Who would have thought that out of all the fights on Saturday night’s UFC on ESPN 11 card, the one we’d all be talking about today was the prelim curtain-jerker? And not even for the action featured in the bout but the controversy swirling around it. After two rounds of getting outworked and pieced up by lightweight Austin Hubbard, late replacement Max Rohskopf told his corner over and over that he was done and didn’t want to continue fighting. They ignored him and refused to throw in the towel.
In the end it was the referee who finally listened to Rohskopf and waved off the fight, kicking off a firestorm of debate and discussion on whether his coach and corner were negligent in not protecting their fighter. The Nevada State Athletic Commission has even stated they’re going to investigate the situation. There’s no shortage of boxers through history that have gotten seriously injured or even killed after being sent back out to fight after they’re done. Fortunately we haven’t seen that level of consequences in the UFC, but this latest example of a corner not putting their fighter’s safety first points to a culture that could very well lead to the worst of outcomes.
That being said, Max Rohskopf’s coach Robert Drysdale is defending his actions in between the second and third round. First, let’s rewatch that video of Drysdale trying to convince Rohskopf to keep going.
Now here’s Drysdale’s statement to MMA Fighting:
“I don’t regret it,” Drysdale told MMA Fighting after the fight. “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. Never let me give up. It’s the coach’s job. I want excellence from my fighters, I want nothing but excellence. I’m not wrong. People will talk, let them talk, but I’m not wrong.”
Drysdale is a well established and highly regarded coach, and a lot of what he says makes sense. But Rohskopf was clearly off his game by the second round and getting chewed up. It’s understandable to pin that on cardio and confidence, but what if something really was wrong, something Rohskopf couldn’t articulate past asking for the fight to stop? A concussion. A brain bleed. Cardiac irregularity. Going back to boxing, it happens.
Sending someone back out after they tell you nine times they’re done is reckless in the extreme. Which is why we wouldn’t be surprised if the NSAC hits Drysdale with some sort of sanction, if only to remind other corners they have a responsibility to protect their fighter and listen to them when they say they can’t continue.