Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

This past weekend, Khalil Rountree Jr. picked up his sixth win in the UFC, stopping Karl Roberson with a vicious body kick in the second round at UFC Vegas 50. Following the win, Rountree gave 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 from “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, recounting where he was emotionally before finding MMA.

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

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

Overweight and without a combat sports background to speak of, Rountree was starting entirely from scratch. After looking up local gyms in the Las Vegas area, Rountree said that he and his brother decided to try the Wand Fight Team gym because they wanted to learn to fight like Wanderlei Silva. Showing up to his first class at the gym ended up being a life-altering experience for Rountree.

“The first class was a Muay Thai class that was led by an instructor named Michael Costa, and he is one of the hardest trainers that I have ever known in my life, but the cool thing about it is he definitely taught from the heart and he cared about every single last one of his students,” Rountree said. “So I went and I made sure that I gave my best efforts and just listened to what he was saying because I knew that I wanted to learn how to fight like Wanderlei Silva. I remember after the class I was completely gassed out 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 was like, ‘I think you have a natural ability, natural talent. You should come again. Our next class is tomorrow at 11 o’clock. Come back. I want to see you in my class.’ That was the first time that I felt that I had this open door acceptance from a kind person who actually wanted to teach me how to fight. I think what kept me going there was this guy really wanted teach me how to fight and to help me be a better person. I remember that was the day that I got home and I threw out my packs of cigarettes and was like, ‘I can’t smoke if I’m gonna be doing this. It’s just so much on my lungs and I can’t breathe.’ That was just the start of it. Everything else, I started to add a little bit more every day.”

That day-by-day approach helped Rountree to continue to better his life. Rountree said that after a few months of training, his confidence grew and he decided he wanted to have an actual fight, which his coaches said meant he would need to lose 100 pounds. He did so in less than a year.

“I lost 100 pounds in 11 months,” Rountree said. “From the first time that I did that Muay Thai class, every day I would get rid of something that I knew wasn’t good for me. First day it was cigarettes, next day it was soda, then it was, ‘Okay, I’m not eating fast food anymore. I’m going to just eat vegetables and eggs and protein.’ Then I started feeling better from just eliminating those things and then I started jogging a little bit. So I think the confidence started to come after about three months. Three months of just going to training and telling myself, ‘Today, I’m not gonna smoke.’ That was the thing. Those vices were obviously wanting to creep back in but I had to take it day by day and say, ‘You know what, today I’m not gonna do it.’ …

“Taking everything day by day until about three months down the line I saw my face slimming up a bit and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ and people were starting to go ‘Are you working out a bit?’ I started to get a little bit of acknowledgement for losing weight and that just took it through the roof. Then I told my coach I want 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 that I was doing. I started running more. I actually turned off my cell phone … and I just dedicated my life to losing the weight and to working out and to really just trying to create this better version of myself.”

The changes have certainly worked out for him. Rountree earned a Performance of the Night bonus for his stoppage of Roberson this past weekend and is now on a two-fight winning streak in the light heavyweight division. His overall career MMA record stands at 10-5, and 1 no-contest.

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