The term BJJ black belt doesn't mean what it used to.
In the old days, it signified that someone was getting strangled a few seconds after the fight hit the floor. A decade later, the title is so commonplace that the absence of a black belt almost implies a grappling weakness.
Even if you calibrate your microscope to the most finite and granular degree of swaggering sub-fighters in MMA, Roger Gracie is at the top of the list. In 2011, at MMA's most advanced state of evolution, Roger Gracie represents the same ominous potential to insta-tap anyone that the pioneering black belts exuded in NHB. His library of grappling accomplishments circles the equator and would bog down the internet's bandwidth if I listed them all.
In one of the rare instances where obsequious hyperbole rings true, he is one of the best grapplers on the planet.
Former Strikeforce champion Muhammed Lawal will look to embody Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu's Kryptonite. Boasting NCAA D1 All American and Olypmic Trial Runner-Up honors in freestyle wrestling, "King Mo" is well suited to apply his strengths where his opponent is most vulnerable.
Lawal was one of the hottest prospects in the sport after tearing through his first six opponents. The first time he didn't look entirely invulnerable was in attaining the 205-pound strap against Gegard Mousasi. However, the championship stint proved ephemeral. Rafael Cavalcante handed him the first defeat of his career in August of 2010, and Lawal has been sidelined ever since after undergoing knee surgery.
The comparative analysis is posted after the jump.
For starters, I suggest reviewing the recent Judo Chop on Roger Gracie's MMA grappling.
In what little material there is to assess, Gracie has four submissions: three rear-naked chokes and one armbar, and was just as deadly as you'd assume
Kevin Randleman was the only opponent to make it out of the first; a round he probably won with good boxing, huge body punches and a stubborn sprawl.
My typically gif-heavy breakdown isn't really suitable, because -- despite how dynamic each fighter is in their respective specialty -- Gracie's chances boil down to:
- Taking down an elite wrestler
- Catching his neck in the clinch
- Pulling guard and keeping it
- Invoking some sort of insane flying submission
Barring a mind bending acid flashback compelling Lawal to challenge Gracie on the ground, the likelihood of each option is not good.
The biggest thrusts behind the Lawal hype were his dexterous athleticism and solid boxing game: his hands are quick, he hits hard, he has excellent balance and footwork, and he moves like a lightweight in a 205-pound frame.
While Gracie did hit a clever outside trip to topple a decent wrestler in Trevor Prangley and he's become noticeably looser in his striking, he's a large, lumbering fellow who will struggle to contend with Lawal's agility.
Kevin Randleman (left) was executing the ideal gameplan until he lost steam and quite conspicuously decided to adhere himself to Gracie's waist, forcing a takedown that wasn't there.
To his credit, Roger first encircles Randleman's neck to back him off with a guillotine attempt, then clinches up and drops "The Monster" with a knee when he stays connected to him.
I don't think Lawal will make any of those same mistakes. The only thing that should penetrate the three-foot perimeter surrounding Gracie should be leather.
King Mo has been a fairly cerebral fighter thus far and he'll be wise enough to avoid any and all contact, at all costs. Gracie's significant size and height advantage (6'4") won't hurt him at all, but Lawal should be able to undress him with carefully measured rapid-fire while unflinchingly circling out into open space.
Variables include how much Gracie has improved his stand up and whether Lawal's long layoff and surgery hinder his mobility. As with some of the other match ups, I see a fairly clear favorite with the disclaimer that the slightest error in judgment is all it will take for the underdog to triumph.
My Prediction: King Mo by TKO
Gracie vs. Randleman gif via Caposa
All others via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com