David Kehrli, Correspondent
WILMINGTON, N.C. — On his more than 2,000-mile drive from Wilmington, N.C. to Las Vegas, Nev., in his jam-packed brown Kia Soul full of clothes and training gear, Max Rohskopf finalizes a friend’s design of what will become his walk-out t-shirt for his first few fights.
The black shirt reads “straight outta Killbuck” on the front and the Latin phrase “ad eundum quo nemo ante iit” meaning “to boldly go where no man has gone before,” on the back.
After his collegiate wrestling career ended abruptly in December of 2016 due to a shoulder injury, the Killbuck, Ohio native has his sights set on going where no man from the small town of less than 1,000 people has gone before.
Rohskopf leaves everyone and everything he knows behind to move across the country and begin his career as a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, and hopefully one day achieve his dream of becoming a world champion.
To understand Rohskopf and his career, you must first understand where he comes from, as it has played a significant role in the man he is today.
“(Killbuck) is a pretty small town,” Rohskopf said.
“One main road, no stop signs, half the town square is deserted. There’s a gas station and a hardware store that are deserted — there’s nothing in it. There’s the Duncan Theatre and the Killbuck Pizza Parlor on the square.”
Coming from a small town, where many people stay their whole life and never reach their full potential, Rohskopf knew he wanted more for himself.
“For the most part, everyone sticks around,” Rohskopf said.
“If you’re born there, you don’t really ever leave. If you do leave you normally go back. That was something I identified really early that I didn’t want to do that.”
Growing up in Killbuck was especially hard on Rohskopf and his family, and a terrifying experience at only five or six years of age greatly impacted his life.
“My dad was an alcoholic; he was super abusive,” Rohskopf said.
“There was one day specifically where my mom decided that it was time to leave. My dad held a gun to my head and to my mom’s head. He told me to go upstairs, and then he was going to shoot my mom. I jumped out of the window and climbed down a cable TV tower, ran to the neighbors’ house and called for help. Luckily the police were able to diffuse the situation. That was the day (it became clear) we had to move. My mom left my dad and they got a divorce.”
While Rohskopf and his mom got away from his father, they still struggled, living house to house and without a lot of money.
“My dad is really well off, he had a construction company, but he never paid child support,” Rohskopf said.
“My mom didn’t work a whole lot so we didn’t have a lot of money. She wasn’t in a position where she was able to maybe find the best job that she could have. So a lot of the times, the only food we were getting was from school, or we would have cereal for dinner every night.”
While he no longer lived with his father, the court ordered Rohskopf and his siblings occasionally visit with him, and in school it became clear how much the negative situation had taken its toll.
“The court made us visit our dad on the weekends,” Rohskopf said.
“I wasn’t old enough to understand he was a really bad person, so I just looked at him as ‘oh, that’s my dad,’ even though I saw him do all these terrible things. That kind of reflected when I was at school, I was a really mean kid just because that’s all I was around and that’s all I knew.”
In his early teenage years things began to take a turn for the better when Rohskopf discovered two things: he didn’t need his father in his life anymore, and he did need the sport of wrestling.
“Being family is not a right, it’s a privilege,” Rohskopf said.
“When I realized that, when I was 13 or so, I decided to cut my dad off. I stopped seeing him and that’s when my life started to slowly change. I slowly started to learn the things I needed to learn as far as being a human being. Because the situation I was in, I was just mean and nasty to everyone, because that’s all I knew. It took a long, long time.”
Rohskopf credits wrestling with helping him stay out of trouble as he was able to let his pent up frustration out on the mat rather than on kids in school.
A decade after beginning wrestling in what started as an approach to help his disciplinary problems, wrestling is the base of his MMA game that has allowed him to move across the country to pursue a career.
Now in Las Vegas, a couple thousand miles away from Killbuck, Rohskopf still remembers those people from the small town who supported him from the start.
As he walks to the cage with “straight outta Killbuck” and “ad eundum quo nemo ante iit” on his t-shirt, he intends to make Killbuck proud.
“I want to represent everyone that was there with me from the beginning — the people who kind of pushed me and said I can do it because I’m talented enough to do it.” Rohskopf said.
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series from David Kehrli chronicling Max Rohskopf’s initial steps in forging a career in MMA competition.