You can follow Kevin Iole on Twitter at @KevinI
There aren't a lot of professional athletes who are quite like Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal. He's a fun-loving, light-hearted guy who doesn't take himself too seriously. He's not surrounded by advisers and agents and managers and publicists.
He acts like a fan because, well, he is a fan.
Want to talk to him yourself? Search the Internet, because he's left his telephone number on countless mixed martial arts bulletin boards.
He freely interacts with fans on Twitter and is always willing to do one more interview.
The real surprise, though, after chatting with Lawal is that not only is he not a trash talker, but rather that he's an insightful, intelligent man with a keen understanding of mixed martial arts, both as a sport and as a business.
He has been a professional for about a year-and-a-half – he's still a baby, as far as the fight game goes – but he'll face the biggest test of his career on Saturday in Nashville, Tenn., when he meets highly ranked Gegard Mousasi for the Strikeforce light heavyweight title on a card televised nationally by CBS.
Lawal, 29, has his hands full with Mousasi, who is one of the game's rising stars and is heavily favored to win. Lawal didn't even turn professional until late 2008, only weeks before his pro debut against Travis Wiuff.
By that stage, Mousasi had already had 27 bouts and was well on his way to establishing himself as one of the sport's stars.
Mousasi is a clear favorite on Saturday, but count on the fact that Lawal won't be intimidated and that he won't shrink on the big stage of the CBS spotlight.
"I'm totally relaxed," Lawal said. "People have to understand, the biggest fight of my career was against Travis Wiuff. I was a guy without MMA experience and I took the fight on a week's notice. That's when it was either sink or swim. And I swam."
Lawal is 6-0, but he hasn't faced anyone remotely approaching Mousasi's class yet. Still, he quickly accepted the bout when Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker offered it to him.
There are a lot of fighters who publicly say they'll fight anyone, but then list conditions behind the scene which make tough fights difficult to sign.
Lawal, though, is truly one of those who jumps at the opportunity to fight. Tell him when and where and he's down.
"For King Mo, he's one of the most dynamic, talented, up-and-coming fighters in the light heavyweight division," Coker said. "A lot of fighters get offered fights and say they don’t want to take them. Here are two guys who are really in the prime of their careers and they were not afraid to fight each other. They didn't want to duck anyone, so they said 'Let's get it on.' "
Lawal, said he's going to fight "Cuban style," mixing the styles of wrestlers, boxers and judokas from Cuba with that of pro boxer Emanuel Augustus. Augustus is a journeyman who has become a cult figure because of his zany antics in the ring, often acting as if he's drunk and staggering around, and his willingness to fight anyone at any time.
Lawal, like Augustus, is willing to fight anyone, which he's proving by taking the fight against Mousasi. But he's hardly blown away by Mousasi's record or accomplishments.
"He's a smart fighter, but a lot of people tend to overrate fighters or hype them up too much," Lawal said. "You always hear, 'Mousasi has world-class standup,' but let me ask you a question: When has he ever demonstrated world-class standup? Is that because he's won a boxing tournament in The Netherlands, which isn't known for boxing? They haven't produced one great boxer, or even one mediocre boxer.
"Then it's [Mousasi's] jiu-jitsu I hear about. Well, who has he submitted that he wasn't supposed to submit, other than Denis Kang? He's doing what he's supposed to do. The guy has been fighting for six or seven years. He should be improved a lot more. He's just fought the right people. That's it."
Lawal is fighting the right guy on the right network in order to make a name for himself. He's a guy at home in front of a camera or a microphone and has a fan-friendly style. A lot of fight fans will see him for the first time, so Saturday's bout could be a coming out party of sorts.
Lawal, though, isn't concerned about garnering attention or marketing himself. He's just out to compete and have fun.
"All the other stuff, the marketing, the hype, that's not real," Lawal said. "I don't care about that. I care about fighting and winning and getting that belt. That's what I care about. To be honest with you, I don't deserve that much notoriety.
"I've only been fighting for a year. There are other people out there who have put in the work and been around a long time who deserve the notoriety a lot more than me. I don't care about the notoriety. That may all come, but I don't care. I just want to fight."
If he fights as well as he believes he can, whether he wants it or not, the notoriety is gong to come.
King Mo is a star. The world just hasn't found out yet.
- Gegard Mousasi