In a recent press conference in Brazil, former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva said that three of his teammates could win the belt that was his for seven years, but one of the names caught many by surprise.
"In my team, we have ‘Jacare’ (Souza). At Black House, we have Lyoto (Machida) and Khalil (Rountree), who’s coming now and has all the weapons to fight for the (UFC) title (one day)," Silva told the media in October.
Black House fighter Khalil Rountree made his successful professional MMA debut in June after going 6-0 as an amateur. The Las Vegas native, who returns to the RFA cage Friday night in Costa Mesa, Calif., against Blake Troop (2-1), sees the recognition of one of the greatest of all-time as an extra fuel to his fire.
"It was amazing. I first heard about it while I was at work," Rountree told MMAFighting.com. "One of my friends posted a comment on my Facebook saying ‘congrats on Anderson mentioning you in his press conference’. I immediately went online to hear it for myself. When I heard him say that I ‘have all the tools to fight for the belt’, I immediately felt a sense of strength and confirmation.
"I would compare it to having a vintage sports car that you’ve been building and polishing for years and finally getting to fire up the engine and step on the gas. When I heard that comment, it was like getting the keys to that car and I told myself ‘it’s time to drive baby!’"
Rountree, who defeated Livingston Lukow as a light heavyweight at RFA 15, started his MMA career training at Wanderlei Silva’s gym in Las Vegas. He then moved to Los Angeles to train at Black House, and returns at RFA 21 in a middleweight bout. For his next MMA bouts, he sees Silva as his own Mr. Miyagi.
"Anderson teaches me to be smart," Rountree said. "I learn a lot of wisdom from him. It’s like a dream come true. When Anderson talks to me I feel like the karate kid getting instructions from Miyagi. I trust everything he tells me. I watch his every move, study how he holds his hands or moves his head. I watch how he looks at people and reads them inside and out during a fight. He’s like a super hero to me. I love to learn from him. I use everything he’s taught me and I’m blessed to have him as a friend.
"Wanderlei is the guy who brought the killer instinct out of me, I had no choice. When he would say ‘Khalil, let’s go’ I knew what that meant. It meant we were going in the cage for five to 25 minutes and we were going to go to war. I had no choice but to dig deep and find an inner strength to stay alive. So I got used to the feeling. Now when I fight there aren’t many guys who can give me more damage than I’ve already taken. I’ve been locked in the cage with ‘The Axe Murderer’ a lot of times. Only the guys who have done the same know how that feels.
"Everyone has something to teach," he continued. "All of the guys that I have trained with throughout my career have made me who I am today. I never stop learning. I pick knowledge from every single person I train with. As fighters and upcoming leaders in the sport it is important to always sharpen our minds and skills to evolve by asking questions. And I’m surrounded by people who are very skilled at what they do."
Anderson Silva foresees a bright future for Rountree, but starting a career as a fighter wasn’t his first intention when he joined Wand Fight Team.
"I first got into martial arts at 20 years old. I’ve never had any experience in fighting other than fighting after school or at hardcore shows," he said. "I never liked fighting. I didn’t like to hurt people. The first time I ever punched someone I saw the damage it did to them I felt terrible. As I got older, I saw that martial arts would help me lose weight and I saw that it taught a lot of discipline. At the time I was 300 pounds, and ready to have six pack abs and a hot girlfriend, so I joined Wand Fight Team and took a muay thai class with Michael Costa from Chute Boxe Academy in Brazil. I loved the way he taught muay thai and I came to class every day. I continued to learn and watch martial arts tapes or knockout highlights and discovered that I was a martial artist by nature. I felt it in my bones.
"I came into MMA just to lose weight, I was always a very heavy kid and by the time I was 20 I decided that I wasn’t going to be the heavy kid anymore," he continued. "I wanted to be healthy, sexy, and feel good about taking my shirt off at the pool. My older brother Donavon Frelow is also a fighter. He’s the one that fought first. I asked him to start training with me, and we both ended up taking the same career path. I didn’t know that I wanted to be a fighter until my first amateur fight. I won in 18 seconds of round one. I heard the crowd cheering and Wanderlei smiling at me in pure happiness. I made him proud and that was my motivation to fight again. I loved seeing him cheer me on, I loved winning fights and representing Wand Fight Team. My whole family clapping and cheering, proudly wearing their t-shirts with my name on it. At that very moment I knew that I was where I belong. I thought to myself I am a gladiator and this is my arena."
Rountree still has a long road ahead before reaching his goal to fight in the UFC, but he’s confident that it’s just a matter of time.
"That is all I see when I watch UFC events," he said, "I picture myself competing and putting on exciting events for all of the fans."
Which fight would he want to take in the UFC?
"I would love to fight Chris Weidman, with or without the title," Rountree said. "Nothing personal at all, but Anderson fought him, Lyoto fought him and they are my friends. I want to see for myself why they didn’t beat him."