Khalil Rountree has come a long way in the short time that UFC fans have been familiar with him.
Rountree, a fan-favorite from The Ultimate Fighter Season 23, has now won bouts against Daniel Jolly and Paul Craig after starting his career in the promotion with consecutive defeats.
Fans of the UFC’s reality television show took a liking to Rountree for his humor, aggressive fighting style, and the story of how he became a mixed martial artist after initially wanting to simply lose weight.
But now, a change of perspective has changed everything for Rountree and he explained to MMAJunkie that ‘everything is finally clicking’ in the lead-up to UFC 219.
Rountree’s first appearance inside the UFC’s Octagon saw him on the losing end of a unanimous decision against Andrew Sanchez. Sanchez’s grappling proved too much for Rountree, who seemed incapable of returning to his feet. Not long after, Rountree lost to Tyson Pedro in the first round at UFC Fight Night 101 in Australia.
It was this rear-naked choke defeat to Pedro that changed everything for Rountree.
“I had this huge epiphany after the Tyson Pedro fight. I train hard and all of those things, but something wasn’t clicking for me.”
See, one of the reasons why fans loved Rountree during The Ultimate Fighter was because of his bubbly and positive attitude. Even in defeat, Rountree was all smiles and seemed to be unaffected by the outcome of the contest.
We saw the same positivity in defeat against Sanchez and Pedro, but it quickly became concerning rather than appealing. Supporters of Rountree realized that there was untapped potential with this light heavyweight that could only be fully reached with a sense of competitiveness or determination that was seemingly missing from “The War Horse”.
“I was very happy to be in the UFC and I was thankful to be where I was. But, I wasn’t holding onto it. I wasn’t fighting for it. The opportunity came to me. I never expected to be here.”
Rountree explains that it was “on the plane ride home that things really clicked for me.”
“The day I was leaving Australia, they called and said they will give me one more shot. I realized if I’m going to do this, I have to get committed.”
Rountree’s lack of competitive drive seems to be the major reason why he was unable to score a victory in the organization.
“It was that competitive drive. I’ve got the talent, power, and skill, I’ve got all these things, but that hunger for competition is what was lacking in those two fights.”
Putting it together
Rountree has now started to become an unsuspecting challenger in the light heavyweight division.
He began with one of the finest knockouts of 2017 as he completely ruined Daniel Jolly inside a minute at UFC Fight Night 104. A series of devastating knees saw Jolly collapse on the canvas before looking up and asking “What happened?”
Five months later at UFC Fight Night 113, Rountree was then matched with Paul Craig. Craig, a submission expert who had just suffered his first-ever defeat against Pedro, couldn’t hang with the improved hands of Khalil Rountree and the fight was stopped with four seconds remaining in the first round.
The performances against Jolly and Craig were more of a statement than just a mere victory. Now, Rountree believes that he is ‘way better’ than he used to be.
“I’ve got two losses under my belt that I shouldn’t have. I shouldn’t have those losses. Respect to Andrew Sanchez, respect to Tyson Pedro, but I’m way better and way more competitive than how I showed up in those two fights.”
With a renewed perspective on the fight game, Rountree is ready for any challenge ahead and it all begins this weekend at UFC 219. As for what he can do against Michal Oleksiejczuk in the prelims:
“I can go in there and knock him out in the first round, or I can go out there and take him to the third round. It really just depends on what I want to do. I’m in control.”