The Film Room: Khalil Rountree

By Kevin Wilson Sep 27, 2019
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Rejuvenated light heavyweight standout Khalil Rountree will make his second Ultimate Fighting Championship appearance of 2019 when he locks horns with Ion Cutelaba at UFC Fight Night 160 on Saturday in Copenhagen, Denmark. Rountree put together arguably the best performance of his career when he carved up Eryk Anders in April, as a move to the Tiger Muay Thai camp appeared to completely overhaul his style.

“The War Horse” provides the material for this edition of The Film Room.

The 29-year-old southpaw does his best work on the counter, with his intercepting left straight serving as his money punch. Although known for his finishing ability, Rountree is a rather patient striker and elects to sit back and wait for opponents to come forward, at which point he can meet them with his left. Something to notice about his striking: How often he counters an opponent’s kicks. In MMA, most fighters drop or extend their hands when throwing kicks, which leaves them in the perfect position to be hit. Against Paul Craig, Rountree fired off a counter left straight every time the Scot attempted a kick and eventually finished the fight with a counter right off one of them.

Rountree also knocked out legendary kickboxer Gokhan Saki by countering a sloppy low kick with a left hand down the middle. This was the fight that put Rountree on the map, and a win over Cutelaba could move him into the Top 15.

Rountree prefers to work on the counter, but he does have the skills and power to be effective on the lead and knows how to use his leading attacks to set up his counters. Rountree will often back opponents to the cage with a quick flurry, which forces them to move forward to regain center control. This is where Rountree retreats and looks for his counter left. Rountree threw few leg kicks before his move to Tiger Muay Thai, but now looks to be one of the most active low kickers in the division. These low kicks limit the opponent’s movement and ability to get off the cage, which is perfect for his pressure countering style.

Although Rountree is usually a patient striker, he has had moments of wild trading in the pocket to keep opponents guessing, especially earlier in his career. A lot of his pressuring game is used to set traps for the opponent to come forward, at which point he can land his counter left. However, Rountree also has the hand speed and power to finish the fight in these exchanges. He would likely benefit from being more aggressive throughout a fight since he can often get complacent looking for the counter.

In his most recent fight with Anders, Rountree drastically changed his style and looked like a completely different fighter. He took on a classic muay Thai stance with both feet facing the opponent, an upright torso with hands high and his lead leg constantly tapping the floor. He ended up beating Anders mostly on low kicks. The tapping lead foot and constant feinting overloaded Anders’ reactions, and Rountree managed to land nearly every leg kick he threw.

The low kicks were the story of the fight, but Rountree’s all-around striking was vastly improved. His usual pressure countering style was mostly gone, as he walked down Anders with low kicks and quick combos. Before this fight, Rountree was mostly a single-shot striker, but he now throws in three- to four-strike combinations and ends them with a high kick like an elite Nak Muay. Flashes of the old Rountree were still there, but it was clear we were witnessing one of the most drastic style changes in UFC history.

Although Rountree is still a person of interest at 205 pounds, he has some major holes in his game, especially on the ground. In the past, his takedown defense severely limited his striking. He threw very few kicks and was hesitant to rush forward out of fear of a takedown. These fears were gone against Anders, as he was pressured forward with kicks for all three rounds. However, the right grappler will able to catch one of those kicks, and we have seen Rountree struggle to get back to his feet once he gets taken down. His troubles on the ground probably will not catch up to him against Cutelaba -- he likes to keep it on the feet, too -- but it is something he must improve upon if he wants to take the next step. Advertisement
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