That’s how many times the broadcast caught Max Rohskopf telling his corner to “call it” and pull him out in-between the second and third rounds of his fight with Austin Hubbard at UFC on ESPN 11 on Saturday.
That’s not counting all the other different ways that Rohskopf, 25, expressed his desire to be saved from another five minutes of a short-notice UFC debut that had gone awry.
Listen for yourself.
Inside the corner of Max Rohskopf before the fight is called off at #UFCVegas3 pic.twitter.com/hZrfnaMObt— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) June 20, 2020
It’s a disturbing scene, even more so on repeat viewings. This doesn’t sound like a fighter needing a pep talk from his coaches. Rohskopf doesn’t sound rattled or like he doesn’t know where he is; if anything, he is acutely aware of the situation. He knows he’s done and he has enough wits about him to communicate that to his corner.
They tell him he can still win. He says he can’t. They say he’s got this. He says he doesn’t. He says, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” They don’t listen.
The “they” primarily communicating with Rohskopf is coach Robert Drysdale. One of the most successful Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners to ever come out of the United States and a former MMA fighter himself (he actually retired with an unbeaten record of 7-0 with one no contest), Drysdale knows what it takes to dig deep in difficult situations and find another gear to come out on top. That’s what he thought could still happen for Rohskopf.
Thanks to referee Mark Smith and the cageside physician, we wouldn’t get the chance to find out if Drysdale was right.
That’s how many times officials had to be told that Rohskopf wanted to call it before waving off the bout.
Here’s what Drysdale told MMA Fighting when asked about his decision.
“I don’t regret it. I did the right thing. I’d do it again. If I could change one thing, I would have insisted more because he wasn’t hurt. The coach’s job is to take the athlete to the extreme technically, physically and mentally. I think he lost his head there. He got tired and his head got weak.
“I’m a coach, it’s my obligation to… I want what’s best for him, I worry about him, and it’s my obligation to give him a mental push. ‘Brother, don’t give up, you won’t give up.’ I do that every day in the gym, he’s tired and I say, ‘One more round.’ That’s my job. If I’m there, and I let the guy quit on the first adversity, I’m not doing my job right. This is not criticism, it’s love. It’s because I worry about my athletes and I want what’s best for them, and I’m not wrong. If I were the one on the stool, tired, dead, I would expect my coaches to do the same with me.”
It’s not fair to say that Drysdale had malicious intent. As he said, he’s had similar conversations in training with Rohskopf that we’re not privy too and he undoubtedly knows his fighter better than almost anyone at the UFC APEX or watching from home. It’s because of these reasons that I don’t expect Drysdale to face any formal penalty from the Nevada State Athletic Commission, who will investigate what happened in Rohskopf’s corner, according to ESPN.
But knowing someone and doing right by them isn’t always easy, especially when we’re talking about the chaotic world of fighting where unprecedented situations pop up all the time. Maybe every other time he saw Rohskopf falter, Drysdale was right to give him that extra push.
However, it’s unlikely Rohskopf had ever faced adversity like this since starting his professional fighting career just two years ago. The kind of punishment Hubbard put him through in round two, this was something new. Something that Drysdale should have known his charge wouldn’t be prepared for after accepting a fight on less than one week’s notice. Especially when Rohskopf made it abundantly clear how he felt about the situation with just two words.
This isn’t just about preserving Rohskopf’s health. Yes, the thought of him taking any more punches to the head after having already checked out mentally is chilling, but his corner’s negligence extends beyond that. By ignoring the protests of their fighter and having that exchange on a nationally televised broadcast, the corner exposed Rohskopf to all of the criticism that comes with him admitting that he didn’t have one round left in him.
Now the story isn’t that Rohskopf’s corner threw in the towel for him. It’s that he quit and that decision was his and his alone. With that call, they jeopardized Rohskopf’s well-being, reputation, and possibly his development.
Whenever Rohskopf is ready to give his account of the events, it won’t be surprising at all if he defuses the situation by praising Drysdale’s motivational tactics and putting the onus on himself for not putting his best foot forward. That will likely be the end of it. Look no further than another fighter on Saturday’s card, Raquel Pennington, for an example of how these controversies can blow over.
At UFC 224, Pennington was all but cooked heading into a fifth round with bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes and she knew it. She told her then-coach Jason Kutz that she was “done.” Her corner sent her out anyway and less than three minutes later Nunes ended the fight via TKO. Later, Pennington unequivocally backed up her team. Her reaction was understandable given that she was fighting for a world title.
At some point Drysdale is going to have to ask himself, what was Rohskopf fighting for after two rounds? And what was the cost of forcing him to continue when Rohskopf himself couldn’t answer that question anymore?