Bellator 97: King Mo Continues His Move Toward Light Heavyweight Crown

Duane FinleyContributor IJuly 24, 2013

Photo courtesy of MMA Weekly
Photo courtesy of MMA Weekly

Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal is one of a kind.

The former wrestling standout from Oklahoma State has parlayed his athletic prowess from his days as a Division I All-American athlete into quickly becoming one of the top light heavyweight fighters competing in mixed martial arts.

While the former Strikeforce champion's ascension into the forefront of MMA has been based largely on his performance inside the cage, the 32-year-old Tennessee-born fighter comes equipped with additional weapons in his arsenal which have served to position him as a fixture in the spotlight.

Where other fighters are quick to avoid the public speaking realm, Lawal's natural charisma, cerebral fight analysis and sharp sense of humor have made him a go-to interview in the unpredictable environment of the MMA media game.

When Lawal's impressive track record and knack for no-nonsense delivery are combined, it's easy to see why Bellator has their sights set on Lawal becoming one of their flagship superstars in the promotion's new era with Spike TV.

While Bellator, TNA and Spike TV can have their hopes for Lawal set high, he fully understands the work is his to get done, and that is exactly what he intends to do when he squares off with Jacob Noe in the light heavyweight tournament finals on July 31 in New Mexico.

The two finalist will trade leather in the promotion's Summer Series tournament to determine who will earn the next opportunity to fight for the 205-pound strap. In the lead-up to the bout, friction between the two men has surfaced, but Lawal isn't focused on the talk, rather he's locked his sights on handling business when the cage door closes.

"[Noe] is just another guy in my way before I get that gold," Lawal told Bleacher Report. "I'm not worried about this dude, man. He likes to run his mouth a lot and down play things. He talked about Babalu and saying he was overrated and this and that. I'm not worried about this dude at all. He thinks he's above all, and I'm going to beat him down to reality by whooping his ass."

As Lawal's profile continues to grow under the Bellator banner and his march toward the 205-pound title progresses, his star power will only become more amplified as the promotion grows. Where Bellator has a collection of notable and established champions, the Los Angeles-based organization has made strong strides to sign additional high-profile fighters to their growing roster.

While an influx of top-notch talent is crucial to keep the action lively in the upper tiers of the divisional pictures, the pressure of being one of the Bellator's biggest stars isn't an issue which keeps him up at night. Lawal's only concern is performing to the best of his abilities, reaching the expectations he has set for himself, and the rest will all take care of itself.

"I don't worry about that," Lawal said when asked about being a central point of focus for the promotion. "I just go out there, do what I do, and just fight. I'm not worried about anything else except what is in front of me. I don't worry about it because it will happen.

"Why should I worry about what the company is going to do? I just need to focus on the fight that is in front of me. It's up to Bellator to sign people. I'm not going to go out there and recruit for them. They will do it themselves by putting on good fights, being on Spike TV, and making people want to come to the organization.

They got me, Rampage [Jackson], Bubba Jenkins just signed, Ben Askren and Michael Chandler are here. We got people that are coming and eventually people are going to respect Bellator more and more.

"Some people are all about brands, but, eventually, people are going to realize that fighting is fighting. Just because you fight in one organization doesn't mean you are better than the next organization. Anybody can get beat fighting anywhere. It happens all the time." 

While Lawal has been on the radar as one of the most talented light heavyweight fighters in the game for the past few years, it's easy to forget he's relatively young into his time as a professional mixed martial artist. 

In less than five years time and a total of 13 fights, the Las Vegas transplant has risen up the ranks to earn a title in the now-defunct Strikeforce promotion and is steadily moving closer to a championship with his present home in Bellator.

The journey certainly hasn't come without its share of setbacks as a series of injuries, a year-long suspension and a career-threatening staph infection threatened not only Lawal's future as a fighter, but it put his well being in jeopardy in the process.

Nevertheless, throughout it all, the Jeff Mayweather-trained fighter has remained diligent to the path he has chosen and has battled his way back to the forefront of Bellator's light heavyweight race.

"The fact that I bounced back from a possibly career-ending infection was big for me," Lawal said. "People don't realize, I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to fight again. I lost 30 pounds and could barely walk. I was on crutches for about three-and-a-half to four months.

I had so many surgeries, and I was just weak. I'm lucky to be training. I'm lucky to be fighting again. I didn't think I could come back so soon, but luckily, I had the right people around me, and I had some will power to keep on going."

For Lawal, the ability to regain his physical talents have come as the result of time invested inside the gym. While he may still be trying to reach previous levels of performance in some areas of his game, the one aspect that has returned in devastating fashion is his power.

In two out of his three most recent showings, Lawal has earned brutal first-round knockout victories with his most recent coming in a one-shot salting of veteran Seth Petruzelli at Bellator 96 back in June. The fashion in which Lawal slept "The Silver Back" evoked memories of his knockout victory over Roger Gracie back in September 2011, during his time competing under the Strikeforce banner.

Following his victory over Gracie in Cincinnati, Lawal explained in a post-fight interview how his trainer, Jeff Mayweather, had taught him a special punch that has the ability to end any fight in quick fashion.

"I learned the Doom punch from Jeff Mayweather," Lawal said. "The punch I landed on Petruzelli was definitely the Doom punch right there. The Doom punch ends everything."

With the "Doom" punch intact and his focus locked on earning a shot at the light heavyweight title, Lawal now prepares to take another step closer to the crown. In order to accomplish this task, he will have to get past Noe next Wednesday night in New Mexico, and it is a challenge Lawal is confident he will achieve.

"I'm going to get my hand raised," he added. "I've been training hard, training smart and I'm going to go out there and beat this kid up."


Duane Finley is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.