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UFC 226 card: Gokhan Saki vs Khalil Rountree full fight preview

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Saki vs da Silva Susumu Nagao-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight knockout artists Gokhan Saki and Khalil Rountree Jr. will square off this Saturday (July 7, 2018) at UFC 226 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

A legendary kickboxer with a ridiculous 59 knockout wins on his record, Saki has seen and done it all inside the ring. A desire for change and dollar bills lead him to return to mixed martial arts (MMA) for the first time in well over a decade back in Sept. 2017, leading to a thrilling war and knockout victory over Henrique da Silva inside the Octagon. Very few are going to be willing to stand with “Turkish Tyson” for obvious reasons, but Rountree might just be one of them. The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) product hits insanely hard and is one of the division’s better prospects, even if he is still rough around the edges.

Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each athlete:

Gokhan Saki
Record: 83-12-1
Key Wins: Tyrone Spong (Glory 15), Daniel Ghita (Glory 6), Anderson Silva (Glory 4), Ray Sefo (K-1 World Grand Prix 2008)
Key Losses: Rico Verhoeven (Glory 11), Semmy Schilt (Glory 4: Tokyo), Badr Hari (It’s Showtime 2012)
Keys to Victory: Saki’s MMA record is just 1-1, and I already mentioned his singular UFC victory, so let’s stick with the kickboxing record for now. Looking at the above information alone should make it clear how experienced Saki is on his feet, and while there are still definite adjustments to be made for cage fighting, Saki is a threat to anyone on the roster when exchanging.

Last time out, Saki’s biggest issue was pace. Kickboxing rounds are three minutes rather than five, and the conditioning required to grapple is very different from that necessary to throw snapping strikes. He fatigued a bit and was forced to weather his opponent’s attempt to rally. Hopefully, that experience will serve Saki well here because otherwise he has little to worry about. Rountree is athletic, but he’s no grappler and likely can’t hold down Saki even if he does shoot. It will be a striking battle, one that Saki is primed to dominate so long as he doesn’t get over-eager.

Khalil Rountree Jr.
Record: 6-2 (1)
Key Wins: Paul Craig (UFC Fight Night 113), Daniel Jolly (UFC Fight Night 104)
Key Losses: Tyson Pedro (UFC Fight Night 101), Andrew Sanchez (TUF 23 Finale)
Keys to Victory: Rountree is one of the fun fighters who is short on experience, but makes up for it with great athleticism and an instinct for violence. Four of his six victories came via knockout, and odds are Rountree will attempt to put Saki on the mat as well.

Being a powerful brawler faced with a kickboxing extraordinaire is not an ideal situation — see Saki vs. Da Silva. At the same time, there are definitely strategies that Rountree can employ to exploit his foe’s inexperience in the cage and leftover kickboxing habits.

First and foremost, Rountree should clinch or shoot on Saki. It would be great if the takedown lands, but really the goal is to slow Saki’s hands. Going from wrestling to striking is perhaps the most difficult and exhausting part of MMA, and Rountree should be more accustomed to it. Furthermore, Saki will be expecting the takedown, a some attempts will justify that thought process. Then, Rountree can feint low and come high with punches. Sounds simple, but that’s one of the most proven strategies in MMA — one kickboxers are unaccustomed to. Plus, Rountree throws the type of fast, deadly punches that only require several effective set ups to end the fight.

Bottom Line: BLOOD!

After Gokhan Saki’s first fight, expectations are currently realistic. He’s an older knockout artist who can make some small waves at 205 pounds. Given the (lack of) depth in his division, but it’s unlikely he can develop his game quickly enough to become a true contender. At the same time, there’s a lot of fun to be had, win or lose, contender or not. If Saki goes and destroys Rountree, expect the MMA world to get very excited and immediately forget about any reasons to be skeptical.

As for his foe, Rountree has a chance to really make a name for himself here. He’s thus far struggled to consistently win fights — a result of his own inexperience. Nevertheless, Rountree has showed plenty of potential in both his victories and defeats. If he can pull through here, showing some development to his technical game and strategy, it would immediately set him up with a ranked foe next. Meanwhile, a loss would not really be held against him, as this is arguably his toughest foe yet.

At UFC 226, Gokhan Saki and Khalil Rountree Jr. will open the main card. Which man will be on the receiving end of the inevitable knockout?

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