When former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal met career journeyman Emmanuel Newton in the semifinals of the 2013 Bellator light heavyweight tournament back in February, he did so as an astonishing -1200 favorite.
On that night, however, Newton shocked the MMA universe by dispatching the former Strikeforce champion with a stunning spinning backfist knockout early in the first round.
Not only was it one of the bigger upsets in recent memory, it also marked the first promotional defeat for Bellator’s biggest free agent signing to that date.
Surprisingly, for Lawal, a former Oklahoma State All-American, the upset was much easier to deal with than one might think.
“With my amateur wrestling background, a loss is a loss,” Lawal told MMAWeekly.com. “It's not like MMA is a greater sport than wrestling. My losses in wrestling hurt me a lot more than my losses in MMA. My MMA losses are, like, whatever. But my wrestling losses hurt more. The loss is a loss, it ain’t going to kill me.
“See, if he were to dominate me from cage post to cage post – listen, let's keep it real. When he landed, he landed like, ‘Oh! What just happened? Oh I landed?!’ He was trying to act like he meant to do it,” he continued.
“Come on, man, let's be real. When I land a punch, I know it's over. I'm looking where I’m throwing. I don't throw it to hope it lands, or this or that; I'm throwing it to land and for it to land solid. I'm watching everything I throw. He had that spinning backfist and he got lucky with it. When we fight again, it will be a different story, trust me. I know it will.”
The loss came as a shock for most pundits across the MMA landscape. Many experts questioned Lawal’s dedication to mixed martial arts; especially considering that when Lawal signed with Bellator, he also signed on with the professional wrestling outfit “Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling,” and would apparently be splitting his time between the two companies.
For anyone who understands the business of pro wrestling, the agreement seemed like a far-fetched idea. Because, despite certain stigmas surrounding the profession, pro wrestling is very much an art – an art that you just don’t come in and master after a few months.
Or years for that matter.
Since his upset loss to Newton, Lawal has fought just one other time in the Bellator cage – a win over “Kimbo Killer” Seth Petruzelli – and now finds himself in the finals of another Bellator light heavyweight tournament when he meets Jacob Noe at Bellator 97, on Wednesday, July, 31, in Albuquerque, N.M.
For Lawal, anybody criticizing his dedication to MMA just doesn’t grasp the situation. As far as he is concerned, he’s ready to fight 365 days a year. And despite what the uneducated masses may think, pro wrestling is forcing Lawal to toughen up at a rapid rate.
“I train year round,” he said matter-of-factly when questioned if professional wrestling was taking time away from his MMA duties. “After the match in Ohio Valley Wrestling (TNA’s developmental league), I was right back in the gym on Monday. I don't do training camps; I just train year round.
“I was surprised with how hard it's been. I didn't think the bumps, hitting the ropes, would be all that hard on you. I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn't know was going to do a match and then be sore for four or five days later. I can fight (MMA) and be sore for only like two or three days.”
So after this initial foray into pro wrestling, has he had a change of heart when considering pulling double duty?
“I'm still full-go, but the first few days I was like, ‘what the hell am I doing?’” he said with a chuckle. “Here's the thing; when I tell people pro wrestling is harder than MMA, they want to crucify me. They're like, ‘Oh, you’re a joke,’ and whatever. But they are crazy; this stuff is hard.
“I guarantee you, take any old wrestler and watch them try to get out of bed, running, doing anything. A fighter may train a lot, but they only fight two or three times a year. Pro wrestlers do five or six shows a week and they're always on the road. Come on, man. They don't realize that.”
Another aspect of professional fighting that Lawal thinks fans are neglecting is marketability.
Sure, fans love to hate men like Brock Lesnar and Chael Sonnen. But the fact remains that love or hate them, they still talk about them. And if G.I. Joe taught us anything in the 80s, it’s that “knowing IS half the battle.”
So, as Lawal puts it, it’s important for these fighters to know what they are selling – intentional, or otherwise.
“Every fighter in MMA, whether they know it or not, has pretty much sold a pro wrestling persona at some point in their career,” said the 32-year-old former Olympic hopeful. “GSP is like Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart, ‘The Excellence of Execution.’ Phil Baroni, he may have been the Brooklyn Brawler. He’s a guy who isn’t afraid to fight anybody, and he’s got the accent too!
“Roy (Nelson), Chael (Sonnen), and Brock Lesnar, all of them – Brock Lesnar has a name and he did what he needed to do. He cut promos in the ring after fights. After he beat Frank Mir the second time, he said, ‘I stand in front you a humble man.’
“People went from booing him to cheering him after he won that fight!”
As the talk shifts from professional wrestling back to professional fighting, the focus turns to Jacob Noe and the upcoming Bellator light heavyweight tournament finals.
Lawal sees Noe as a young fighter who has become far too one-dimensional in his approach to fighting. Especially when considering that Noe’s one dimension is boxing – something King Mo doesn’t think the fighter is especially good at, even though six of Noe’s 12 wins have come via KO/TKO.
“He's trying to be a pro boxer, right? Well, I know a lot about boxing,” he said, beaming with confidence. “There's this thing called Boxing Record out there, so I went out and looked him up. He is, like, 0-1.”
“He got beat by some dude from Colorado. Colorado might have a few good fighters, but they're not really known for having great boxers. The fact he claims to be a great boxer, and got beat by some guy from Colorado, is a joke.
“Great boxers don't come to MMA unless they are past their prime. And unless he changes his technique for MMA, he's in trouble. Because I don't see that happening (Noe beating Lawal with boxing) at all. He just throws lots of arm punches.”
Lawal has certainly become accustomed to arm punches in the world of professional wrestling, but on July 31, he will back in the cage to compete in the finals of another MMA tournament.
With one discipline on the backburner for now, Lawal is all about getting the Bellator gold around his waist. And if, down the road, he gets a rematch against Emmanuel Newton, he’ll just consider it the icing on the proverbial cake.
“Really it's about the belt,” said Lawal. “If I have to fight Emmanuel to get the belt , then that's a bonus. My goal is to get the belt and if I get fight Emmanuel while doing it, that’s great.
“If he keeps winning and I keep winning, then we will fight. That's how Bellator works; winners fight winners. So as long as we keep winning, we will fight each other.”
Lawal’s quest for his first Bellator tournament title culminates as the summer dwindles to a close. If he gets past the Memphis, Tenn., native, Noe, then he will be one step closer to wrapping Bellator gold around his waist, and earning the title of, “The best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.”
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