Former light-heavyweight champion and consummate entertainer Muhammed Lawal squares off with electric striker Lorenz Larkin on the main card of Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Jardine on Showtime this Saturday.
Lorenz "The Monsoon" Larkin (12-0) is a must-see fighter with a background in Kung Fu. He's complemented that unusual foundation with the more traditional striking arts of boxing and Muay Thai to wield a very creative and effective standing arsenal. Larkin is a big boy with serious strength and excellent agility, footwork and fighting instincts. In his first ten pro fights, Larkin was utterly devastating, winning eight by first-round TKO.
After blowing up most of his opponents on the feet, including Scott Lighty in his Strikeforce debut, Larkin encountered what seemed to be an unfavorable match up in D1 wrestler and NFL-level athlete Gian Villante. The first round unfolded poorly for Larkin, who was caught off-guard by a well-timed Villante takedown and spent the entire first round on his back (though he was still composed and showed a capable guard). The last two rounds were classic Lorenz Larkin: he shellacked Villante with crushing low kicks, high knees, roundhouse kicks and a stunning one-two, eventually taking the unanimous decision.
"King Mo" was on top of the world when he defeated Gegard Mousasi to snare the Strikeforce light-heavyweight crown in 2010. At the time, he was undefeated after seven fights and his crisp boxing revealed that he was more than a one-dimensional wrestler. Things would take a turn for the worst in his next outing. He lost the strap when Rafael Cavalcante finished him in the third with strikes and Lawal later announced that he'd be absent while undergoing a major knee surgery that would replace both his anterior and posterior crucial ligaments.
Since that "Feijao" fight in August of 2010, Lawal has only made one appearance; a rousing knockout of star-grappler Roger Gracie on the Barnett vs. Kharitonov card in September of 2011.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Sorry ... this King Mo gif from Cage Potato was too good not to include.
Lawal made waves right off the bat for his diverse talent and comical showmanship. Heralded for his mile-long list of high-level wrestling accomplishments, fans expected a takedown clinic against Travis Wiuff in his MMA debut overseas in the Sengoku promotion, but were treated to a quick and violent knockout instead. In fact, in his first six outings, Lawal only significantly applied his wrestling against the resilient Ryo Kawamura and clobbered the remaining five opponents by TKO, culminating with Mike Whitehead in his Strikeforce debut.
Wrestling is commonly asserted as the best foundation for MMA and I think basic boxing is an ideal companion.
Wrestling has the ability to negate most of the myriad dynamics of combat by narrowing the fight down to that aspect alone, and being good at punching people in the face is always helpful. The focus of balance, footwork and the use of hands in boxing is a perfect fit for an adept wrestler. Just watch Don Frye pick and choose between those two arts while coasting through three opponents to win the UFC 8 tournament in his first night of pro MMA for a classic example.
Mo is still relatively inexperienced in MMA as he's just surpassing three years in the sport. While the finite mechanics of more elaborate arts like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai can take a lifetime to master, the straightforward combination of good hands and takedowns can maximize an athletic fighter's potential.(Defensive footnote: I'm not saying wrestling and boxing aren't elaborate.)
Basically, Lawal's been able to take down strikers and out-box grapplers. His freakish natural abilities and physical gifts tie everything together and should also be credited for his success.
Lorenz Larkin isn't scared to throw jumping roundhouse, jumping front, spinning roundhouse kicks or Capoeira kicks, but I've decided to include more of his functional striking than the highlight-reel sizzle. He's very prolific with his feet but I imagine he'll simplify his arsenal considering the takedown threat that Lawal represents. Larkin is at an astronomical level in all facets of his striking. His footwork, head movement, timing, grasp of range and technique are all phenomenal. He smoothly cycles through a vast assortment of options and is one of the most gifted and exhilarating kickboxers in the game.
The finesse of his one-twos and low kicks is startling. Along with his aggression and unpredictability, those offerings are probably his best weapons. On the feet, it's quite obvious that Larkin is at the top of the food chain. Out of all the newer generation strikers employing unorthodox kicks with a TMA-flavor, I think Larkin is the most effective. Now he'll just have to demonstrate that ability against top competition and put his weaker points to the test.
One minute into his fight with Villante (right), he tried to counter the low single by freeing his leg and circling left. Villante secures the leg for leverage, keenly adjusts for the new angle and continues to surge forward after the initial burst.
This allows Villante to get deep penetration. Larkin doesn't underhook on the right side or control Villante's head and ends up on his back. This is a prime example of the diversity he's facing, as time expired with Larkin struggling underneath Villante. One split-second action can result in forfeiting the entire round.
To the left, Villante catches a kick and looks to sweep Larkin's supporting leg. Watch his waist and hips in this sequence: using his left hand, Larkin is able to steady his upper-body and shrink his hips back and away from Villante. This cushion of space and his stellar balance allows him to stay upright.
Now check out the Capoeira-style roundhouse kick that Larkin lands at the end of the sequence. This might be slightly off-topic from the match up analysis, but I consulted with the BloodyElbow.com staff on the technical specs and it ended up fostering an interesting discussion.
Fraser Coffeen, staff striking guru and Judo Chop overlord, reached out to Phil Wills, an experienced Capoeira practitioner. His commentary follows and I've added hyperlinks in the appropriate spots.
"The first is the Meia Lua de Compasso (Half Moon Compass). This is much more of a literal spinning kick with the hand on the floor and the back kicking leg coming around with the non-kicking leg crouched to the floor. Rumored to have been the kick that ended the fight between Valdemar Santana and Helio Gracie. Or it could be a Martelo Rotado, which is a spinning roundhouse.
But the other one that might be what you are looking for that makes more sense in an MMA fight could be Martelo-do-Chao; literally 'roundhouse from the floor.' In a pinch, referring to the kick as a Martelo says enough without saying too much. A martelo is a general term for a roundhouse kick."
Though he doesn't claim to be an expert, staff member Tom Mendes has three years of Capoeira training. I -- perhaps mistakenly -- likened Larkin's kick to the type that Cub Swanson has used in the past. Ironically, it's the same kick Ricardo Lamas threw at Swanson (right), thus Cub smiling and saying, "That's my move."
Tom mentioned that the Lamas kick seemed similar to the Chapeu de Couro:
"Lamas goes to the ground before applying the kick, it was fast and a bit off camera but he did do it, which to me is a Chapeu de Couro and not really a Martelo, but they're similar kicks anyway (Martelo de Chao or Martelo de Negativa, which are the same kicks with different names and mostly resembles the Chapeu de Couro)."
This inspired another consultation with Phil Wills for his take on the Chapeu de Couro.
"I would not go so far as to call it Chapeu de Couro. That is much more of a crouched roundhouse attack where as this is more standing and using the arm as balance.
After doing a little more research, I would recommend just going with the term Martelo if you want to use the term at all. Many of the different kicks mentioned all can be interchangeable depending upon the school that a person went to. Some people use Chapeu de Couro and Meia Lua de Compasso interchangeably. The key for the Chapeu de Couro is that it is done in a stance that is referred to as negativa, which is a crouched stance.
So I would just call it a Martelo if the fighter has a Capoeira background. Many of the other kicks mentioned here usually end with the kicker making an almost full 360 degree rotation in completing the kick."
Forgive the digression but I thought the exchange of different opinions and knowledgeable insight was worth publishing.
Back to King Mo vs. Larkin: While Lawal has demonstrated a nasty set of hands, there's no sense in dueling with Larkin on the feet when he can enforce his takedown prowess. This is easily Larkin's biggest leap in competition, but his striking is for real. As in any grappler vs. striker pairing, Lawal should dangle the looming threat of his takedowns to instill hesitancy in Larkin. Both setting up his shots with strikes and faking level-drops to set up his boxing will help to neutralize Larkin's scorching stand up.
An X-factor could be how well Lawal has recovered from his knee surgery. Larkin is frighteningly agile and Lawal's ability to change levels and explode for takedowns is a pivotal aspect. King Mo is the safer choice here. However, Larkin being assessed in the +400s on the betting lines might be worth a look.
My Prediction: Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal by decision.
Larkin vs. Villante gifs by Caposa
King Mo showboat gif via CagePotato.com
All others via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com
Special thanks to Phil Wills for his input.