This past Saturday, Rountree faced Smith in the co-main event of UFC Vegas 83 where Rountree scored the most impressive win of his career, knocking Smith out with a walk-off finish. Not only was the knockout spectacular (earning Rountree a Performance of the Night bonus), he also got extra love from fans for not following up on the Smith before the referee officially stopped the bout. Rountree says that’s something he was especially proud of.
“I just felt in control of everything going on inside of me,” Rountree explained to Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “I had to make sure that I was doing the right things to not really take a lot of damage from Anthony. I was just there. I was aware. I was prepared but I was there, so my body didn’t just react to the motion of him falling down. I watched his eyes from the moment the punch landed to the moment he fell. I never disconnected. My feelings didn’t go, ‘Ah! There’s the finish I’ve been looking for!’
“I got it [raises hand in the air as if to strike] right here, but I’m still making eye contact and I see that the eyes are still moving and I see that the ref is coming into check, so before I do something that’s dangerous, I actually got a chance to think about it. And that’s also something that made me so happy after this fight. I saw it and I was like, ‘If I need to, I will,’ but then the ref steps in and like, thank god, I don’t have to.
“That’s what the shrug is about. There’s a small piece at the end where I’m like, ‘Thank god.’ Like, ‘Okay, I’ve got it, I’ve got it, I’ve got it — nope. Whew. It’s over.’”
The win is Rountree’s fifth in a row and the biggest of his career to date. He now holds the No. 8 spot in the UFC light heavyweight rankings and afterwards called for a fight with the current champion, Alex Pereira. With no other clear contenders in line for Pereira’s first title defense, Rountree believes the two of them could put on an excellent fight for the fans.
“After Alex’s last fight I did see that a lot of people were tagging me and saying this would be a great matchup,” Rountree said. “I watched that fight, and I’ve watched all of Alex’s fights, and it would be a great matchup. My fans like to see me strike and his fans like to see him strike. We both have an intensity about us, we both have good fighter spirit. From a fan standpoint, I think it’s just a fight that’s a sick fight.
“I hope people don’t think that’s me saying I deserve a title shot. That’s not my intentions at all. That’s not what I’m calling for… It’s just more like, if that’s what the fans want to see then let’s make it happen versus putting me with someone else who is just going to try to wrestle. Which I’m okay with but I don’t think it’s as exciting for my fans.”
The fight could make sense for Pereira. The former UFC middleweight champion won the light heavyweight title with a second round knockout of Jiri Prochazka in November and afterwards asked the UFC that they keep him active instead of waiting on the sidelines for former champion Jamahal Hill to return. And while he’s only No. 8 in the UFC’s rankings, Rountree believes that there is a world where he steps in to make that happen for Pereira.
:If we’re talking about possibility, I’m the type of guy where I believe anything is possible… I think it really does depend on if the UFC wants to make it happen. If they don’t feed into the politics and they’re just like, ‘You know what, it’s a good fight. Let’s make it happen.’ I think that’s more what it is. It’s really up to them and it’s up to Alex. So I guess it just all depends on persuasion.”
And if it doesn’t happen next and instead Rountree has to fight someone else to earn a title shot, he’s also okay with that. Because after this past weekend, Rountree believes he’s really tapped into the best version of himself in the cage.
“I think this fight was the confirmation for me,” Rountree said. “I’ve tried to figure it out, I’ve tried to get that answer and try to find my place in all of this… After this fight, I think that was the confirmation. That’s exactly who you are, now keep going. Now let’s work. We’ve got the answer, let’s really get to work.”