During the height of K-1, Mighty Mo fought the elite kickboxers in the planet and established himself among the best in combat sports. After he debuted in Japan, the American-Samoan heavyweight went on to win multiple K-1 Grand Prix tournaments, and also did well during the few times he crossed over to mixed martial arts.
After gaining success and fan fare early in his career, Mo eventually hit a rough patch both in his personal and professional life. He had understandable losses to legends and champion fighters such as Semmy Schilt, Josh Barnett and Kyotaro, but then he continued to struggle for years in the kickboxing circuit.
“Those were times that I was under the water, and I didn’t realize it,” Mighty Mo told Bloody Elbow.
For years, the hard-hitting heavyweight struggled with deep personal issues relating to family members. It took time away from training, led him to vices and away from a healthy lifestyle. The emotional stress took such a huge toll, that fighting just wasn’t the main focus anymore.
“I was dealing with too many family issues. When you get up there, people tend to take advantage of you a lot. I was dealing with all those emotional issues, and I didn’t know how to deal with it,” he explained. “You make it to the top, and so-called ‘family’ takes advantage of you.
“I had to go through a lot of issues in my life. I never really had a mentor to help and point me to do this, stay away from the family stuff, focus on your career. I didn’t have that type of person.”
These problems kept him from having the proper condition and mindset to compete at a high level, but for a stretch, he still stepped in the ring to disastrous results.
“I was just taking my youth for granted,” Mo said about how he fought on without the same focus and training, knowing he had power and athleticism to fall back on. “Being young, you never think things would go away, but things do go away. If you don’t take care of it, your blessings will diminish.”
While he struggled in kickboxing, Mo somehow still managed to do okay in his stint with Bellator through all of this. He went 3-1 in the promotion, with his only loss being against Alexander Volkov, a former M-1 champ who is currently undefeated in the UFC.
He was still winning MMA bouts, but he knew something just wasn’t right with him. Eventually, the heavyweight decided that enough is enough, and he had to focus on getting healthy and getting both his body and mind in the right place.
“There was a point where I’m looking at my kids, and why I started fighting for them,” Mo said about the turning point in his life. “To be a provider, and that this is what I love doing. I just realized that my health isn’t where it was supposed to be, because I felt it.”
After looking to clear his mind from all the emotional stress, Mo also took care of his body and went back to a healthy lifestyle. He also enlisted the services of a doctor to handle his nutrition and run tests.
“I had to get me a doctor to help me realize that my chemical balances aren’t on point,” he explained. “A nutritionist, and health doctor, to make sure all your vitamins, blood and chemistry is where it’s supposed to be. Not way down here, or way up here — either way you’re going to kill yourself. It’s got to be balanced, and those things weren’t at all… at all.
“He helped me put everything in the right place for it, where it is supposed to be to compete at this level.”
The results of this lifestyle change have been evident. During the last two years, Mo found an unlikely career resurgence through his 40’s as he was victorious in 5 straight MMA bouts. Not only did he win an open weight tournament with Korea-based promotion Road FC, he also won and defended the promotion’s title in the process.
“It’s being way more focused. I matured as I was going along,” he said. “When I was in K-1, I was still young — I was young to the game. I never understood how everything was balanced out, and where (my health, and chemistry) was needed to be. I also didn’t know how to deal with emotional issues, and things of that sort.
“So when I was in K-1, everything was just relying more on natural and raw talent. Now, I’m more seasoned, more experienced. Yes, I’m a little older, but more experienced.”
While many just attributed the previous struggles to age catching up to him, Mo says that clearly wasn’t the case. Now that he’s put his problems behind him, his confidence has skyrocketed and he believes this is his time to finally reach his potential and perform like he always should have.
“I focus on my health to the T,” he said. “I hit harder now, even more than when I was younger. Technique, timing, talent, speed, power, everything (is now coming together).
“Now, I feel like I’m almost at a hundred percent. Even though I’m the champion now, I don’t feel like I’m totally at a 100% yet. I know I’m getting better. As you can see in my fights, I’m finishing off these guys quick, and my power and speed is off the roof.”
Many of his colleagues and former rivals are either long retired, or fighting as shells of themselves. Mo knows that fighting is a young man’s sport, so winning a tournament and a championship this late in his career is a testament to his longevity.
While he admits to having to deal with more aches and pains in training camp these days, he says he feels much better now that he can focus and train smarter.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t even think about my age, or my opponent’s. It doesn’t calculate in my head. ‘This guy is younger’ – it doesn’t even matter. To me, I think I’m a young guy. I don’t know why, but I move and I feel like a young guy.
“But for me to say it, I’ve got to be able to prove it, and I’ve proven to the world what I can do. To me when people are ‘you’re old, you’re old’ – So? What’s the problem? I’m winning.”
“This just shows who the real champions are, who the real warriors are,” he says about other fighters from his era. “I’m not taking anything away from them, but I feel like I was meant for this. (My longevity) just makes me feel like I was blessed with the skills and power and speed.”
Mo defends his belt for the second time at Road FC 40 on Saturday night. He says he only has two fights remaining on his contract, but retirement isn’t on the table just yet. If things go as planned, he’ll try and achieve the bigger things that eluded him on his younger years.
“I’m going to keep going until I’m satisfied, and I don’t even feel satisfied,” he exclaimed. “You know how it is when you feel you didn’t accomplish some of the things you know could’ve accomplished when you were on top? Because of the issues that I went through in my life, especially with my family — that held me back.
“It’s like climbing a hill. You don’t want to leave your family, so you’re throwing them on your back. You’re climbing, but if someone falls, you’ve got to climb back down and pick them back up. Then you’ll climb again. That’s the story of my life,” he shared. “I kept going back down, instead of going all the way up there and throwing a rope down and pulling them up. That’s what I should’ve done, but my life, and my career, this is what I was doing.
“I was trying to climb and pull my family, the ones that didn’t want to – I would have to go back down and pick them up. That’s what it was like.
“I feel like I got cheated in my career because I focused too much on them, when they did not care. They just took, took, took, and didn’t care. I was all worried, and I was all hurt, and my feelings — but I was thinking that I’ve got to save them.”
While there naturally are ‘what ifs’ and thoughts on how different his career would’ve been without them, Mo knows those challenging years shaped him to be the man he is today. It led to him being a champion at Road FC, and he plans to continue proving himself both inside and outside of the cage.
“Big time, I wish I would’ve done all this before,” he said. “But it also showed me that I am strong enough to come back from that type of issue, and be here today. That’s one of the things I’ve learned. That’s the true meaning of my name. Mighty Mo is who I am, and I’m living up to that name.
“My goal is just to be at the highest level at the game, to seek and destroy every heavyweight that’s out there at this moment, at any organization. I feel I’m the baddest right now. This is the one reason why I never retired, because I felt I never gave it my 100%.
“As you can see, in Road FC, I’m destroying everybody,” he said. “I know that I can tell you whatever I want to, but my actions speak louder than my words. I want to show you that I’m the best heavyweight in the world.”