In this week’s edition of King & Slim, MMA writers Ant Walker and Kristen King discuss the culture of corner stoppages in mixed martial arts.
Ant: The hottest topic in mixed martial arts right now stems from Max Rohskopf’s unsuccessful debut in the UFC. He lost to Austin Hubbard by not answering the bell for the third round. Now, the controversy comes in as far as his coach, Robert Drysdale, who in the corner between the second and what was supposed to be the third round, Rohskopf was very adamant that he could not continue and he did not want to continue. Drysdale insisted that he could and was telling him that he is a champion and he is just gonna go out there and do it anyway, essentially giving him technical instructions as far as his wrestling is concerned.
After seeing everything that happened, was Drysdale wrong in this case?
Kristen: First, let me just say that you and I have the same ideas when it comes to fighter safety goes, so if we see a fighter in a predicament like the one Max Rohskopf was in, I think our immediate reaction is to say stop the fight because he clearly should not be in there anymore. And that was my initial reaction as well when I kept seeing the video clip that continues to go around of Rohskopf saying “Call It” nine times and Robert Drysdale continuing to convince his fighter that he could go back out.
Now that both Drysdale and Rohskopf have done a few interviews since the fight happened, I can kind of see why it is not good to place the complete and total blame on Drysdale. I think someone made a good point in saying that Drysdale being the coach that he is and being a former fighter, he may have seen this kind of situation before with Max. Perhaps he has seen Max in a similar state while training and the kind of motivation he was giving is what was needed for Max to go back out there and continue training. I think Drysdale was bringing a little bit of that into this UFC fight. Remember, this fight was taken on a couple of days’ notice. For him to go out there, perform for two rounds and then potentially quit ahead of the third round probably didn’t seem like the best scenario in Drysdale’s eyes. He probably thought that this could have been way worse for Max’s career.
Drysdale was trying to motivate his fighter to continue because Rohskopf has never been a position like the one he was in against Hubbard. Looking at his record right now as it pertains to his last few fights, nearly all of them have been wins by way of submission in the first round. His very first professional fight he made it to the second round and got a submission, but everything else has been in the first round. So maybe he just did not anticipate being taken into deep waters like that against Hubbard. Overall, I truly believe Drysdale was trying to do what he thought was best for his fighter, so I do not think putting all the blame on him is right.
Ant: I think that is a fair statement. I came into this thinking that we should point the finger at Drysdale, and certainly he deserves some blame for this, but you are right. He doesn’t deserve the entire bit of the blame. I think partly we don’t understand the relationship that he has with Rohskopf and they have built this relationship over several years, so we have no understanding of what their dynamic is normally like. But I do think that it is important to note that MMA operates in its very own, self-contained and very disconnected bubble from the rest of the world. The fact of the matter is Max Rohskopf, even though this was his sixth fight as a professional, there is still going to be a life for him after all of this is over. There are certain things that the MMA community needs to realize exists outside of that like regular life.
Let’s look at the totality of the situation here. One reason why we shouldn’t blame Robert Drysdale for this entirely is because of the situation that Rohskopf was put in. Of course, a fighter is going to jump at the opportunity to take a late notice call from the UFC, but 10 days to get ready for a fight?
Kristen: With an injury.
Ant: Right, which most likely is under very questionable circumstances as far as training is concerned not only because of the timeline but because we’re in the middle of a pandemic and regular lives are completely disrupted right now. This man is supposed to go in there and perform at a world-class level. Maybe we’re setting the bar too high, especially for someone who probably wouldn’t have been in the UFC without this pandemic decimating their capabilities in putting on a normal show. 5-0 is an impressive record, but there aren’t a lot of people with that record going to the UFC, especially with the level of competition he was facing. We typically would not see someone like him, who is as green as he is, thrown in on such short notice and in front of a veteran opponent. That I think is more of a breakdown of the system than anything else and that is without getting into the issues of the lack of corner stoppages and responsible fighter safety practices in mixed martial arts in general.
Kristen: Absolutely. I think that Max’s decision will do more good than harm. I don’t know if you have seen the recent interviews he has been doing, but he just did one with Mike Heck over at MMAFighting and every time he was asked a question about this situation we are discussing, he took his time in answering and you could tell he was still processing the way to answer them. The narrative surrounding him has gone almost completely negative with many people saying he is a quitter and that his entire team let him down by not stopping the fight as soon as he said to call it the first time. I think that does this sport a disservice and it really bums me out seeing the reaction by fans and fighters regarding this situation. Corner stoppages really should not be taboo in this sport. Some people act as if they are the worst thing to happen in this sport and that way of thinking is harmful.
Anyone involved in this sport should want the best for the fighter as far as health and safety goes, so why are you putting down someone who is simply ensuring they have a career at the end of the day. Max Rohskopf did the right thing.
Ant: I want to bring up a tweet from former UFC fighter Cody Gibson where he said fighters quit all the time. They may not do it on the stool, but they do it all the time. If you are turtling up, then you are quitting. If you are tapping out, then you are quitting. Quitting is okay if you know you are defeated. The goal is to live to fight another day. When we look at what happened in this fight, let’s start with the first round. Max Rohskopf was obviously excited about his UFC debut, so the fabled Octagon jitters and adrenaline dump likely came into play. Then, in the second round, he received a ridiculous amount of body shots. Each one of those shots looked like they took a little bit of life out of him every time he was hit. So, imagine having energy depleted from you because of an adrenaline dump and then withstanding five minutes of nonstop body shots. Your body is essentially broken down. You physically cannot go on any longer and you’re looking across the Octagon at the guy, who within the next five minutes is probably going to put some serious concussive force upside your head. Does it sound like a smart idea to walk back out there, meet him in the middle and accept that with a smile? Or, is the smarter thing to do is say, ‘Hey, I want to preserve myself as long as possible and perhaps I’ll be better the next time’. It doesn’t really seem like that much of a stretch to decide to preserve yourself so that you may fight again.
Kristen: Right. I wish that mindset was a bit more universally accepted instead of universally panned.
Ant: This is such a common thing and it is really disturbing. It’s to the point where I think it is going to take the unfortunate passing of someone in that Octagon or cage before anyone realizes there is something wrong with the culture surrounding corner stoppages in this sport.
Kristen: Why do we need to teeter on that edge of if it happens and if it doesn’t happen? Accept the fact that one day that may possibly happen, so you should do everything in your power to make sure that it does not.