After Jon Jones impressive defeat of former champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, fans and journalists alike are questioning if there is any light heavyweight in the world who can even challenge this man. Some people may think it is too early to anoint Jones as an unbeatable champion. Others point to the young champions history of completely dominating his opponents like they do not even belong in the same Octagon with him. Pundits point to people like Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida and potentially Phil Davis as being the ones who can end the "Bones Era". I personally have a dark horse favorite that I would love to see try.
May I present to you a former Division II wrestling champion and former Strikeforce champ Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal ladies and gentleman.
Most people will probably disagree with me, and believe me, I am not a King Mo fanboy sitting here trying to tell you that Lawal will wreck Jon Jones. But I intend to show why I think he has as good a shot as any (maybe better) to dethrone the light heavyweight champion of the world.
So, I know what a lot of people are going to say in the comments. "King Mo hasn't fought anyone. He has never been in the cage with anyone like Jon Jones." I agree, he sure hasn't been. But has anyone been in the cage with someone like Jon Jones? He is something we have never seen in MMA, an incredible athlete with a thirst for knowledge and a fast learner. He is literally turning into Anderson Silva with a Greco Roman background as opposed to Muay Thai. Between that and his reach, he is a matchup nightmare.
Enter King Mo Lawal.
Below is a breakdown of the thinks that Mo brings to the table that could trouble the 24 year old champ.
King Mo is an excellent MMA wrestler. Honing his craft at the University of Central Oklahoma, he would go on to become a 3 time USA Senior Freestyle National Champion, as well as 2008 USA Olympic Team Trials Senior Freestyle runner-up. In short, the man can wrestle.
The above gif is from King Mo's 4th pro fight with Ryo Kawamura back in 2009. Here we see an excellent us of Mo's wrestling and brutal ground and pound, as he literally rag dolls Kawamura en route to a decision victory. Lawal is still quite raw at this point, but you get the idea. If the man gets a hold of you, he can easily plant you on your ass.
This gif is taken from Mo's next fight against former heavyweight champion and MMA cautionary tale Mark Kerr. This fight was contested at heavyweight at a M-1 Global event in 2009. Look at the strength Lawal displays as he lifts Kerr (a 260 lbs grown ass man) up from a single leg and plants him down on the mat. Kerr is not on the mat for more than a second before Mo is unloading with huge shots that put Kerr clean out (and knocked his mouthpiece clear across the ring).
Although Mark Kerr was done well before he stepped in the ring, it is impressive how easily Mo splattered him using an unorthodox single leg take down, and excellent ground and pound. Everyone continues to believe that putting Jones on his back is the way to beat him, and you have to believe that Lawal has as good a shot as anyone at doing that.
Here is a clip from King Mo's fight with feared Armenian striker Gegard Mousasi from the infamous Strikeforce: Nashville card in April of 2010. Here we see Lawal using a much more traditional double leg takedown that he set up using strikes. Much like Rashad Evans, Mo does a good job at using his ever improving striking game to help set up takedowns. This is a must against Jones, as we have seen that he has good balance and is harder than hell to take down. He is not a guy you can just shoot on from the outside and hope for the best. Lawal would go on to essentially do this to Mousasi for 5 rounds and worked him from his guard to win the Strikeforce light heavyweight strap.
In Lawal's first defense of his title, he faced Muay Thai wrecking machine Rafael "Feijao" Calvacante. We can see that Mo uses a similar take down to the ones against Kawamura and Kerr, by grabbing a single leg, and using his raw strength to elevate the Brazilian and slam him. What this essentially proves is that Lawal has a number of ways to take you to the floor, utilizing his excellent wrestling base as well as just raw brute strength. This is key in his ability to challenge the UFC champion, to get inside, press him and eventually put him on his back.
Lawal's striking has gotten increasingly better as he has progressed in his MMA career. He may not be making leaps and bounds like Mr Jones has been, but it is a noted improvement over when he started. This has been helped with his willingness to expand his horizons and train all over the world. He has been recently training with Muay Thai champion and K-1 veteran Tyrone Spong, which can only further his development as a striker.
Here we see a clip of Lawal's fight ending combo against noted sexual predator Mike Whitehead. Although he misses with the initial left, the right cross he follows up with puts Whitehead on queer street, which ends with some quick and brutal ground and pound from King Mo. Obviously there is a significant talent gap between this current prisoner and Jon "Bones" Jones, but what this illustrates is that Lawal has enough power in his hands to quickly turn the tide of a fight. Where Jones' chin has never been tested, this is vital for anyone who wants to challenge the kid for his title.
We move ahead a year to King Mo's first title defense. As we can see in the above gif from his fight with Feijao, King Mo is doing what Rampage should have done in his title fight with Jones (although perhaps less sloppily). He uses a straight right hand and a giant step towards Feijao to close the distance, and force his opponent into the cage, where he lands a couple of excellent body shots. This is a key to defeating Jones as it limits his awesome reach and forces him to become defensive, something we have never seen from the champ.
From the same fight we see Mo's willingness to go to the body again in hopes of slowing down his opponent. Lawal does a good job at cutting off the cage, and throws a solid 3 punch combo to the body. Again, we do not know how Jones' reacts to getting hit, whether it be his chin, or shots to the body.
Everyone knows about Jon Jones' unbelievable wingspan and length. His 84 1/2 inch reach is already legendary. Especially when you compare it to the other top 205 pounders in the UFC.
Rampage Jackson - 73 inch
Shogun Rua - 76 inch
Rashad Evans - 75 inch
Dan Henderson - 71 inch
Lyoto Machida - 74 inch
Phil Davis - 79 inch
King Mo has a 78 inch reach. Aside from Davis, this is the closest any of the top flight LHW come to matching Jones' freakish wingspan. Although Brandon Vera also possesses a 78 inch reach, he didn't really have a chance to strike with the young lion, as he was essentially tossed to the floor at will. While Jones still has the option of using his length and fighting Mo at a distance, the 78 inch wingspan of the former Strikeforce champion means he does not need to wade in as far as Rampage and Shogun had to in order to put gloves on him. This could be a big advantage for King Mo, as we saw in the second striking gif that he does a good job of closing distance and throwing punches in bunches.
The biggest thing Mo has been criticized for is his predictability in his striking (as highlight by Frasier Coffeen's excellent Judo Chop prior to his fight with Roger Gracie. I am not going to lie, I scammed a few .gif's from his awesome breakdown). This is one of the reasons Feijao was able to capitalize and win their fight back in August of 2010. Mo found early success using the same body shot combos, and eventually Calvacante caught him with a knee while Mo was coming in, and that was all she wrote. In order to beat Jon Jones, Lawal would need to be unpredictable in his striking, and use his striking to set up his excellent takedowns.
One of the things I don't like about Mo's striking is his tenancy to hang his left hand really low. While it is good at disguising where his intended punches will be coming from (or where they will land for that matter) against a guy like Jon Jones, that can come back to haunt you in a number of ways. Whether it be via head kick, front kick, spinning back fist, elbow, straight left, you keep your hands that low against a fighter of Jones' caliber and athleticism, he will make you pay.
Here is the recent knockout of BJJ superstar Roger Gracie from the most recent Strikeforce event. While this fight wasn't the most entertaining of affairs, Lawal again shows his ability to quickly turn a fight around with one punch. Although there may have been a head butt on the way in, that crisp right hand follow up put Roger away quickly. How would Jones react to that overhand right? What happens when you put one on his chin and force him to back up, or dare I say, crumple to the mat?
I would again like to go on record as saying that I think Jon Jones is the future of perhaps not just the LHW division, but potentially the UFC. While some don't care for him due to his "fakeness" outside the Octagon, we all pay to see the man fight. I do believe tho, that out of any of the 205 pounders in the world, that Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal may hold the answer to the Jon Jones riddle.