Max Rohskopf

UFC lightweight Max Rohskopf (5-1), whose recent fight with Austin Hubbard (12-4) ended by second-round retirement and garnered widespread controversy, has issued his first public comments since his loss to The Body Lock.

“I don’t have anything to say except that all the decisions up to this point right and wrong have been mine and mine only. My manager and coaches did nothing but listen to me and do everything I’ve asked,” Rohskopf told The Body Lock in a text message.

Rohskopf, 25, accepted the bout against Hubbard on short notice after Joe Solecki withdrew from the bout just five days before the fight took place.

The former Atlantic Coastal Conference (ACC) wrestling champion from North Carolina State University was 5-0 with five submissions in his young career, most recently competing for regional Florida promotion Titan FC.

After the fight, Rohskopf’s manager, Brian Butler-Au, the CEO of Suckerpunch Entertainment, told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto that “Max suffered from fatigue due to short notice weight cut and pre-existing turf toe. Was not able to overcome both. He will take time off to heal up.”

Turf toe is “a sprain of the largest joint of your big toe,” according to Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Symptoms of the condition, which “happens when your toe forcibly bends upwards,” may include pain, swelling, bruising, an inability to move the toe, and an inability to put weight on the toe, writes Cedars-Sinai.

In the first round of Rohskopf’s UFC debut, the highly-touted prospect showed moments of promise, taking Hubbard to the ground once and threatening with a variety of leg-based submission attempts. However, it was Hubbard who appeared to land the cleaner, more powerful strikes on the feet.

While grappling, Hubbard was able to stifle Rohskopf’s leglock attacks and stay out of danger defensively. Toward the end of the round, Rohskopf appeared to have become fatigued to a degree, which coach Robert Drysdale – under whom Rohskopf trains and was awarded his purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu – would expand upon in subsequent post-fight comments.

“Five days notice, coming off a quarantine. He had a bit of an injury, you know, a while ago and it hadn’t recovered,” said Drysdale, a world champion jiu jitsu competitor and a former undefeated UFC fighter, in an interview with ESPN’s Ariel Helwani.

One of the three judges scoring the bout, Eric Colon, scored the first round 10-9 in favor of Rohskopf. Both other judges – Ron McCarthy and Tony Weaks – scored the round 10-9 in favor of Hubbard, according to MMAJunkie.

Drysdale believes that Rohskopf won the first round, telling Helwani, “Judges, a lot of times, don’t count the grappling, and that’s what it comes down to… if you get out of a bad position on the ground, the count the getting out of the good position more than they count the fact that the guy got them in the bad position to begin with,” which he labels “backwards” from the way in which grappling is scored in competitive jiu jitsu.

The second round saw Rohskopf again endeavor to get the fight to the ground and attack the legs of Hubbard, as Rohskopf began the round with an Imanari roll, which he then transitioned into a takedown. Hubbard was able to survive the grappling advances of Rohskopf, eventually scrambling to his feet nearly a minute into the round.

The remainder of the round was Hubbard’s, as the four-fight UFC veteran repeatedly attacked the legs of Rohskopf with kicks and attacked with multiple punch combinations that all but halted the offense of a fatigued Rohskopf. However, while Hubbard was landing powerfully and often, Rohskopf was not knocked down in the round.

Rohskopf returned to his corner following the conclusion of the second round in what would become the infamous, controversial minute that emerged as the bout’s defining storyline.

Over the course of the minute between rounds, Rohskopf would tell Drysdale to “call it” at least nine times, requesting that his cornerman call off the fight. Rohskopf also told Drysdale, “I don’t have it.” Drysdale, in response, aimed to encourage his fighter and dissuade him from ending the fight, a decision Drysdale would go on to label “one of the gravest mistakes of his life.”

Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) inspector Charvez Foger appeared to notice Rohskopf’s hesitation. He and Drysdale, who ultimately said, “He wants to call it,” alerted referee Mark Smith and the cage-side physician to check in with the fighter.

Rohskopf reiterated his desire to end the fight, and the bout was stopped then.

Directly after the bout’s conclusion, the NSAC told ESPN that the commission would be looking into Rohskopf’s corner and the handling of the stoppage.

NSAC Executive Director Bob Bennett told the outlet, “We might want to take disciplinary action on them. That doesn’t sound like they are looking out for a fighter. Obviously, he didn’t want to come out [and fight]… It may come up in a future hearing. We will take an official look at it.”

In that ESPN story, Drysdale is quoted as saying, “I stand by what I did… I expect excellence from the people I train because I love them. He wasn’t seriously hurt, and I felt he needed a mental push. I would expect the same from my coach.”

Drysdale continued in response to a subsequent question, “That is the job of a coach, to push their fighters physically, technically and mentally. I did my job, and I have no regrets because I believe Max has [the] potential to be one of the greats.”

Reactions among combat sports athletes and pundits were varied, though general sentiments seemed to be that the corner should have stopped the fight earlier; even if one discounted Rohskopf’s initial calls for the fight’s end, the repeated nature of the requests and Rohskopf’s non-responsiveness to Drysdale’s methods should have led to the corner stopping the fight.

Opponent Austin Hubbard said post-fight, “I could tell he was broken. I was landing some good shots, some hard shots. In my mind, that fight was not gonna make it to the end of the third… I never experienced that. I know I was hitting him clean; I was hitting him hard. I can’t blame him. He is a tough kid. He was taking them well. I could tell those were hurting him, though.

“I could tell he was a little cloudy. I’m not surprised, and in my mind, I was finishing that fight for sure,” said Hubbard, via MMA Junkie.

UFC President Dana White took a strong position on the topic, defending Rohskopf against those who judged or criticized Rohskopf’s decision.

“Let me tell you what, in this (expletive) sport, if you’re done, you’re done,” White said at the event’s post-fight press conference. “You should absolutely be able to quit. I know that it’s frowned upon but guess what? Anybody that would talk (expletive) 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.”

White then went on to share his own experience with ending his fight career prospects, which appear to have shaped his position on the topic.

“I’ve told you guys this many times before, I believed back in the day that I was a fighter and I wanted to do this and that and one day I found out that I wasn’t. 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 (expletive) 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. Period,” White said, via MMA Fighting.

Former UFC champions Dominick Cruz and Michael Bisping, both of whom were commentating the event, weighed in on the controversy. Cruz emphasized Rohskopf’s lack of experience both in MMA and on such a stage, saying that he believes Rohskopf’s decision was affected by it.

One-time UFC light heavyweight title challenger Anthony Smith, who was recently involved in a corner-related controversy of his own, took issue with Rohskopf’s corner. “Not all of us think the same. Not everybody is me. It’s just different. He’s a young kid and he wanted out, get him the (expletive) out of there! He wanted to go home. He said he didn’t have it. He said he didn’t want to do this anymore. That’s different from just being down on yourself and needing a pick me up,” Smith told TMZ Sports.

“He asked out 9 times! This isn’t goddamn Bloodsport!” said Smith.

Legendary boxing trainer Teddy Atlas wrote of Drysdale’s cornering on Twitter, “This is why all cornermen/trainers need to be vetted before being licensed. Not a right, a privilege& serious responsibility. From judgement of making match, to reading of what was happening – out of his league. Not everyone should get a driver’s license. Dangerous. @arielhelwani.”

Some, however, shared to an extent Drysdale’s mentality and sentiments.

Former simultaneous UFC two-weight champion Daniel Cormier said on Monday’s “DC & Helwani” ESPN show, “Initially, I heard it, and I go, ‘Stop the fight. The kid doesn’t want to be there.’ But then, I thought and I spoke to people – a spoke to a couple college coaches that have known Max, and they know Max – that at times, you have to motivate him in that way to really dig through the tough times, and he’ll do it, right? He’ll answer the call if you push him.

“So maybe, in the training room – only Robert Drysdale and his coaches see him in the training room in those scenarios to know how to motivate him through tough spots,” said Cormier, who continued by arguing that he would not have achieved what he has in his career – including making weight – without Drysdale-like motivation and that Drysdale knows Rohskopf better than those deriding his corner work.

Drysdale has since defended his decision, which has attracted mainstream attention from outlets such as The Washington Post, in a media appearance with ESPN and a self-uploaded video on his Instagram profile.

“Yes, I do, and I think that the one thing that the public took a little… misconstrued… is that Max’s health was never at risk, you know? His safety was never at risk. If Max had hurt himself very seriously, broken a jaw, you know, if he had lost his vision, I would have jumped over that fence and interrupted that fight before the judge could be on him. Like, no one in that arena cares more about Max than I do.

“So, I knew that he wasn’t at risk. It was more than just fatigue – he was mentally frustrated, and I wanted to bring him back to life. I wanted to revive him. I want to convince him to get back in there, and I had 60 seconds to do it,” Drysdale says to begin the 30-minute interview, in which he explains the decision in greater detail.

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