COMMENTARY | Heading into his Bellator 96 fight against Seth Petruzelli, Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal was dealing with a lot more pressure than usual.
One could say it was well-deserved, considering the fact King Mo's decision to keep his hands low during his previous bout against Emanuel Newton ended up costing him the fight as the latter caught him off-guard with a spinning backfist, knocking Lawal out cold.
While there are some benefits to keeping your hands low -- particularly the lead hand -- in the striking arts like quicker counters and the ability to throw jabs from odd angles (which are harder for opponents to evade), most see such behavior as showboating, especially when it seems excessive, so the disapproval a decent number of MMA fans expressed following King Mo's loss to Newton was to be expected -- and perhaps well-placed.
Mo (10-2-0, 8 KOs) took the criticism in stride, and he used the fight against Petruzelli as an opportunity to redeem himself, brutally knocking out "The Kimbo Killer" at 1:35 of the first round of their Bellator 96 encounter.
"I knock people out, that's what I do, I come to knock people out," Mo told me during a July 17 conversation. "That's what I shoot for, I shoot to finish fights. It was a good knockout, and I'm glad that it happened."
During Lawal's bout against Petruzelli, a questionable standup by referee John McCarthy saved Petruzelli from being finished less than a minute into the contest as it led to the action being paused -- and the fight subsequently restarted with both fighters standing, after Seth drove his face into the side of Mo's head while reacting to a feinted shot, ending up with Mo pounding away on top.
Without the stoppage, Lawal's fight against Petruzelli probably wouldn't have lasted 60 seconds, and I personally didn't agree with McCarthy's decision.
Mo didn't let the questionable stoppage distract him though, rather, he used it as a source of extra motivation. That turned out to be the right move as Mo's hands were raised a few minutes later.
"Really, I'm glad I didn't win that way because I have a lot of haters, people who don't like me just because I keep it real," Mo explained. "They would have been like, 'Mo would have lost if the headbutt didn't happen, blah blah blah.' It happened to me with Roger Gracie. Roger Gracie headbutted me by accident or you can say we bumped heads -- it wasn't anything big. I threw two right hands, landed them, and then everyone was like, 'Oh the headbutt affected Roger.' I'd rather win in a clean fashion than in a fashion that's somewhat controversial."
With his win, King Mo advanced to the final round of the 2013 Bellator Summer Series Light-Heavyweight Tournament, so he'll take on Jacob Noe next at Bellator 97 set for July 31, at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, N.M.
A win against Noe would earn Lawal a shot at the winner of the intended title clash involving current Bellator light-heavyweight champion, Attila Vegh, and Emanuel Newton.
So close to his goal of becoming Bellator's light-heavyweight champion, losing isn't an option for King Mo on July 31, and the fact there's some tension between Mo and Noe should make things even more interesting.
The beef between Lawal and Noe stems from the former being pushed out of Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas, a gym he often trained at, when Noe decided to join the camp.
"The beef is: I think he's fake. He talks behind my back, but when I see him, he always looks away," King Mo said. "The owner of the gym [Jason Lucas] said I could train there, but this other guy [John Woods], Noe's friend, said I couldn't train there so I just left. I thought it was a joke… There's no secret to fighting, I could have come earlier or later. I don't care to see what he's doing in training. I know he's a "pro boxer" with a 0-1 record that got stopped in the second round of a four-round bout by a guy from Colorado Springs [Joey Montoya]. He thinks he's a banger, more power to him. If he thinks he's a good striker, more power to him."
Noe is coming off a win against Renato Sobral, but he wasn't particularly imposing against the 37 year-old Brazilian who retired after the fight. He struggled at times during the bout, not really finding his groove until the final round.
Mo wasn't impressed with Noe's performance against Sobral, even accusing "The Psycho" of faking a low blow during the second round. A questionable low blow was indeed called during the second round of Noe vs. Sobral, and crowd didn't seem to think it was a legitimate infraction either, booing after watching a replay.
Lawal doesn't think those type of antics belong inside a cage, and he looks forward to putting his hands on Noe at Bellator 97.
"I'm training hard for this fight, I'm training like I'm going to get the best Jacob Noe," Mo said. "I want the guy to be in shape, that's about it. He's still not going to win, but hopefully he's in shape to jump into the river and drown."
While Noe isn't as well-known as Mo, he certainly isn't a greenhorn when it comes to mixed martial arts. He's paid his dues over the years, with 15 pro MMA fights under his belt.
"He might have more [MMA] experience than me, but I have more competition experience," Mo said. "I think I'm stronger than him. I think I'm faster, quicker. As far as big fights go, I have more experience, I've had better opposition. I just think I'm a better athlete. I train harder and smarter. … I think I'll put him away."
Mo clearly isn't bothered by the fact that Noe is the more experienced mixed martial artist, and he's confident his world-class wrestling coupled with his ever-improving boxing skills will be enough to guide him to victory at Bellator 97. And earn him a shot at the promotion's light-heavyweight title.
"I want it bad, that's why I work my ass off," Mo responded when asked how much he wants Bellator's light-heavyweight title around his waist. "Blood, sweat and tears, I train my ass off. My goals are to get this belt, and then get the TNA [Total Nonstop Action Wrestling] title belt with my boy Rampage [Quinton Jackson]."
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