Part of that shift included sharing his thoughts with his friend and jiu-jitsu instructor, fellow Ultimate Fighter alum Joseph Henle, who got Rountree back in a gi, back on the mats, and back into the basics of “The Gentle Art.”

“If I’m really going to see what my potential is, I have to do everything, not just the things that I like to do and the things that got me to where I am,” he said, echoing a personal challenge most can likely identify with on some level. “I’ve got to do the hard s***.”

He trained diligently and got comfortable being exhausted and drenched in sweat.

He didn’t skip wrestling class and showed up to every jiu-jitsu lesson.

He stopped cutting corners and switched his diet to where now everything he eats is entirely plant-based.

“All of that really helped with my overall approach and my overall mindset,” he said, reflecting on the changes he made and the impact it had. “I started to see different things open up, started to get a bit more belief in myself and my abilities.”

Just a few days away from making his 10th appearance inside the Octagon, the soon-to-be 31-year-old feels like a first-time competitor again.

“For me, it feels like I’m having my first fight in the UFC, in a way,” he said. “I have memories of being there and the journey I’ve been on, but in a way, it’s a fresh start, a new beginning.

“Before I would just hope for a lot of things and rely on my talent, and now, I’m studying more film and really trying to develop and be the best mixed martial artist and person that I can be and see where that takes me.

“I know where the other approach took me, so now it’s a bit of an upgrade.”

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Now comes the most difficult part of all: stepping into the cage and putting everything on the line against Prachnio with no guarantees that all the deep introspection, major shifts in mindset and approach, and hours in the gym will translate into victory.

This time, however, Rountree Jr. is already working to balance those competing energies — the excitement of being back and the anxiety that comes with crossing the threshold into the Octagon — and enjoying the experience.

“Sometimes I’m so nervous, like, ‘What if this happens again?’ but on the other side, I’m like, ‘Naw, I feel really f****** good! I did so much work and I didn’t cut any corners,’” he said. “It’s a really cool place to be in.

“The way that I would describe it is the nervousness, mixed with a bit of fear, and the feeling of goodness and greatness are very equal; they’re just as strong on both ends, and I think that’s a really cool experience because it’s really up to me to decide what end of the spectrum I’m going to stand on.”

After more than a year of putting in serious work in every sense possible, all that remains is the fight itself, and Rountree is hopeful that his efforts will result in getting to experience that euphoric high every fighter talks about chasing each time they step into the cage.

“I just really want to win, man,” he said earnestly. “I want to see what it feels like to win when I’ve put in the kind of work that I’ve put in.

“I’m just really, really focusing in so that can come true.”


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