Coming off the biggest win of his career over Gokhan Saki earlier this year, Khalil Rountree returns to the Octagon Saturday to take on Ultimate Fighting Championship newcomer Johnny Walker. Rountree lost his first two when he signed with the UFC in 2016, but he has since won his last four.
Despite a slow start, Rountree has become one of the most interesting prospects in a division desperate for new blood. Rountree is mainly a counter striker and favors his left straight from a southpaw stance. Although known for his finishing ability, Rountree is a rather patient striker and elects to sit back and wait for the opponent to come forward, where he can meet them with his left. Something to notice about his striking is how often he counters an opponent’s kicks. In MMA, most fighters drop or extend their hands when throwing kicks, which leaves them in perfect position to be hit. Against Paul Craig, Rountree fired off a counter left straight every time Craig attempted a kick and eventually finished the fight with a counter right off a sloppy kick.
Rountree does his best work on the counter, but with incredible knockout power he can also fight comfortably on the lead. His leading attacks also set up his countering game. Rountree will often back opponents to the cage with a quick flurry, which forces the opponent to move forward to regain center control. This is where Rountree retreats and looks for his counter left. He throws very few kicks in fear of being taken down, but incorporating some low attacks would do wonders for his pressure-countering style by limiting the opponent’s movement and ability to get off the cage.
Rountree has become a patient and tactical striker, but he still has his moments of wild trading in the pocket. Trading blows with your opponent is almost never a promising idea, especially at light heavyweight, but Rountree’s power and ability to stay calm have gotten him by this far. It’s also never a good idea to be predictable inside the cage, so mixing in his patient counters with these wild exchanges keep opponents guessing.
Although Rountree is a legit prospect at 205, he has some very concerning holes in his game, especially on the ground. His takedown defense is some of the worst in the division and once his back hits the mat it’s almost guaranteed he will stay there until the end of the round if he doesn't get finished. This also severely limits his striking since he is always worried about going to the ground. That means kicks are far and few between and if he gets too aggressive and overextends the opponent will duck under and shoot at the hips. Rountree by no means needs to have even average grappling, but he does need to learn some takedown defense or defensive footwork if he wants to compete at the highest levels.