Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal vs. Emanuel Newton -- Bellator Light Heavyweight Interim Championship
With newly minted champ Attila Vegh out of action with an injury, an epic rematch will ensue for the interim title in Bellator's 205-pound division. In one of the most shocking and dramatic upsets of 2013, Emanuel Newton (21-7-1) shellacked King Mo (11-2) with a spinning back-fist to the kisser that was unhinged more like a standing karate chop. The tactic was brilliantly unexpected and a thing of sheer beauty. However, the fan clamor that such an unorthodox and effective strike would normally generate was instead transformed to scathing denigration and aimed at Lawal.
And I kind of don't get it.
Popular Assertions from the MMA Peanut Gallery
"LOL @ King Mo for not using his wrestling and trying to be a boxer."
There are a couple of problems with this outlook. First, Mo doesn't need to "try to be a boxer" because he always has been -- that's exactly why and how he became such a hot prospect. Initially hyped for his excellent wrestling accolades, Lawal knocked out Travis Wiuff, who had 65 fights under his belt at the time, in two minutes. Starting with Wiuff, Lawal stamped five of his first six opponents by TKO; four in the opening frame. His striking has always held the strongest presence in his offense.
Secondly, in his first elite test, Mo relied heavily on his wrestling to score a decision over Gegard Mousasi, but was subsequently criticized with cliche "he just laid on him" remarks. Putting a feared striker like Mousasi on his back not only evinces his ability to implement his wrestling but the semblance of solid Fight I.Q., which is another aspect he's been criticized for.
"LOL @ King Mo dropping his hands even though he trains at Mayweather's Gym."
Listen -- it's not like the dude swan-dived into Newton's fist with his hands at his waist. The only time you need to keep your hands up is when someone can punch you in the face. Yes, Lawal absolutely should've had his guard up when Newton caught him, but the same can be said for every fighter who's ever been KO'd or dropped in any combat sport. Also: who the hell saw that strike coming? Again, it was more of a case of amazing striking, timing, precision and awareness from Newton than some glaring flaw in Mo's defense.
"LOL @ Bellator marketing King Mo so heavily."
Well, considering the unending complaints that Bellator only signs no-names or UFC castoffs, I don't see the grievous atrocity here. Lawal was a Strikeforce champion and a lucrative acquisition for any promotion. I was also under the impression that the second fighter to ever defeat him would then be authenticated as a top-level talent, but it looks like that logic doesn't fly for some reason.
And let's expand on that last statement -- what does Emanuel Newton need to do to get some love?
Personally, I thought he deserved the nod over current champion Attila Vegh when they met in the 2012 Light Heavyweight Tournament semifinals and, therefore, should already be the promotion's champ. Before he even emerged in Bellator, Newton notched wins over at least one-time UFC'ers in James McSweeney (submission), Ilir Latifi (decision), Rodney Wallace (submission), Roger Hollett (decision) and David Heath (submission). On top of all that, he's a gamer to the core, he's well-rounded, a durable specimen, he's unpredictable, he fights with an awkward rhythm and timing, he throws jumping side kicks and he sleeps top-level fighters with crazy-ass spinning back fists. I'm down with all that and surprised more fans aren't.
Moving to the matter at hand, it's pretty difficult to imagine how this rematch will go. One pivotal unknown is whether Mo will revert to a wrestling-heavy strategy or prove a point by trading with Newton on the feet again. I'm expecting something right in between, i.e. the classic approach of establishing his boxing and then switching things up with takedowns to both exploit his phenomenal wrestling and disrupt Newton's atypical striking habits.
I feel that Newton was holding his ground by firing a stiff one-two straight down the pocket in their last match, and that simple combination could be useful again, as it's a quickly released and effective tactic, and also one that lends itself well to defending unexpected takedowns. Newton simply does not have the wrestling prowess or explosiveness of Lawal, but he's a burly, wide-bodied ogre with sound defensive grappling, and far from easy to take down. His unorthodox assembly of low and side kicks along with his standard boxing acumen will be an interesting contrast to Lawal's deadly wrestle-boxing combination.
I feel these are two A-level talents who legitimize Bellator's 205-pound division. Despite the outcome last time, I can understand Lawal being the favorite ... but not by these margins. I was completely on the fence for this pick but the unanimous oversight on Emanuel Newton's status and abilities alone justifies a nod in his direction.
My Prediction: Emanuel Newton by decision.