Posted by Amy Kaplan @amykaplan33
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Amy Kaplan

Less than a year ago I was in Anderson Silva's Muay Thai College talking to an up- and-coming fighter who was contemplating auditioning for The Ultimate Fighter the following week. Little did either of us know he would audition and eventually go on to star in the finale fight during the UFC's biggest fight week ever.

At the time Rountree was preparing to fight for Resurrection Fighting Alliance (RFA) 33 and had been named as one of the top contenders for a UFC strap by none other than Anderson Silva.

Silva mentioned Rountree during a press conference naming him alongside Lyoto Machida and Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza as having "all the weapons to fight for a UFC title one day."

That alone could put pressure on any fighter but Rountree seems to be taking it in stride.

“It’s hard to explain what it feels like when your dream comes true,” Rountree said after hearing of the mention. “In one way having one of the greatest fighters ever back you up puts a lot of pressure on you, because people expect a lot from me,” he said. “But then, I know he sees something in me, so it gives me confidence.”

It looks like Roundtree is doing a great job at proving Silva right.

While at the gym I watched Silva and Rountree spar and run drills along side each other. The friendship between the two was apparent as they joked and laughed between rounds. The gym, which is by invitation only, was empty to just the three of us and a few private training sessions going on elsewhere.

Rountree has already had an impressive career, going 6-0 as an amateur after making his pro debut in June 2015, where he won by unanimous decision.

He is now 4-0 as a professional, most recently defeating Justin Polendey (7-3) with a stunning highlight reel knockout in the first round at RFA 33. Rountree landed a body kick, then a quick left that dropped Polendey on his back. For good measure Rountree landed one final punch on the ground that ended the fight at just 1:42. He certainly had every reason to celebrate after a win like that, but he remained stoic and dropped to his knees, praised God and calmly returned to his corner.

It was this calmness that I first noticed when meeting Khalil, he was about to begin his day of training, having just gotten into town from Vegas where he lives full time. Even in the midst of weight cut he kept a smile on his face. This is something he's also shown on season 23 of The Ultimate Fighter.

We sat down at the edge of the boxing ring in the large warehouse gym and he told me about meeting Silva for the first time.

“It’s funny because I always knew we were going to train together,” he said, but it wasn’t until a few years into his career that his premonition came true. He says he was training at Blackhouse MMA when Anderson walked in, watched him working out and then asked him to join him for training; the pair now regularly use each other to prepare for fights.

“I fight because I train, I don’t train to fight,” he said. Rountree says he wouldn’t consider himself a fan of the sport, doesn’t follow records and can’t recall every historical moment in MMA as he fell into the lifestyle unlike the way others sought it out. It wasn’t because he wanted to become a fighter someday, but because he wanted to get in shape.

“I was maybe 300 pounds, and I was watching The Ultimate Fighter and I saw those guys were in shape and getting a good work out so I joined an MMA gym,” he said. While getting into shape he began to realize he had a talent, and the urge to fight grew. He mentioned it to his coach who told him to lose 100 pounds and he would get him a fight.

A year later he met that goal and stepped into the cage for the first time, and won.

Of Rountree’s ten fights (six as an amateur) he’s only won by submission once, but he says that people can’t count his ground game out.

“Most of my fights have been on my feet, but I think I can win on the ground just as easily,” he said. “I don’t usually have a game plan other than sharpen every tool in my box before getting in that cage.”

He says that he is motivated by life, not the win. “I know that this life is short, and at any moment it could be over,” he said. “I want to do my best in every aspect. Fighting is just something I do.”

He says that his immediate goal is to make a big enough name for himself that he can do whatever he wants after his time in MMA is over.

Looks like he's heading in the right direction!

Rountree makes his UFC debut Friday for the TUF season finale where he faces Andrew Sanchez.

(Images by Amy Kaplan)

Portions of this story first appeared in MMA Uncaged.