The last Bellator Light-Strikeforce/Sengoku crossover Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal along with well known UFC veterans Seth Petruzelli and Renato "Babalu" Sobral. Those names accounted for the early favorites who were expected to win the tournament, but Lawal, who'd been heavily marketed on Spike TV ahead of his debut in Bellator -- and also in the professional wrestling organization TNA that runs on the same channel -- was undoubtedly the overwhelming #1 seed in the brackets.Tournament was fraught with shocking upsets that left a lasting impression on fight fans. The eight-man field was anchored by inimitable
The fact that none of those competitors won the whole enchilada -- or even made it to the finals -- is another testament to MMA's roller-coaster of unpredictability. The favorites started falling in the first round ... and falling hard: "Babalu" was picked off by Russian Mikhail Zayats and a then unknown fighter named Jacob Noe played spoiler with a dominant stoppage over Petruzelli. The only big-name fighter to survive the initial trial was King Mo, who went on to become the victim of a perfectly timed spinning back-fist courtesy of eventual tournament champion Emanuel Newton.
The subsequent 2013 Summer Series tournament was whittled down to four-man brackets but consisted of the same core group. In the semifinals, King Mo dispatched Petruzelli quite handily while Noe advanced to the finals by taking out Sobral by 3rd-round TKO.
In the weeks leading up to their July 31st collision to crown this season's Light-Heavyweight Tournament Champion at Bellator 97, Lawal has directed some venom at Noe, such as calling him "a fu*king bitch" and claiming Noe "ain't a real fighter" because he saw him "crying like a bitch" backstage after losing to Zayats. Noe's move from Memphis Judo and Jiu Jitsu to Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas, where Mo had been training part-time, fueled the flames even more and led to Lawal's departure from Syndicate. Bloody Elbow's own Stephie Daniels spoke with King Mo and published his considerable displeasure in a June 27 interview.
"It's one of two things," Noe offered on Lawal's abrasive take. "Either he's really upset or maybe he's worried about it. Maybe he's a little scared, or doesn't know how to feel about it? I've got nothing personal against the guy, so I don't see how he can badmouth me. I haven't done anything, you know?
"About the only thing I've said is that he's the poster boy of Bellator, and I want that spot. I want to beat him. We're not cheerleaders, and we're not here to make friends -- we're fighters, man. I haven't done anything I wasn't supposed to do. This is part of my job, and that's to come after everybody who stands in my way. I hear that he's taking it personally and, as far as him firing away at me, I'm not going to fire back. I'm just going to wait until the cage door closes and we'll settle it then."
The all-business Noe (12-2 record with 6 TKO's and 5 submissions) expressed no desire to reciprocate Lawal's biting criticism, though he was admittedly surprised by the extent of the rant.
"I think Mo wants to shake me and get in my head. I think that's his intention," Noe opined. "As far as me talking like that ... this ain't TNA. Talk your crap after the fight, you know? Make sure you don't look like a jackass if you get proven wrong. That's why I hold my comments back. Win or lose, I'm going to keep it classy and just do my best. I'm not going to let it get to me and I'm just training as hard as I can to prove him wrong."
The 33-year-old Memphis native is, however, perfectly content to settle their dispute the ol' fashioned way when the pair face off this Wednesday from the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, at Bellator 97.
"I have a better knowledge of Jiu Jitsu. I think I might be a more powerful striker than him, I think I might be a little bit quicker, and I think I have better footwork," Noe shared on his match-up with Lawal. "I know his wrestling is definitely better than mine but, in MMA, you don't have to be a master of anything, you just have to have a little bit of all of it. I've been fighting a little longer - I had 6 amateur fights and I have more pro fights than him. I've also had a long boxing career so I feel like I have a little more experience than him. I realize he's been wrestling a long time so I don't want to get taken down. I have to be ready for that and be prepared for all of it."
Noe's taken the bulk of Lawal's barbs in stride, such as the static over his transition to Syndicate MMA, where King Mo occasionally trained. Noe, who goes by the nickname "Psycho," told his side of the camp-change story.
"Mo was coming over here on open sparring days, which is Saturdays. Ultimately, I'm pretty new to this team. Of course, I've been training in Memphis and didn't come to Syndicate until I got word I was fighting Babalu in this tournament. I told [Syndicate's Head MMA Coach] John Wood that I was planning to transfer teams, to come out here to be a part of this team and to get in a full training camp. And he agreed; 'that's a great idea and we'd love to have you.' So Mo was here about once a week and I'd committed fully to the team. I was over here working hard every single day and I think I showed [John Wood] that I really wanted it, and they made their own decision.
"It's nothing personal towards Mo - I hear he's taking it this way," Noe continued. "I'm not going to be disrespectful when it comes to discussing it. I don't know what Mo's talking about or where he's coming from. I plan on putting on a show, and I plan on beating his ass, so we'll see how it goes."
The change of environment and move to Syndicate MMA was a calculated decision for Noe, but a difficult one. It required parting ways with his longtime coach, team, training partners and, most importantly, with his fiancee and kids back in Memphis.
"Changing camps was a huge sacrifice. I knew I wasn't getting the proper training. I didn't have the experienced fight team that had been there and who can put it all together. I was kind of like a big fish in a small pond in Memphis. I was the only small-town fighter there doing MMA as a career. So guys would try to come in and work with me, and I understand because they have families to take care of and everything, but it was really hit and miss.
"I had a long talk with my trainer in Memphis after the Zayats loss and said I felt that I'd peaked there, and they agreed and said, 'I hate to say this, but you're right. You've outgrown this place, and we don't want to hold you back.' I felt good about that because they are my friends and they are good people."
Despite his appreciation of being sent off warmly by his former team, friends and loved ones, Noe acknowledged that King Mo might've crossed the line when mentioning his family.
"I'm working my butt off every day. I'm not out here to party; I'm not out here to play. I'm out here to provide for my family and to make a better life for all of us." At this point, Noe paused and his voice took on a stone-cold serious tone. "I really care about them. Mo said some things about my family that I ... I take it personal. I can't help it. He said he's going to send me home to my family crying. That's just unbelievable. That's shocking to me, and I plan on settling up with him for that on the 31st."
Despite bringing his family into the mix, the hefty, 6'2" light-heavyweight gave King Mo his due credit and, though he's eager for it, realizes the formidable challenge awaiting him.
"As far as Mo -- I think Mo's an athlete. I respect him, you know?" Noe said of Lawal, a former Strikeforce champion and exceptionally accredited wrestler. "I know he's a serious man and a good fighter. But so am I. There's some things I do better than him and there's some things he does better than me. I'm strong, I'm quick and I'm dedicated. I'm putting in hard work and sometimes that surpasses just being a natural athlete. And I'm a natural athlete on top of working hard and having something to prove. I'm doing this to support my family - I don't have TNA and this is my life. I want to be victorious and I'm just making sure I'm doing all the hard work that's going to get me there."
Jacob Noe closed by thanking Team Syndicate, particularly John Wood, as well as his family for what they've invested. "I'd like to thank my family for their sacrifices. I know it's been hard coming down this road, and we've all had to make sacrifices, but that's what I'm here for. I want to make their lives better. I'd like to say that I love you Heather, and that I plan on doing my job and making you all proud."