In the aftermath on UFC on ESPN 11, it was the event’s opening contest that has become the biggest story.
On Saturday, Austin Hubbard welcomed newcomer Max Rohskopf to the octagon in a lightweight bout. After a competitive first round, Hubbard took over in the second in the standup department, leading to a trio of 10-8 scorecards.
As the third round was about to begin, Rohskopf repeatedly told his coach Robert Drysdale that he was done and that he didn’t have it anymore. Eventually, both of them told the referee it was over, and Hubbard got a much-needed win.
Their discussion on the stool garnered all the headlines.
Rohskopf took the fight on less than a week’s notice and was a highly touted prospect, amassing a 5-0 record – all submission wins – in promotions like Final Fight Championship and Titan FC.
The 25-year-old already knew big things would eventually come his way, but with the UFC getting back to work, he saw a potentially life-changing opportunity suddenly appear right in front of him.
“We were planning on the Contender Series in August, but with this whole pandemic thing, and with fights being in Vegas, I definitely thought there was a possibility for a short notice fight,” Rohskopf told MMA Fighting on Tuesday. “I tried my best to try and prepare for that, but I had a couple of injuries where I wasn’t able to train as hard as I can.
“Leading up to the fight, I only got to train hard for a couple of days. To me, I don’t think that should matter. I wanted to be a guy, I still want to be a guy that shows up to fight no matter what, regardless of having a camp or any of that sh*t, because I think that’s a little bit overlooked. I was just gonna go with the flow, and just based on how I felt in training, I thought I was ready.”
Hubbard, a former LFA lightweight champion, entered the UFC in May 2019 and lost a unanimous decision to Davi Ramos. The Elevation Fight Team standout won his first promotional fight four months later against Kyle Prepolec before dropping another decision to former Olympian Mark O. Madsen.
Lost in the shuffle of Rohskopf’s loss was Hubbard’s first finish in the octagon, which has the former shaking his head.
“I think that it’s absolutely disgusting that people aren’t talking about Austin and his performance,” Rohskopf said. “His back was against the wall. If I would’ve went out there and beat him, he would’ve been 1-3 in the UFC, which wouldn’t have looked good. No one should be f**kin’ talking about me, they should be talking about Austin and his performance.
“If anything, they should be hyping him up more that he beat a dude that had a lot of hype. And maybe that’s all that it is, just hype.”
Since Saturday night, a lot of fingers have been pointed. At the official post-fight press conference, UFC President Dana White was asked about the bout and explained that Rohskopf’s manager Brian Butler continuously hit up the matchmakers to give the young fighter a shot.
Once he got it, Rohskopf wasn’t able to fully process the challenge placed upon him. For that, he blames nobody but himself.
“I had a lot of emotions that I still haven’t really processed,” Rohskopf said of getting the call. “My manager and my coaches know that if you’ve ever been in the gym with me, there’s f**kin’ legends and stories that people say.
“I think what my manager did was 100 percent spot on. He’s been in the sport long enough to know when someone has the ability and the talent to do it. I’ve been around guys who have won world titles in multiple sports—kickboxing, boxing, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, MMA—and everyone around me that’s watched me train knows that I have the skills and the ability to do it. I just didn’t show it on Saturday. It’s no one’s fault that I was in that situation except for mine.
“No one should be getting flack for that.”
Once Rohskopf made the walk to the octagon and was announced by Bruce Buffer, he had a relaxed, stoic state of mind. No octagon jitters, no proverbial cage being rattled. It was where he felt he belonged for that moment in time.
As it has in the past, things changed in an instant.
“I’ve done that for pretty much all my fights,” Rohskopf said. “I’ve been aware of how I perform at my best and that’s by staying calm, understanding what’s happening and stuff like that. I do try and stay as calm as I possibly can, because once I lose that, my Achilles heel, my weakness is what happened on Saturday.
“I’ve done this my whole life. I’ve self-boycotted myself. Even when I was wrestling in high school, I was the best in the state and ended up getting third because I self-boycotted myself. I was one of the best guys in the country in college, was never an All-American when it counted, because I was telling myself that, for whatever reason, I don’t deserve it.
“That’s exactly what I did in my fight with Austin. Sh*t got hard, and I looked at my coach and said, ‘I don’t want to be here anymore.’ Not because I didn’t want to be there, but because I didn’t think I deserved to be there.”
In the opening round, Hubbard was winning the exchanges on the feet, but Rohskopf was able to show some flashes of brilliance that equated to the hype that surrounded him. He took Hubbard’s back standing and delivered a beautiful belly-to-back slam and worked for submissions. Hubbard was able to get back to his feet and began to score.
After a competitive opening five minutes, two judges scored it for Hubbard, one for Rohskopf.
“After the first few seconds, I don’t really know what happened,” Rohskopf said. “I knew I got the takedowns or whatever, and I wasn’t very active on the ground, I don’t think, at least not what I’m used to doing. I don’t really know how they would’ve scored it. I’m not really sure if I won it or not.
“That’s not me at all. There were a few sparring sessions where I was getting shark tanked, [and] my coaches get confused because I have fresh guys coming at me non-stop and I stay fresh, composed, and not getting tired. Stuff doesn’t rattle me there, but for whatever reason, when I was in there everything just kind of fell apart for me. I think I’ve got a lot of mental problems that I have to fix moving forward.”
At one point, Rohskopf worked on a heel hook and a knee bar and it looked tight. It wasn’t enough to force the tap, but the grappling standout believed it was close.
“That sucked. I thought I f**kin’ had that,” Rohskopf said with a laugh. “I remember things that happened, but I don’t remember them chronologically or sh*t like that.”
The second round was a different story. Rohskopf rushed in early with an Imanari roll and landed a takedown. As he worked to improve his position, Hubbard got back to his feet, scoring with kicks to the legs and body of his opponent. Every time Rohskopf looked to shoot, Hubbard would meet him with a knee up the middle.
“Thud” was living up to his nickname, pouring it on the debutant with punches to the face and body. Rohskopf became visibly tired, and as the round came to an end, his self-doubt was at its peak.
During the now infamous conversation with Drysdale, Rohskopf said he didn’t have it. When asked at what moment of the fight he felt that way, he revealed it was early on.
“In the first two minutes,” Rohskopf said. “That just comes from me. People who know me and who have talked to me will understand this kind of deeply: I’m so ambitious that walking around day-to-day, I’m almost never happy.
“I’m always trying to do better, to get better and my weakness is sometimes I will try to run away from what’s happening because I’m hurting a little bit every single day. I’m trying to do something that I want more than anything and it’s hard sometimes to see that things aren’t the way you want them to be.”
After the second round horn sounded, Rohskopf took a seat on his stool and that’s where the controversy emerged.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) June 20, 2020
Drysdale began the dialogue with his fighter, stating, “We got this, champ.” Immediately, Rohskopf asked his coach to call it. While the former undefeated fighter and highly decorated black belt continuously tried to encourage his fighter to carry on, Rohskopf insisted that the fight be stopped.
Speaking to MMA Fighting after the fight, Drysdale said he didn’t regret motivating his fighter to continue and that he would “do it again.”
When asked about that back-and-forth and how close he was to getting back in there, Rohskopf responded with, “Very (close).”
The relationship between Rohskopf and Drysdale goes far beyond the norm of an athlete and his coach.
“If the commission wasn’t there, he would’ve got me back I think,” Rohskopf said. “I would’ve went out there and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The man f*ckin gave me a place to live when I needed somewhere to live, so I didn’t have to live in my f**kin’ car.
“I actually didn’t want anything to do with MMA until I knocked on his door and was like, ‘Hey, man. I need help and I want you to coach me.’ He’s done nothing but be there for me and do everything he can for me. So for people to come out and say that he was wrong in that situation, there’s literally no debate or discussion about it. At the end of the day, I’m the one paying him and that’s what I wanted him to do. That’s what I expected him to do and if I was cornering someone else, that’s what I would do.
“There’s really no discussion about it. Rob did the right thing and he’s always done right by me.”
As the criticism mounted towards the duo, it became a little too much to handle. In a recent interview with ESPN, Drysdale revealed that on Sunday, Rohskopf reached out to Drysdale to check in.
It was, admittedly, an emotional conversation from Rohskopf’s perspective.
“It was hard because I know he’s put a lot of time and effort into me,” Rohskopf said. “He believes in me. I actually deleted all my social media. I haven’t really seen anything other than one or two things the people sent me, or my best friends, or some things that people wanted to talk to me about. I heard about it and I immediately wanted to make sure Rob was okay.
“That’s the main reason why I’m talking about it because he doesn’t deserve that at all. He only deserves praise for helping me to get where I got and trying to do everything he can for someone like me that just asked for it, and not for anything in return of value.”
In all sports, it’s a battle between the physical and the mental; trying to align both together in perfect harmony. MMA is not like other sports. Second guessing is so common, more so than any other sport on the planet.
With hindsight being so prevalent in the fight game, Rohskopf was asked if he regretted taking the fight—especially with the way it all played out.
“No,” Rohskopf said. “I’ve been a fighter my whole life and every single thing that I know, I’ve had to learn the hard way because I’m a f**kin’ hard head. I’m thankful for it. I’m thankful for the UFC for giving me the opportunity. I’m thankful for Austin and his performance.
“I wish I could sit back and say, ‘I wish I didn’t take the fight, I wish that things could be different.’ I actually say this to my kids that I coach, ‘Great things don’t happen from easy things.’ This sh*t’s f**kin’ hard and it’s only going to make me better.
“I think that it’s just up to me now to take those lessons and put them to good use.”
When asked if he’ll get another chance with the UFC, he believes the door hasn’t closed just yet.
“Yeah, I think I will (get another shot),” Rohskopf said.
Of course, there’s the unfortunate alternative, one that Rohskopf is prepared for if the door actually shuts and locks behind him.
“Yeah, I think I’d be okay with that, too,” he added.