LAS VEGAS — If there was a tougher person to ever pull on a pair of gloves and step into a ring than Roberto Duran, the Boxing Hall of Famer whom many regard as the greatest lightweight of all-time, I haven’t met him yet.
But nearly 40 years after his rematch in New Orleans with the great Sugar Ray Leonard, Duran’s decision to quit the bout by saying, “No mas,” is still a frequent topic of conversation.
Duran came to mind Saturday during the first bout of the UFC show at Apex when Max Rohskopf decided he’d had enough after the second round of his bout with Austin Hubbard.
Hubbard lit up Rohskopf, a prospect of some note who took the fight on five days’ notice, and won the second round 10-8 on all three scorecards. It was a significant change from the first, when one judge saw Rohskopf winning and the other two had Hubbard taking it.
When Rohskopf came to his stool after the round, he told coach Robert Drysdale, “Call it.” When a surprised Drysdale said, “Huh?” Rohskopf repeated his words. Drysdale, believing in his fighter and feeling he had a chance to turn the tables in the third round, urged him to continue.
“You can beat this guy, Max,” Drysdale said. “We got this.”
And Rohskopf replied, “I can’t.”
Drysdale attempted to argue with him during the one-minute rest period and convince him to go on. But Rohskopf was adamant. He was done.
And so referee Mark Smith stopped the bout and declared Hubbard the winner by TKO. Hubbard was shocked by the finish, but wasn’t complaining.
“I seen him shaking his head and I heard the ref saying, ‘It’s over,’ and I was like, ‘What? Really?’” Hubbard said. “I’ve never experienced that. I’m not complaining. I got the finish so I’ll take it. ...
“I think he realized he was in over his head a little bit and I think also that he knew he had nothing for me on the feet and I had a lot for him. I think he realized he’s in over his head. He’s a very talented person, a lot of good attributes, but he’s really green in his career. Still, he was 5-0. There’s a lot to learn, I think someone told me he fought one opponent over .500. This is the next level. I fought a lot of people that were really good before I got here into the UFC.”
It’s impossible to know what was in Rohskopf’s mind as he made the choice to stop fighting because he didn’t speak after the bout.
He has to know that, like a boxing legend did four decades ago, he’s going to take a lot of heat for the decision to walk away.
Whatever criticisms he receives, though, will be off the mark. So much of this sport, more, perhaps, than any other, is believing in yourself. You have to believe you can win when you’re tired and things are going bad and your hand is throbbing in pain. You have to believe when no one else will.
If you don’t, if you harbor doubts, then you do as Rohskopf did and you ask out of the fight.
Fighting is the most difficult sport on Earth, and it takes enormous courage to walk up those steps. It takes even more to do it on national television at the highest level of the sport and when you’ve accepted the bout on less than a week’s notice.
“Anyone who would ridicule a kid like that, [expletive] you,” UFC president Dana White said. “I want to see some of the people who are criticizing him get in there and try to do what he could.”
Quitting is especially difficult in the fight game, even in MMA where it is acceptable to tap out. But taps are accepted in the heat of the battle, when one is caught in an inescapable submission or when blows are raining down upon you and it seems impossible to get away.
It’s viewed much differently, though, when the decision is made when, at least for a moment, the threat is gone and you’re on the stool in the safety of the corner. Then, it’s not so much perceived as honorable to quit.
But that shouldn’t be the standard. The fighters are told by the referee to protect themselves at all times, and that includes between rounds when perhaps they realize they don’t have it or they’ll never have it or they’re hurting when it isn’t so obvious to us on the outside.
Rohskopf protected himself and gave himself a chance to come back and fight another day. Or, if he doesn’t want to fight any more, he at least gave himself a chance to enjoy his kids, to pursue a different career, to look forward to whatever life has in store for him.
Maybe he goes to the regional circuit, meets top competition and rebuilds himself. Maybe he does not.
Regardless, he made the only choice he could make, the only smart thing. If you can’t win, if you don’t believe in yourself, if you think continuing puts you at long-term risk, there is only one choice:
Have the courage to tell the world you’ve had enough.
There will be critics, for sure, but there is a simple message for them:
No matter how bad it looked, Max Rohskopf made the right decision for himself.
More from Yahoo Sports: