UFC fighter Khalil Rountree Jr. revealed he has had to focus on himself and ignore trolls on social media, including angry gamblers, who have sent him nasty messages after fights that didn’t go his way. The MMA veteran is set to face Modestas Bukauskas at a UFC Fight Night showdown on Saturday, September 4, 2021, in Las Vegas.
Rountree holds a 8-5 record, including four wins in the UFC, but is on a two-fight losing streak. He was favored in both of those losses, against Ion Cutelaba in September 2019 and against Marcin Prachnio in January 2021, leaving some bettors who picked him disappointed in his performance. Rountree said that earlier in his career he would spend time reading articles about him and other fighters and would let himself be affected by social media messages. But as he gets further into his career the 31-year-old Ultimate Fighter alum said he has been able to block out the noise.
“I’ve gotten messages from people … in the past it’s caused me to kind of question myself, like, ‘Why do I even do this then?’ I started to realize that one or two fights, I can be disposable in a sense, even when it comes to gaining fans or gaining people’s interest,” Rountree told reporters during his media day interview ahead of the September 4 fight. “‘I thought you were good in the Eryk Anders fight, but eh, I was wrong. I’ll never bet on you again.’ Or like, ‘You’re trash,’ all these things. It’s sickening.” He said the people messaging him, “don’t know anything about what we have to go through. … I’ve disconnected and it helps my focus.”
Rountree said sometimes receiving those messages makes him happy, as it lets the “anger inside,” out. He said after one bettor messaged him about losing thousands of dollars on him he thought, “F*** yeah. … I’m glad, I’m so glad that you did. I hope that you feel the pain, it gets to a very dark place. Sometimes it’s annoying. … Now I just don’t give a s***. Whether you bet or not, my main thing is to make sure that I do my best and that I’m happy with myself and I got my hand raised. And hopefully, in the process, everyone who cares is entertained.”
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Rountree Said It’s ‘Hard to Please the MMA Community,’ but He Thinks It’s Cool That His Real Fans Stick by Him Win or Lose
Rountree told reporters he’s working on himself everyday so he can win fights and so he can “go back and watch my own film and look at myself and be proud. It’s hard to please the MMA community. … Now it’s gotten to the point where it just doesn’t matter. I want to please myself, I want to be happy with myself.”
Rountree said he has received some positive messages. “I love to get those type of messages,” he said. “One thing I’ve noticed about those type of messages is they’re not from people who are considered MMA fans. The guys who are always reading, watching every fight, know every fighter. They’re from normal people who enjoy watching mixed martial arts and for some reason they’ve connected to me. The fans that I have, the cool thing about it, the real ones, is they support me for me. Win or lose, they’re just always there. Messages, encouragement. I think that’s the coolest thing.”
Rountree said to help avoid the noise he has blocked some MMA reporters on social media, and apologized during his press conference to anyone who he blocked on Instagram. “Don’t take it personally,” he said with a smile. “If I go to my explore page and it’s just MMA article after MMA article … It’s just the fact that you guys are journalists and you’re the reason that my explore page is just full of UFC.”
Rountree told UFC.com, “I’m on this losing streak and obviously part of me fears losing my spot in the UFC, but I try not to spend too much time thinking about that. Instead I focus on me doing my best and what my best is to me now. That bar that I’ve set, I’ve set it pretty high for myself, so now it’s just about reaching it on fight night.”
He added, “I’m always going to be me. I’m always going to have my feelings and my mind focused on putting on my best performance, and I’m always going to go in there and do my best. And I’m always going to learn and have something to share.”
Rountree told reporters he’s tried to “eliminate dumb distractions” and “just focus.”
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Bukauskas Is Also Entering the UFC Fight Night Bout With a Focused ‘Do or Die’ Attitude
Rountree’s opponent on September 4 also told reporters he is coming into the bout with a lot of focus. The 27-year-old Lithuanian holds an 11-4 record, but is 1-2 in the UFC after joining the organization in July 2020 after a successful run in UK-based Cage Warriors. Bukauskas won his debut against Andreas Michailidis, but has back-to-back losses against Jimmy Crute and Michal Oleksiejczuk.
Bukauskas said he learned a lot from his split-decision loss to Oleksiejczuk at UFC 260 in March 2021. He told reporters at his media day interview that he made changes to his training camp “that were needed to be able to help myself progress and really just get the best out of myself.”
Bukauskas said about Rountree, “He’s a very dangerous guy. It’s almost like a situation where your idols become rivals. Because I remember watching him on the Ultimate Fighter when I think I just turned pro, I think I was 21 or something. … Now for him to be standing across the cage from me it’s like a wow moment, but it’s exciting to be able to fight someone of that caliber.” He said he expects an explosive fight with “fireworks … an absolute banger, you do not want to miss this fight.”
He told reporters, “It’s do or die. Kill or be killed. I’m really embracing the true gladiator mentality. You’ve got to go out there and do the job at the end of the day. And for me it’s about just embracing just the whole environment. … Forget all that pressure, just go out, perform, put yourself out there properly, leave no stone unturned, that’s the way I want to fight. And that’s the way I’m going to be able to bring out the best of myself and get that win.”
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