Khalil Rountree Jr. Opens Up About Turning His Life Around After Getting Into MMA

Last weekend, Khalil Rountree Jr. earned his sixth UFC win, stopping Karl Roberson with a vicious body kick in the second round of UFC Vegas 50. F

Last weekend, Khalil Rountree Jr. earned his sixth UFC win, stopping Karl Roberson with a vicious body kick in the second round of UFC Vegas 50.

Following the win, Rountree delivered an impassioned speech during his post-fight interview, saying he wants to make a difference in the world and inspire people through his own journey of “a 300-pound kid on the brink of suicide.” to his current status as one of the best light heavyweight fighters in the world. Speaking with Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour this week, Rountree expanded on that journey and recounted where he was emotionally before he found MMA.

“I would say that at the height of my depression and downward spiral, I was 19 years old… About 19 is when everything started to hit me. People went to college, some people got jobs, and I lived in a one-bedroom apartment with my mom, my brother, my niece, my sister, struggling to make $750 in rent every month. I had no idea what I wanted to be in life, or what I wanted to do, or even what I could do, because at the time, 19 years old, 305 pounds, two packs of cigarettes a day, only soda, if anyone had pills and I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll take some,’ not even knowing what they were, I was really hopelessly lost and didn’t even care. ‘I don’t care if I wake up today. I’m going to drink and hope I don’t wake up tomorrow.’ Those kinds of thoughts.”

“Until one day my brother was watching MMA, I saw a little bit of what that was and I got attached to this aggression and anger that these guys seemed to have, especially after seeing ‘Rampage.’ [ Quinton Jackson ] break down a door in The Ultimate Fighter, I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s what I want to do.’ …. It was a mix of being exposed to MMA and a feeling of wanting to explode or give up. That was at 19 and that’s when I decided I was going to start.”

Khalil Rountree

Overweight and with no combat sports experience, Rountree was starting completely from scratch. After researching local gyms in the Las Vegas area, Rountree said he and his brother decided to try the Wand Fight Team gym because they wanted to learn how to fight like Wanderlei Silva. Showing up to his first class at the gym turned out to be a life-changing experience for Rountree.

“The first class was a muay thai class led by an instructor named Michael Costa, and he is one of the toughest trainers I have ever met, but the great thing about this is that he definitely taught from the heart and cared about every one of his students. So I went and made sure to do my best and just listen to what he was saying because I knew he wanted to learn how to fight like Wanderlei Silva. I remember after class he was completely exhausted and he came up to me and said, ‘Hey, have you done this before?’ and I said, ‘No, never. This is my first time.’

“And he said, ‘I think you have a natural ability, a natural talent. You should come again. Our next class is tomorrow at 11 o’clock. Came back. I want to see you in my class. That was the first time I felt like I had this open-door acceptance from a kind person who really wanted to teach me how to fight. I think what kept me there was that this guy really wanted to teach me how to fight and help me become a better person. I remember that was the day I came home and threw away my cigarette packs and said, ‘I can’t smoke if I’m going to do this.’ It’s so much in my lungs and I can’t breathe.’ That was just the beginning. Everything else, I started adding a little more every day.”

That day-to-day focus helped Rountree continue to improve his life. Rountree said that after a few months of training, his confidence grew and he decided he wanted to have a real fight, which his trainers said meant he would have to lose 100 pounds. He did it in less than a year.

“I lost 100 pounds in 11 months. Since the first time I did that Muay Thai class, every day I was getting rid of something that I knew was not good for me. The first day it was cigarettes, the next day it was soda, then it was, ‘Okay, I’m not eating fast food anymore.’ I’m just going to eat vegetables, eggs and protein. Then I started to feel better just removing those things and then I started jogging a bit. So I think the confidence started to come after about three months. Three months of going to training and telling myself: ‘Today I’m not going to smoke’. That was the thing. Obviously those vices wanted to creep back in, but I had to take it day by day and say, ‘You know what, I’m not doing it today.’ …

“Taking everything day by day until about three months later I saw my face get a little thinner and I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ and people were starting to say, ‘Are you getting a little exercise?’ I started getting a little bit of recognition for losing weight and that took it through the roof. Then I told my trainer I wanted to fight and he was like, ‘Okay, you have to lose 100 pounds,’ and I was like, ‘Ugh, how do I do that?’ I just elevated everything I was doing. I started running more. I actually turned off my cell phone…and just dedicated my life to losing weight and working out and really trying to create this best version of myself.”