Protect Your Fighter

UFC Fight Night on Saturday night had a moment that was really difficult to watch.

Jim Rome
June 22, 2020 - 1:19 pm
Max Rohskopf

USA Today


UFC Fight Night on Saturday night had a moment that was really difficult to watch. And it didn’t come in the middle of a fight. And it wasn’t one fighter on top of the other and beating him into submission. It wasn’t a fighter bleeding out a result of a nasty cut. It actually came between rounds of the Austin Hubbard – Max Rohskopf fight. For context, Rohskopf was a previously highly regarded, well-hyped undefeated prospect who had taken the fight on just five days’ notice.

And the fight was not going well. He lost the first round 10-9 according to every judge. And then lost the second round 10-8 according to every judge. He was trailing 20-17 going into the third round. But on the stool between the second and third round, this happened, this was the exchange between Rohskopf and his coach Robert Drysdale.

That’s Rohskopf saying he doesn’t want to keep fighting and his coach telling him to keep going. And the fighter didn’t ask out of the fight once. Or twice. Or even three times. He told his trainer to throw in the towel NINE TIMES: HE SAID IT NINE TIMES. IN JUST ONE MINUTE!

Nine freaking times and the coach isn’t hearing it. He’s ignoring what his fighter is telling him and pushing him back out there. He asked out 9 times!! We should never get to nine times.

In the past, I’ve talked about the responsibility of the corner in boxing and MMA to protect the fighter, to know when to throw in the towel when the fighter can’t win. To protect the fighter from himself. And to know that the fighter probably won’t want that.  Because when some of these fighters say they would rather die than lose or die than quit, they mean it. Literally. That’s why the corner has to protect the fighter from him or herself. 

In this case, it’s the reverse. The fighter is saying he wants it to be called and the coach is saying, get back out there.

What the hell is that? Seriously. He said nine times that he wants to stop. That isn’t a misspeak. That isn’t a spur of the moment reaction. That is a guy saying I can’t keep going, stop the fight. And the coach is just running through that stop sign and ignoring him.

In fact, at one point, the coach tells his fighter “no, stop it.” As in stop saying you want me to stop the fight.

And the fight is only called because Rohskopf says to an official that he wants to call it. The coach never did his job.

That is so reckless and so dangerous. What happened if the fighter had gone out there in the third round and sustained a serious injury? How do we know that he hasn’t already sustained serious injury? Why didn’t the coach even ask? It’s a young fighter, who took the fight on short notice, who was in over his head, he knew he had no chance; he didn’t want to be there. And said as much. Nine times. Sending him out there could have meant irreparable damage to his career; or worse, to his life. And yet Drysdale does get that.  Drysdale, thinks he was just doing his job, and encouraging his fighter.

Your fighter lost both rounds. Your fighter lost the second one 10-8. He was outstruck in the second round 45-6. He wasn’t landing anything. And was eating everything. The chances of him winning are small, the chances of him get hurt when he already wants out are high, so why are you sending him back out there?

For who? For what? For a prelim fight that he took on short notice? Hell no that’s not worth it. Maybe, maybe, you could argue if it was a championship fight and anything can happen in a fight: but it wasn’t: it was a prelim: on short notice; he was thrown in the deep end and was drowning. And when he finally does somehow drag himself to the edge, and get out of the water, you throw him right back in to see what happens. 

But after the fight, Drysdale, who is a former UFC fighter, said he did the right thing.

He told ESPN "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. We will be back. Max is a champion."

Not seriously hurt? Needed a mental push? That’s not your call to make in a fight, coach. Maybe you can push him in training, but in a fight, when a fighter says he’s had enough, it’s your job to agree with him.

But he had more: "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 potential to be one of the greats."

I don’t know if he has potential to be one of the greats. But if he does, I’m concerned that he’s with a coach who doesn’t listen to him.

I’m not going to judge the fighter on a preliminary fight on short notice, but I will judge the coach on Saturday night and he came up woefully short. You are supposed to protect your fighter. And Drysdale wasn’t doing that. He clearly thinks he was doing the right thing, which makes it even worse.

This is a dangerous freaking sport.

And it’s a dangerous sport when everyone is doing their job. It becomes so much worse when a coach is sending a fighter out there who doesn’t want to go out there. And keeps on repeating it NINE TIMES.

The corner isn’t going to be the one to deal with whatever happens if the fighter goes back out there. The fighter is the one who has to eat the punches and absorb the punishment, not the coach.

I don’t care why he wanted out. In this case, it doesn’t matter to me if he was injured, exhausted, or just didn’t want to go anymore. If the fighter says he wants the fight to end, you end the fight. That’s it. It’s that simple.

And there is absolutely no shame in a fighter doing that. In fact, it’s the smart thing.

Here’s the truth. That is the loneliest spot in the world. No fighter wants to say they’re done in a fight. Ever. How many times do we hear guys talking about dying in the ring or the cage, wanting to go out on their shield?

No fighter is looking to train and work as hard as they do and then just bail in the middle of a fight. So when they do it, it’s serious.

This isn’t going out to play another five minutes in basketball or run a few more sprints or taking a few more cuts in the batting cage. This isn’t just a matter of playing through fatigue; of playing tired. This is going out there to get your face punched for another five minutes. The potential for long-term damage is high.  

And I don’t want to hear from any of you bashing the fighter. As Dana White said after the fight: “Let me tell you what, in this bleeping sport, if you’re done, you’re done. You should absolutely be able to quit. I know that it’s frowned upon but guess what? Anybody that would talk bleep 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.”

I’ve been very careful to avoid that word: quit. Because there is such a stigma around it. Nobody wants to quit. And nobody wants to be called a quitter.

Rohskopf was saying he was done. “Call it.” They should’ve called it. And not doing so is reckless.  That’s not motivating your athlete; that’s not coaching a guy up. That’s sending your guy to get his face broken when he’s already told you he’s done. Nine times. And the only thing worse than doing that is saying you’d do it again.