Within the past year, no fighter in my opinion has had a greater X-factor in the UFC than Khalil Rountree Jr. To get started, I must explain what I mean when I use the term “X-factor.” When it comes to my personal terminology when it comes to competitive fighting, the “X-factor” is what I use to refer to the improvement or new skills that a fighter acquires between the previous fight to the next fight. The X-factor can also apply to slow progression of certain skills. Some people and sports fight analysts have different terms and words to this specific phenomenon; some might use the same word. Once again, this is my personal definition. What the X-factor might look like can vary. This could be anything from Derrick Lewis’s jump-skip roundhouse against Daniel Cormier, Ronda Rousey’s knee to McMann’s liver, Jacare Souza’s hands, or Jon Jones’s striking ability when he took the light heavyweight strap. All examples of techniques that nobody predicted to come from those fighters.
A post shared by Khalil Rountree Jr. (@khalilrountree) on Sep 21, 2019 at 3:29am PDT
Those are also examples of the tricks a fighter can learn in between matches. What makes it important is that the X-factor is a variable that can’t be accounted for in predicting what a fighter will do in the next fight. It’s something that couldn’t be observed (or hard to see) in previous matches that could be the major edge or deciding factor for their next match. Once again, this can include abrupt changes to a fighter or things that gradually come into place. For instance, Ben Askren is probably a better striker now than toward the beginning of his MMA career but it would still shock fans if he won a fight by knockout. It’s the factor that a fighter and their fight camp can’t take into account since its aspects and tendencies that are difficult or impossible to see by studying film or past fights. It’s the factor a fighter and their training camp can’t expect until the cage doors lock and the bell is rung.
The fighter in the UFC who has had the biggest X-factor lately is Khalil “The War Horse” Rountree Jr. That X-factor is simply his Muay Thai. Of course, his striking base is Muay Thai like most other MMA fighters with Rountree’s strikes actually being more sound than most other fighters. But the technical leap he made between fighting Gokhan Saki and Johnny Walker to his fight with Eryk Anders is one of the biggest I’ve ever seen. Rountree’s changes were gradual and then skyrocketed to what was seen in his last UFC fight. In his fight with Anders, Rountree was stalking in the cage in a tiger-walk stance (light on the front foot) and has a major emphasis on using leg kicks. Not just the typical legs kicks you see in MMA……powerful, devastating legs that could almost be felt through my television screen. Like normal, Rountree stayed light on his feet. He also used a mixture of combinations that usually led with a jab and knocked Anders to the canvas multiple times.
A post shared by Khalil Rountree Jr. (@khalilrountree) on Aug 13, 2019 at 8:26pm PDT
The fight went all three rounds with me thinking that this man just fought like he was born and raised in Thailand. He looked like one of the fighters my Muay Thai coach constantly refers to. When Rountree fought Saki and Daniel Jolly, he was still very much moving light on his feet leading with jabs but he was mostly a headhunter in those fights; not doing much to strike the body or the legs. It’s clear that Khalil Rountree made a serious change to how he trains before he fought Anders and the general MMA fan base did not expect to see such changes. In other words…. an X-factor.
On his guest appearance with the Joe Rogan Podcast, Khalil Rountree explains his training regiment while getting prepared at Tiger Muay Thai; A famous training facility located in Phuket, Thailand. It tends to be a popular training destination for MMA fighters since it offers classes specifically MMA and jiujitsu.
A post shared by Khalil Rountree Jr. (@khalilrountree) on Sep 11, 2019 at 12:08am PDT
During the episode (embedded below), Rountree speaks of his career in martial arts and states that he “always been into Muay Thai but normally used to study the Brazilian or chute style Thai boxing.” Which, according to him. is a lot more “combo based” and “memorizing all of these crazy combinations.”
“The chute boxe style uses the same tools: punches, kicks, elbows but the Thai’s have a completely different gameplan.” Rountree also mentions that they approach clinching in a different manner and that he “spent more time in the clinch in his 4 months in Thailand than all the time training in America.”
The chute boxe style that Rountree is referring to is a style of Muay Thai that developed in Brazil that fit itself in Vale Tudo and Luta Livre. Muay Thai itself would be generally introduced by a Taekwondo practitioner named Nelio Naja and have the torch carried by Luis Alves and Rudimar Fedrigo to what is now called chute boxe Muay Thai (which is related to the gym, Chute Boxe.) The of history is explained in a 2012 Bloody Elbow article by T.P. Grant.
Much of the information from Rountree’s experiences and Grant’s article made sense to me personally since I’ve been told by old school teammates of a lot of my personal coaches that a lot of chute style has taekwondo influences.
Before his impressive fight with Eryk Anders, Rountree fought Johnny Walker and loss via knockout due to an elbow. After his loss to Walker, Khalil Rountree made major changes to his training; changing his camp from Las Vegas to Phuket. In his words during the aformentioned Rogan Experience episode, that he moved “from Blackhouse to Syndicate to Tiger.” Rountree also mentions that he eventually plans on moving to Thailand “for at least a year” since the landscape makes it easy to focus on training.
I remember the day i was sitting on the couch, stuffing my face with a family sized bag of Doritos and a pack of Malboro 27s on my lap. We talked about what we would do next, how we would get ourselves and our entire family out of a small 2 bedroom apartment in east Las Vegas. We had no healthy options to dig us out of the hole so we chose to fight ourselves out. This picture represents our journey, you taught me how to fight. You beat me up everyday until I finally outgrew you and even then you still pushed me to toughen up. Thanks for riding out to Thailand to close out camp with me. You’re a soldier. Love you big bro @donnyboy125mma
A post shared by Khalil Rountree Jr. (@khalilrountree) on Sep 18, 2019 at 8:57pm PDT
His next opponent on September 28th will be Ion Cutelaba in Copenhagen, Denmark for UFC on ESPN+ 18. Cutelaba has proven himself to be an aggressive pressure fighter in the light heavyweight division. However, he will have trouble against the stern, precise Muay Thai that Khalil Rountree has to offer. Rountree is currently not ranked in the top according to the UFC’s official rankings but if he defeats Cutelaba, he could make a strong case for title contention alongside Anthony Smith, Corey Anderson, a recovering Thiago Santos and the previously mentioned Johnny Walker.
A post shared by Khalil Rountree Jr. (@khalilrountree) on Sep 1, 2019 at 2:10am PDT
With the major leaps in his training regiment, the “War Horse” might become the dark horse in a 205-division that has been dominated by Jon Jones for years. If he was able to lay that kind of damage he did on Anders with what he learned in that amount of time, imagine what Rountree will be able to do when he steps in the cage across from Cutelaba. Especially, if he commits to training in Thailand for a year. It’ll be fun to see the growth of Rountree’s particular X-factor. The main card for the September 28th Denmark card will be aired at 1pm in American central time.■