Do not expect spectacle or gallantry when Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal makes his return in 2011. While the brash, former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion is known for having a straight talk personality, this year is going to be more industrial than pageantry for the former Oklahoma State wrestling standout. Coming off the first loss of his young career Lawal will be looking to surge back into action and as he inches closer to a full bill of health, "King Mo" has his sights set on a shock and awe campaign that will shake up the status quo. With Lawal preparing to make his return to the cage I caught up with "King Mo" and in his Bloody Elbow Exclusive interview he laid it down the only way he knows how and expressed his excitement in returning to the fight game.
"I've been getting this rehab done," Lawal exclaimed. "I'm just about ready to get back to training and when I'm cleared I'm hitting up Holland. In the meantime I've been spending some time with brother Firas Zahabi and the boys at Grudge. I've also been at AKA...so I'm just traveling for my training."
Lawal's journey to the spotlight has spanned the globe before ultimately signed with Strikeforce in 2008. Only eight fights into his young career Lawal has seen action as both a heavyweight and light heavyweight and has seen just two of his bouts go to decision. Known for his analytical prowess I asked Lawal to share what he has discovered to be the most valuable asset in the career of a professional fighter.
"I think the most important thing is continuing to evolve my game and trying to stay as healthy as you can," Lawal replied. "If you can be at even 95% healthy going into your fights you greatly increase your chances at winning. You gotta do your best to stay injury free and always keep evolving your game."
This past August "King Mo" squared off with Team Black House fighter Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante in a bout for the light heavyweight title. In the first round Lawal came out in top form as he over powered, out-worked and out-struck Feijao to win the round. The second round followed suit and the third frame appeared to be setting up a clean sweep for Lawal until he was caught with a knee that rocked him. Switching into survival mode Lawal looked to close distance but a left hook returned him to the canvas where he was ultimately put away.
"I didn't take nothing from that fight," Lawal responded when asked about the loss to Feijao. "I got beat. I just need to be smarter in my training. Like I said it all comes down to training and recovery. I've lost before. I'm not too concerned because me at 100% ain't losing you know what I'm saying? He was a better man on that day but I feel that overall I'm better. I was winning the fight up until I got hit with that knee, left hook and the eventual elbows to the side of the head. I was winning the fight and was probably winning the round up until I got hit so I'm not worried about it. Things happen...oh well."
The first loss of his professional career immediately followed what is considered to be his biggest victory to date as Lawal defeated then pound for pound candidate Gegard Mousasi at Strikeforce: Nashville. For three rounds "King Mo" used his wrestling to neutralize Mousasi's attack and after winning a decisive victory, he earned the Strikeforce light heavyweight title.
Immediately following the fight, criticism rained down on Lawal for what some called a "stale" fight on a "boring" card but Lawal is not the type to let the backlash slide without saying his piece.
"It was bullshit man because what did they expect me to do?" Lawal declared. "Mousasi was like my sixth or seventh fight. In the fight I tried trading with him but he was covering up from my strikes so I took his ass down. Now they say he is overrated. Simply put if he was in the UFC and I was in the UFC and that fight happened we wouldn't get that flack and we would've been all good. Some people are just groupies and they are idiots who are quick to say that someone is overrated just because they don't know shit about MMA. They may know certain things about the sport but they don't know shit about MMA. I had an argument with some dude on Twitter because he was trying to say that Fedor is overrated. I asked him how Fedor was overrated and he answered with "yeah man...he beat Arlovski who doesn't have a chin and Cro Cop whose washed up. He beat Nogueira who is washed up too." I'm like what the hell? If Fedor is overrated then what do you consider Cain Velasquez, Brock Lesnar or Frank Mir? Fedor was beating the guys who they are beating way before those guys got the chance to fight them. People love to jump on and say people are overrated when they lose. When that happens they say "ah he's no good" or "he's overrated". People don't understand that MMA is not a sprint..it's a calculated marathon. Chuck Liddell shouldn't have lost to Jeremy Horn and the next thing you know Chuck is one of the best 205 lb. fighters to ever compete in the MMA game. So what does that say about him? If that fight would have happened now people would have said Chuck was overrated. Or that he sucks and he's no good. You can't base somebody's career off a few losses. A career is judged by the overall outlook and total performance."
Lawal continued, "People just don't know what they want. Some guys want to see a slugfest and others want to see some grappling, then slugging...two guys mixing up and constantly changing the tempo of the fight. When they don't get what they want they get mad. I ain't hear any booing when James Toney got taken down by Randy Couture. The crowd was cheering their ass off because they knew if Randy Couture decided to stand with James Toney he would have gone to sleep. It's just a double standard for some people and it all depends on who you are."
In the world of the ever present "safe" fighting debate that hovers above MMA, wrestling appears to take the most heat of any discipline. Top pound for pound fighter and current UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre may be widely considered to be the poster boy for safe fighting but it was a critique in a similar vein that hit Lawal after his bout with Mousasi.
"Fighting safe is fighting smart," Lawal stated as he fired back on the topic. "Some people are idiots and just don't get it. If it's the first quarter in a football game do you see teams going for it on 4th and 12? Hell no! They punt the ball away. If a team has a great secondary but a week defensive line you run the ball at them. C'mon man MMA is a sport. It's not Tough Man or cock-fighting. It's a legitimate sport where it takes strategy, brains and game planning to win a fight."
With his last fight coming this past August, Lawal has taken the necessary time to mend his injuries and return to health. In his absence Strikeforce has made no secret that its focus has been with building the heavyweight division and with the recent announcement of the heavyweight tournament all signs indicate a solid game plan. With that being said, there appears to be a lack of attention paid to building the organization's other weight classes. With Lawal's experience in the heavyweight division it will be interesting to see where "King Mo" turns if big fights become harder to find.
"I'd jump to heavyweight division again," Lawal answered when asked about looking for fights outside of the light heavyweight division but then "King Mo" turned his attention to the depth issue and stated, "Gilbert Melendez has defeated everybody in that division. He's beat JT and then what's his name...fancy pants, so it would be interesting to see Strikeforce pull somebody like Eddie Alvarez into the mix. I know he is stuck in a Bellator contract but they need to get him in there. Then don't forget about Kawajiri. Let me put it to you this way there is a guy out there some where who nobody knows who he is that people won't give respect to. Like that guy who beat Eddie Alvarez way back and then they turn around and say Eddie Alvarez is overrated. He's supposed to be the best guy out there that nobody has ever heard of. But that's the deal with this sport. There could be a guy out there that no one knows and could whip anybody's ass. He could smash Fedor. He could be fat and out of shape and come in and destroy us all but we don't know because he hasn't been discovered yet."
With the focus on possible opponents and roster depth inevitably the question arose about the UFC. In addition to his verbal assault on "haters", Lawal has also been quick to point out the double standard of respect that comes from either being in or outside of the UFC.
"Let me tell you something...I don't give a damn about organizations," Lawal declared. "What I do is about money. Then I see things in the media and the media are groupies. Some if not most of the media are just groupies. There are a very few out there that know a little bit about MMA but a lot of these motherf**ckers out there are just people doing some stupid ass bullshit reports. I read things that say such and such about so and so and who gives a damn about that? Talk about the dude's training. Talk about how this guy is out there busting his ass. Talk about that shit. Don't talk about shit that don't matter."
Lawal continued, "I don't give a f*** about organizations dog. I fight for the money. Strikeforce is my home. I'm immersed there for the damn cash and Strikeforce offered me the money so I'm going to fight for them. This is my home right now and they are my family. I ride for the money."
With a clear stance on the UFC vs. Strikeforce debate, one connection "King Mo" has to the biggest organization in MMA is a relationship with friend and training partner Rashad Evans. Together they are a part of the recently formed Team Thirsty and Lawal played a major role in Rashad's preparation for Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
"The people who watched that fight and walked away made have no idea," Lawal began. "Rampage was fighting hard and got rocked by Rashad. Evans controlled the fight then people get mad because Rashad didn't stop him? Who in the hell has stopped Rampage? Rampage doesn't get stopped hardly ever and people just come up with these dumbass reports saying Rashad fights safe. Motherf***cker everybody fights safe. If we didn't we would go in there with the chin up and hands down. So they need to go on with that bullsh**t."
Up next for Evans is his second attempt at the light heavyweight title when he faces Maurico "Shogun" Rua at UFC 129. With a big year planned of his own Lawal definitely sets aside time to help Evans prepare for Rua, who has looked unstoppable in his past few fights.
"As soon as I'm cleared I'm going to make that happen," Lawal answered when asked about helping Evans train for Shogun. "I'm gonna get out there and work a couple of drills and help him with his wrestling. It is a big fight and a very winnable one at that for Rashad. You know Shogun is a monster but Rashad is the ultimate monster slayer. I think he's going to win this fight if he just fights smart."
With the interview coming to a close Lawal took the final moments to give shout outs to the people that matter in his life. While young in the sport Lawal is a wise beyond his years and after acknowledging those who make a difference in his day to day life, he finished the interview letting those who rest at the opposite end of the spectrum know exactly what he think.
"I'm gonna be busy man," Lawal stated when asked about his plans for 2011. "As soon as I get cleared I'm busy. I'm gonna surprise everybody with what's next but I'm not gonna say shit about it. But y'all gonna see. Check out the MMA Youth Foundation (www.mmayf.org). Team Thirsty...what's going down. To all my people out there what's up. King Kong Krzyzstof out there in Russia, what's going down. I want to give a shout out everybody out there who shows a brother support. Also to the haters...they can suck my d**k, f**k em' and the same to the groupies."