Former NC State wrestling champion Max Rohskopf found himself at the center of a controversy after making his UFC debut.
Rohskopf won the 2016 ACC championship with the Wolfpack at 165 pounds and twice qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Since then, he’s gone pro in mixed martial arts and won his first five fights, all by submission.
That earned him the attention of MMA’s major league — the UFC. Rohskopf was scheduled to appear on the organization’s Tuesday Night Contender Series — an online audition for a UFC contract. Win your Tuesday night fight and impress UFC president Dana White in the way you do it and a fighter could emerge with a UFC deal.
Fate intervened, however, giving Rohskopf his big break even earlier.
Joe Solecki, originally slated to fight Austin Hubbard at the UFC’s Las Vegas event on June 20, was pulled from the bout a week beforehand. The UFC needed a last-minute replacement to step in and fight Hubbard, and Rohskopf got the call. The UFC announcers said on the broadcast that Rohskopf took the fight with 10 days’ notice, but his team later said he only got the call five days before fight night.
In addition to the short notice, Rohskopf had to make weight. Fighters often weigh 20 pounds more than their weight class and take up to two weeks to drop the excess weight before fight night. Losing that much in a shorter period can wear out a fighter. His corner said he was also suffering from a turf toe injury.
It’s not unusual to step in at the last minute and take a UFC fight. Training is just as dangerous to a fighter as fighting in the cage, and injuries take place in training camp all the time. Most UFC cards feature at least one fighter coming in, like Rohskopf, with 10 days’ notice or fewer. In fact, Justin Jaynes won a Performance of the Night bonus on June 20 for winning his UFC debut with a knockout after taking the fight on less than a week’s notice when the originally scheduled fighter withdrew after two members of his corner team tested positive for COVID-19.
Jaynes and his corner said that they knew they had to win the fight by knockout early because the short notice meant he wouldn’t have the stamina to win a full 15-minute fight.
Jayne’s words would foreshadow the trouble Rohskopf found himself in. After a relatively even first round — Hubbard landed 13 strikes and Rohskopf’s 11 — Rohskopf opened the second round with a takedown.
Hubbard escaped easily, and ESPN’s announcing team immediately sensed trouble. “You can see the confidence wilting a little bit in the eyes of Rohskopf,” UFC Hall of Fame fighter and color commentator Michael Bisping said.
“Rohskopf’s looking a little uncomfortable here,” blow-by-blow announcer Jon Anik agreed.
Hubbard began landing blows at will, snapping Rohskopf’s head back with punches.
“Hubbard starting to smell some blood in the water,” Anik said.
“It’s just target practice now,” Bisping said. “Rohskopf’s looking a little bit tired, a little bit wilted.”
When the dust cleared, Hubbard had utterly dominated the round, landing 43 punches and kicks to Rohskopf’s six. Hubbard landed more blows than the 30 Rohskopf attempted in the round.
“I could tell he was broken,” Hubbard said afterward. “I was landing some good shots, some hard shots. In my mind, that fight was not gonna make it to the end of the third.”
After the round, Rohskopf’s coach, Robert Drysdale, tried to encourage him, reminding him, “You’re a (expletive) champion,” but he knew he was out of gas.
Rohskopf asked Drysdale to “call it” and end the fight nine times during the one minute between rounds. Drysdale refused, encouraging Rohskopf to keep going. Referee Mark Smith apparently overheard the exchanges, however, and checked with Rohskopf before the start of the round, then waving off the fight.
That started the hottake firestorm. Drysdale and the rest of Rohskopf’s team were attacked by the media for refusing to listen to the fighter, who knew he’d had enough. Meanwhile, Rohskopf was attacked for quitting on the fight. Dan Hooker, scheduled to fight in a UFC main event next weekend, referred to him as a “marshmallow.”
White defended Rohskopf in the post-fight press conference.
“Let me tell you what, in this (expletive) sport, if you’re done, you’re done,” he said. “You should absolutely be able to quit. I know that it’s frowned upon, but guess what? Anybody that would talk (expletive) 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.”
NC State wrestling coach Pat Popolizio, who saw Rohskopf go from a freshman with a losing record to ACC champion, also is firmly in his wrestler’s corner.
“Max has overcome a lot of adversity in his life,” he told the North State Journal. “He certainly can bounce back from this past weekend. I know some of the battles he has faced both on and off the wrestling mat, and each time he overcame an obstacle, it made him a better person. I will always support each and every one of my former wrestlers after they leave NC State, and I’m looking forward to watching Max reach his full potential in MMA.”