I was at it every single day from the time I was 12 until now. So I got good, decently fast. Wrestling is just a different grind. It’s so much harder on your body than MMA. Wrestlers tend to work a little bit harder – a lot harder – than any other athlete I’ve really ever been around, and even some of the lazy wrestlers still work harder than like high-level football players or high level whatever.
“It’s just a different type of grind. You gotta be a little sick to be able to go through it, and that work ethic and that mentality and being a student of that game has kind of opened up my brain, almost, to be able to be a student at every other martial art that I’ve been learning since I started fighting,” Rohskopf said.
Max Rohskopf was clearly well suited to the unique grind of wrestling. The Ohio native continued his wrestling career as part of the North Carolina State University ‘Wolfpack’. At NC State, Rohskopf made waves, winning the 2016 ACC championship at 165 pounds.
The following a year, a torn labrum spelled the end of his collegiate wrestling career, prompting a move to mixed martial arts. Already a high-level wrestling standout, Rohskopf joined two of the world’s preeminent fighting gyms – Drysdale BJJ, under legendary American jiu jitsu black belt Robert Drysdale, and Xtreme Couture, one of the world’s top MMA gyms.
“I do most of my training at Drysdale’s, and then I do most of my sparring and my mitts and stuff at Xtreme,” said Rohskopf.
At Xtreme Couture, Rohskopf trains with an All-Star cast of world-renowned talent.
“I spar with some big, heavy hitters in the gym,” Rohskopf said. “Most of the guys at Xtreme. So, like, [former UFC title challengers] Kevin Lee, Gray Maynard… I did a couple rounds – they were lighter, obviously – but Francis Ngannou last week; Blagoi [Ivanov], who just fought in the UFC. [UFC middleweight] Brad Tavares is there. We got [UFC fighters] Boston [Salmon], Dan Ige, Puna[hele Soriano], who got the UFC contract from the Contender Series. All of them are my training partners, especially Dan, Puna, Boston; all from Hawaii – all them mother(expletive)s hit hard,” Rohskopf laughed.
Training with such high-level talents in the gym has given Max Rohskopf an added confidence in the cage.
“I can compete with any guy in the world right now. I’ve told our promotion that, my managers know that, my coaches know that. My coaches almost saw that in me before I started seeing it. It’s just a matter of doing it inside of the cage in front of everybody else because I’ve done it in the gym. I’m very, very confident in that,” said Rohskopf.
While Max Rohskopf continues to grow as a martial artist and prove his level inside of the cage, he will do so under the banner of Final Fight Championship, a burgeoning regional promotion.
Rohskopf competed just last week for FFC, scoring a first-round submission victory with a rear-naked choke/twister/neck crank hybrid over Jonathon Morris (3-2). The win marked Rohskopf’s third straight win, all of which have come by a variant of the rear-naked choke in the first or second round.
In Rohskopf’s opinion, the fight was a great learning experience.
“So the opponent was late notice. I had like five days ’til my original opponent pulled out, and then they got me that guy on short notice. We didn’t see a lot of tape on him; we just kinda knew that he was going to do some like weird stuff and looked like he was going to be pretty strong, but at this point [in my career], my coaches are of that faith in me that I can compete with anyone in the world right now as far as just based on what they see me do in the gym.
“So, we weren’t really too worried about it. I came out – I’m glad, my coaches were glad with this too, so, there was a little bit of adversity in the fight when once I got my takedown; he was able to reverse a couple of the positions, and that’s not normal for me. He was just a little bit stronger, more athletic than I thought he was going to be and was able to power out of some pretty tough positions, so it was good to go through a little bit at adversity there. I think that was the first in my three pro fights that I’d been hit. That was the first time I’d been hit, too, I got elbowed one time in the entire fight, but [it was still the] first time I’ve been hit,” Rohskopf shared.
“And then the finish: I was in mount, and he literally did like a sit-up with me and mount and tried standing up while I was in mount, and I came over to do like a twister position and felt like I was going to lose the position for a second, so I switched my hands and went to a rear-naked choke from the twister position, and he started tapping, but, honestly, I thought he was trying to hit me. I didn’t realize he was tapping. I held it for a little too long. The ref was pissed, but he wasn’t tapping fast. He was like doing big slaps and I thought it was like he was trying to hit me,” explained Rohskopf.
With Rohskopf’s wrestling, jiu jitsu, and MMA credentials, he’s likely one of the hottest prospects in the sport. Despite this, Rohskopf is content to grow in FFC, no matter whose radar he’s on.
“I’ve still got to sit down [with my management and promotion] because we’re still under contract with FFC. They’ve been great to me, man. They’re letting me grapple on the side. I’ve made more money grappling in the last year and then I have fighting, and that was one thing that at first the contract said I wasn’t going to be able to do, but I did a grappling tournament last week five days before I had a fight, and I made some money doing that.”
However, if an offer from a top-tier promotion arose, Rohskopf believes that FFC would allow him to pursue that.
“I’m sure if a bigger opportunity, a big contract came along, that I’d be able to move on, but I’m still under contract with FFC; they’ve been great for me, man,” reiterated Rohskopf.
As Max Rohskopf continues to check off milestones on his MMA journey, he has one overarching focus that guides his day-to-day progression: fusing his multiple, standout skills in each discipline to become the ultimate fighter.
“Right now, and I’ve already seen it, I’ve gotten messages already from today from people who coached me or trained with me saying that like ‘I got it’, and that my style and the stuff that I’m doing right now is almost the future of what MMA is going to, so I want to be the next innovator; the person that changes how the sport is looked at because I think right now, there are a couple sides to it: a lot of people think it’s just a fistfight, and I can’t stand when people say that because it’s still a sport,” began Rohskopf.
“If you want to do a fistfight, we’re gonna be nut-grabbing and eye-gouging and shit out in the parking lot. That’s a fight. What we do in the cage and what we do in the ring is a sport. I take an approach very much like that, but I also try and be a master at every discipline. I’ve been boxing, doing jiu jitsu, and wrestling for a long time, and I’m kind of blending it all together to where they’re not all separate arts; it’s all one. My striking and my wrestling are one. My wrestling and my jiu jitsu are one. I add Tae Kwon Do, karate implements to it, some kicks. I make it all one. Instead of throwing a 1-2-3 like a boxer and then trying to shoot like a wrestler, I’m more, sort of, a 1-2 as I fake a takedown, or a 1-2 as I’m going for a takedown, which I don’t think a lot of guys are doing right now. It’s all separate.”
With his wrestling honed on the mats of NC State, his jiu jitsu forged in the Drysdale gym, and his MMA career flourishing alongside the talent at Xtreme Couture, Max Rohskopf is poised to be a breakout star. Add to that his natural charisma, down-to-earth demeanor, and patient approach to mastering the sport, and Rohskopf might just be the next big thing.
Michael Fiedel is The Body Lock's deputy editor, a staff writer for FloCombat, and a Russell-Rice scholarship recipient at Vanderbilt University.