Light heavyweight Khalil “the War Horse” Rountree Jr. steps up against perennial contender Anthony Smith this weekend. These two men bring lots of energy to the UFC Apex and clash in a bellwether fight for the 205-pound division and Rountree’s career. The Los Angeles native is on a four-fight win streak, with three of those four wins coming by way of knockout.
This fight was not always supposed to happen, as Rountree and the undefeated Azamat Murzakanov were booked to fight on the Dec. 2 Austin, Texas card. Unfortunately, Murzakanov fell ill with pneumonia and was forced to withdraw from the fight on Nov. 24.
Instead, Anthony “Lionheart” Smith took the fight with just one week before the bout, and the UFC agreed to move it back to Dec. 9 to make sure both fighters head into the bout healthy.
With the opponent change, the stakes are much higher for Khalil Rountree, as he takes on the highest-ranked opponent in his career. Even though the fight is in the empty Apex arena, the bout carries massive implications for both men and the light heavyweight division as a whole.
Big Things Ahead for Khalil Rountree
The 13-5-0 (8-5-0 UFC) Rountree came into the UFC undefeated, but he had a rough and inconsistent start in the promotion. He dropped his fight in the Ultimate Fighter finale, but was awarded a contract regardless. He then lost to Tyson Pedro before going on a three-fight win streak including a win over Paul Craig. In his next fight, Johnny Walker dispatched him early in the first with a vicious elbow, and Rountree would go 1-2 in his next three following that bout.
It seemed that the 205-er was destined for a middling career in the UFC, one with an all-too-familiar story. Plenty of fighters enter the promotion with a highly-touted reputation and hit a skid or settle into “just decent” territory. In fact, this is not just a phenomenon beholden to mixed martial arts: other athletes go through it too, whether it be by virtue of injury or other factors. Athletes such as Addison Reed, Jabari Parker, and others come to mind.
However, Rountree is determined to make sure his career is anything but inconsistent, as he boasts four wins on the bounce. One of those wins came over now-15-ranked Dustin Jacoby by way of split decision. It has proven to be his biggest win as of late. A win for Khalil Rountree would mark a huge turning point in his career, and catapult him to top-ten status in the division. The fight stands to change the entire career of either fighter. It has far-reaching implications outside of just the rankings.
Main Event Slots?
A win here means that Rountree would hit the main events, and this is a huge turn for a man who was below .500 for a while in his UFC career. It shows that athletes can turn their tenures in sport on a dime, and make the most of opportunities given to them.
Rountree’s Keys to Success
Even though this fight is a change of opponents on very short notice, Khalil Rountree’s gameplan is not going to differ. Rountree has a fantastic Muay Thai base and can attack from all angles, something sure to give Smith problems. He has to utilize leg kicks to delay Smith’s movement and gradually take control of the fight. Rountree has struggled with takedown defense in the past and needs to prevent getting manhandled on the ground. By taking away Smith’s lateral movement with leg kicks, he eliminates the threat of submissions and dictates the fight on his own terms.
His submission defense is also subpar, and so getting caught on the ground does not bode well. In that case, he has to maintain control of his limbs and prevent Smith from putting him in a body triangle or grabbing a leg to get in a leglock.
Rountree possesses huge hooks, and beat several of his opponents this way. Mixing them into combinations and following up with his straight left hand puts Smith on the back foot. Thus, it gives Rountree the opportunity to have a much looser and fluid striking style that he prefers. He can even look for elbows and kicks to mix it up and continue to put pressure on Smith.
Body kicks are open against Smith as well, and this could cause huge problems in the fight. Rountree should use a front teep kick to generate space to strike, allowing him to control the octagon space and pace of the fight.
A high kick over the top of Smith’s guard looks to be a good bet as well. He struggles against unorthodox fighters and can get caught with his hands down. Rountree has to be very careful, though- Smith has a habit of coming back from huge deficits. This could change the fight on a moment’s notice, as there’s a reason they call Anthony Smith “Lionheart”.
If he takes risks, Rountree could try to gain over hooks and land sharp elbows in the clinch. He could transition to a muay thai clinch, and land huge knees to the body and head of Smith. He is also not afraid to utilize a body kick to a kneeling opponent, something that could put Smith out.
All in all, it seems that Rountree has the exact set of skills needed to solve the puzzle of the ever-versatile Anthony Smith.