Max Rohskopf has learned through painful experience that there are some events in a person’s life that you’ll never truly get past.
At first glance that might seem like the 28-year-old prospect is referencing his lone fight in the UFC, which ended after he refused to answer the call for the third round; the loss ultimately led to his dismissal from the promotion. But that’s not actually the case.
In reality, what partially led to that moment – and so many other times when Rohskopf was haunted by self-doubt – stems from severe childhood trauma he never knew how to deal with until more recently.
“When I was growing up, I was basically told I was a piece of s***,” Rohskopf revealed on The Fighter vs. The Writer. “From the time I was born until I was damn near 18. It will never leave my head.
“No matter what anyone tells me I can do, or no matter how good of a practice I do or how good of a fight I have, I’m always going to [have it] in the back of my mind ‘I could do better.’ It’s just a little bit of a sickness.”
Rohskopf said the same issues that have plagued him in MMA also did in wrestling, where he was a standout at North Carolina State. There, he never quite lived up to his own expectations.
It’s only been through extensive study and recognizing those triggers that he’s been able to battle back against the constant belief that he’ll never be good enough at whatever he’s doing.
“I’ve done a lot of research about childhood trauma and what that can do to somebody’s brain,” Rohskopf said. “Even if it’s something that only happens one time when you’re 4 [years old], it can affect you when you’re older into your adult life.
“It’s definitely real. There’s not a lot you can do about it. You can learn to live with it.”
It’s tough to say if Rohskopf has truly learned to live with the pain inflicted upon him. But he’s starting to better understand himself, at least where his fighting career is concerned.
Following that dark moment in the UFC where he was forever branded as a quitter, Rohskopf walked away from the sport with no intention to ever compete again.
“I was completely done,” he revealed. “I didn’t train for like eight months at all. I wouldn’t even go to the gym at all. I was working, I started coaching, I was doing a lot of different stuff. I was completely done.
“Just decided with some help with some friends just to get back on the horse and that’s what I did. Would I say [this is Max Rohskopf] 2.0? I’m not really sure. That’s hard to say that before I actually perform. Even in my Cage Warriors’ fights, I didn’t really perform the best that I can.”
When Rohskopf decided to compete again, he was signed to Cage Warriors, where he won back-to-back fights, the first a ground-and-pound finish, and the second a lopsided unanimous decision. He still wasn’t satisfied.
In fact, Rohskopf says he was still contemplating being done with the sport for good, even after picking up those two victories.
“For my first two fights back in Cage Warriors, I f****** hated it,” Rohskopf said. “I was losing my mind every day at practice. If you watch my fights afterward, I’m not happy at all.
“I remember walking over to my coaches and saying something along the lines of, ‘F*** this, I don’t want to f****** be here,’ and I dominated both fights.”
Nearly a year has gone by since Rohskopf last fought, and in that time, he’s started to learn how to appreciate the sport in different ways while also coming to terms with his own mental health.
Because he was constantly filled with anxiety about whether or not he was doing enough to succeed and self-criticizing himself to the point of exhaustion, Rohskopf never really enjoyed himself in training or when he competed.
While he knows those feelings could easily creep back up to the surface again, Rohskopf has made a conscious effort to change his approach to fighting as well as how he’s getting ready in the gym.
“I just try to focus on just being grateful to be able to do it at all,” Rohskopf explained ahead of his return at Bellator 286.. “Regardless of the wins and the losses and stuff like that. I’ve never really done that my entire career. It’s always been about I have to win and that mentality sometimes can be really hard. Everyone gets their ass whooped at least once in every sport whether it’s wrestling, football, baseball, there’s going to be times where you don’t do very well.
“I think being grateful for it. Grateful for the opportunity to do it because a lot of people don’t get to chase whatever they want to chase. So at the end of the day, regardless of what happens, if I can say I did the best that I could and I’m grateful for it.”
Another huge element that helped Rohskopf determine that he wanted to fight again was the work he was doing as a coach, which allowed him to use his personal experiences to relate to kids who might be dealing with the same kind of problems.
It’s also why he’s so open when speaking about his mental health, because sadly there’s still a stigma that exists whenever a person mentions words like anxiety or depression, and Rohskopf hopes he can help others avoid the same pitfalls that have tormented him.
“At the end of the day, I want to make an impact on my family and the people close to me and the people that love me and to be able to help other people along the way,” Rohskopf said. “I try to be of service to others more so than myself, especially now, I think I’ve learned that.
“If I can help in any way to a 14, 15, 16 year old kid just listening to me talk, or give any type of guidance to anyone that I can to the best of my ability, I’m going to do that. Because I know what it’s like to not have it and it f****** sucks.”