Former champ as confident as ever heading into Saturday night
Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal doesn’t mince words.
No matter the topic, the former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion speaks his mind, free of any filters and full of swagger. After more than a year on the sidelines, Lawal returns Saturday to face Roger Gracie on the main card of Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“Time away is time away,” philosophized Lawal, speaking to Heavy MMA before breaking camp at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose and departing for the home of the Bengals and Reds. “I was doing rehab and training and whatever, so it’s whatever. Time away is time away. The time is going to be gone once I fight, so I always look at it like it ain’t something big.”
In addition to being Lawal’s first time in the cage in over a year, the bout with Gracie will be his first since losing the light heavyweight title to Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante last August. While the old sporting adage says, “You learn more from losing than you do winning,” Lawal thinks otherwise.
“What’d I learn? Nothin’ really. I got a good chin. Dude elbowed me in the head a few times, this and that. I’m a fighter, but I already knew I was a fighter. If you have doubts, that’s where you learn more stuff. I didn’t have no doubts.
“I was beatin’ the dude with one leg. People don’t realize I was injured going into the fight. I thought I was good enough to win the fight. I was winning the fight, and I got caught, man. I ain’t worried about nothin’. It didn’t hurt my confidence none. I was in good shape, I was beatin’ him all around, and he caught me.”
Depending on your views on grappling, Saturday’s contest is either a dream come true or a showcase of everything you dislike about the MMA.
Though the term is thrown around loosely in the sport, Lawal is truly a world-class wrestler. An All-American and Division I National champion (2003) at Oklahoma State, Lawal also claimed a gold medal in freestyle wrestling at the 2007 Pan American Championships, as well as three US Senior Freestyle National Championships in four years prior to transitioning to mixed martial arts three years ago.
Across the cage, Gracie is a 14-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu World Champion, earning ten of those titles in the black belt division. He is viewed as the best heavyweight grappler on the planet, perhaps the best of all-time, and his skill and technique on the ground could combine with Lawal’s wrestling to produce an exciting grappling match in Cincinnati.
Lawal has a message for all those who just rolled their eyes at the potential of watching 15 minutes of high level grappling.
“[BEEP] them people that say, `You need to stand.’ [BEEP] them people that say, `Oh, you need to be well-rounded.’ [BEEP] them! If you can win—if you can go out there and wrestle and win and beat everybody, than do it. It’s not really about being exciting; it’s about winning. You can be an exciting fighter and still get cut, but if you’re winning all your fights and you’re undefeated, you will not get cut… unless you have a contract dispute.”
“The grappling and the wrestling is light years ahead of the stand-up in MMA. If you want to boo the grappling and wrestling, and want to see good stand-up, why would you watch MMA?
“You want to watch good stand-up, go check out K-1. You could watch boxing; there’s some good boxing matches here and there, every few months. I just don’t get it. They want to boo wrestling, high-level wrestling. They want to boo jiu-jitsu, high-level jiu-jitsu; that makes no sense.”
In addition to having supreme confidence, Lawal is also a diligent student of the sport. Along with his work in the gym, Lawal studies tape, breaks down his opponents, and is brutally honest in his assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. He’s taken that approach heading into this fight with Gracie as well, and while he’s aware of top notch submission skills the UK-based jiu-jitsu star brings to the cage, he’s confident that he will have his way with his opponent on Saturday night.
“I’m gonna take him down. I’ll take him down, do a little ground and pound. I was training in a gi; I can do it all, man. I’m not worried about the jiu-jitsu; I’m not worried about nothing at all. I respect it; he comes from a great family of jiu-jitsu players, but he’s on his own. He’s on his own, and can he deal with me?
“He’s strong in jiu-jitsu; I’m strong in wrestling. I beat (Gegard) Mousasi because I was strong in wrestling, and my strength was stronger than his strength. See what I’m saying? It’s all about match-ups, and who’s strength is stronger than the other person’s strength, and how you apply your strength compared to their strengths and weakness. That’s what it comes down to.”
Once he and Gracie step into the cage and the fight begins, Lawal envisions an entertaining bout with his strength on the ground producing a dominant and decisive victory.
“You’ll see a little movement, dancing around, slam, more slams, more slams, a little ground and pound, elbows, maybe a KO. You’ll see some blood and my hand getting raised.”