Tonight at 10:00 p.m. ET, Bellator Fighting Championships will launch their inaugural pay-per-view (PPV) with a bad-blood bout between Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal in the headlining role. After wanton expression of their excessive distaste for each other, the bickering pair will go head to head in the Season 10 Light-Heavyweight Tournament finals atop the Bellator 120
Divergent fight styles are at play here: Rampage prefers to wade forward while hurling basic but fearsome boxing combinations, and the highlight-reel power slams that put him on the map initially have been amiss in lieu of a strictly anti-wrestling strategy. Somewhat similarly, Lawal's resplendent wrestling accolades now split time with his newfound boxing finesse in what has become a hotly debated ratio. Prior knee injuries have played a role with both fighters, as Rampage cites Jon Jones' linear kick and the inability to rehab it as culprits for his uncharacteristic showings against Ryan Bader and Glover Teixeira, and Lawal's past knee issues have potentially affected his explosiveness and ability to rag-doll opponents with his takedown acumen.
Excluding the aforementioned pair of losses, Rampage has been notoriously difficult to take down and even harder to keep there throughout his 15-year tenure in MMA. The modern day Rampage boils down to a slugger who endeavors to trudge forward and transmit the thunder of his hands at close quarters with the brute aggression of a street fighter. That might sound primitive but it's accrued the old schooler 16 KO/TKO wins in 34 outings and his rap sheet is overflowing with the sport's elite.
Lawal's had a deep respect for boxing since he was young and, as he honed his marksmanship over the years, his striking venom gradually played a larger role in his performances. Regardless of efficacy, King Mo's boxing is much smoother than average and quite impressive for someone with a wrestling background. He has good speed and instincts, quick reactions and his punches are now snapped off naturally and fluidly. Criticism was harshly interjected when Lawal adopted a non-traditional and dangerously low hand position, which many felt was behind his shocking KO loss to Emanuel Newton from a spinning back fist that sailed out and landed from an entirely unexpected location.
King Mo has also gravitated toward more of a counter-punching role, being content to lay back and form up reactive combinations on the fly. That begs the question of whether, in this heated scrap between rivals, Lawal goes on the hunt with offensive intentions or plays off Rampage's predictable incoming barrages. Defensively, Rampage has obscenely overlooked defense and one of the more durable chins in the game, as the Pride era Chute Boxe club accounts for all three of his losses via strikes (Wanderlei Silva twice, Mauricio Rua once). This, along with his more vulnerable chin, will be a handful for Lawal if he does decide to play the counter-puncher.
The big X-factor seems to be Lawal's wrestling and how often and effectively he chooses to implement it. Despite Rampage's solid track record against high-level wrestlers, the mere presence of a takedown threat is the best tool to disrupt a forward-moving, aggressive striker. That rule holds true even if the takedown is eventually countered with an escape due to the hesitancy it instills in the striker and the positive impression it will leave on the judges.
It's not outlandish to suggest that Lawal can hang with Rampage on the feet or even win the contest there, but neglecting a weapon that's proved effective for him and also against Rampage simply reduces his options as well as his pathways to victory. Rampage is at his best when he can walk an opponent down and pounce with a whirlwind of short hooks, but some of his past losses were dealt by fearless opponents who took the fight to him. That, again, leads to the question of whether Lawal will key off Rampage's onslaught or endeavor to bury him under his own.
Two minor notes in regard to Jackson's striking tendencies: he never checks leg kicks, which shouldn't be much of a factor tonight, but he also rarely throws straight punches. Almost every offering consists of an uppercut, hook or some bent-arm punch, which limits his distance capabilities. Though they're comparatively sized, Lawal is much more prone to unfurl long and straight punches, which could make a difference in what will probably be a game of inches.
King Mo has all the tools and potential to spoil the night for Rampage on his home turf, but the on-paper details seem to favor Jackson here.
My Prediction: Quinton "Rampage" Jackson by decision.