Tournament Tales With ‘King Mo’ Lawal
This past December, Muhammed ‘King Mo’ Lawal entered the Rizin ring for the second year straight, as he once again looked to embark on Grand Prix victory. The set up was simple, win the quarter final and return two days later on New Year’s Eve for both the semi-final and the final. As daunting a concept as that may sound, for Lawal it was just another tournament. In fact, Lawal’s experiences with tournaments go back quite some time, four years ago fighting in his first as a part of the old polarising Bellator format. With six official tournaments under his belt, ‘King Mo’ is no stranger to the sport’s most unpredictable style of combat.
“I train for tournaments in a general fashion. I focus on conditioning and my first opponent”, Lawal told me in reference to his tournament preparation. However, whilst tournaments in name, the old Bellator format was slightly different to the traditional MMA set ups. Rather than two fights in one night or now three in three days, Bellator’s old tournaments were spread, with usually one fight a month. The fighters would be more active than usual of course but it still wasn’t quite as strenuous or dangerous as the tournaments that had become such a huge part of MMA history a decade prior. Nonetheless, Lawal would win one of his three entries into Bellator’s old tournaments, defeating Jacob Noe to win the 2013 Summer Series Light Heavyweight bracket.
Bellator would soon get away from their formerly trademark tournament set up but would return to the concept with some changes in 2015, creating a four man, one night tournament for their inaugural Dynamite show. Lawal would in fact be one of the four man entering that night and took on Linton Vassell in the semi-final. The intimidating task didn’t affect Lawal whatsoever on fight night as he badly hurt Vassell on multiple occasions on route to a clear decision win. “I just focus on winning the fight at hand. I don’t care about conserving energy”, Lawal said looking back at his Dynamite display. Unfortunately though, ‘King Mo’ wouldn’t be able to compete in the final that night, instead having to pull out with a rib injury.
Though a tough decision, it was clearly the right one in Lawal’s mind. “It’s hard to pull out of fights but you have to be smart”, he stated, even going on to say that he’d have done the same in Rizin, “If I got hurt, I would’ve pulled out”. Forced to watch on as the debuting Phil Davis won the tournament against a reserve replacement, suddenly Lawal felt a little frozen out of the title picture. Refusing to be ignored though, Lawal would enter another tournament just three months later, representing Bellator in Rizin’s first ever Grand Prix. Though his last tournament foray hadn’t gone as planned, ‘King Mo’ had no concerns, even with the slightly unknown lineup. “There was no hesitation. A fights a fight. I don’t care about who is in front of me.”
Lawal would shine too, defeating both Brett McDermott and Teodoras Aukstuolis to earn a spot in the final. Just hours after his decision win over Aukstuolis, Lawal would knock out Jiri Prochazka to win the Grand Prix. ‘King Mo’ had used his elite wrestling, athleticism and punching power to win the crown quite comfortably in the end. Though it seemed a great achievement to most onlookers, for Lawal it was just another night and a successful one at that. “I have no thoughts about the tournament. I went there to take care of business. I really don’t have any thoughts….it’s in the past now. I’m not sure where I rank this accomplishment in my career”.
Regardless, Lawal certainly took care of business and the tournament win secured him a number one contender fight with Phil Davis after all. In the end, Lawal would come out on the wrong end of a close decision defeat but rebounded on December 16th by defeating Satoshi Ishii. Incredibly, just days later it was announced that Lawal would replace Wanderlei Silva and enter this year’s Rizin Grand Prix, meaning that he would potentially fight four times in just fifteen days. To add to the insanity, ‘King Mo’s quarterfinal opponent this year would be the legend: Mirko Cro Cop. After making a strong start with an early takedown, Lawal would be hurt and finished in Round two by the bigger Cro Cop.
However, whilst it didn’t go his way Lawal refuses to make excuses, “I had no concerns about the lack of preparation leading into the Cro Cop fight. I was doing good. I was beating him and got caught. You win some and you lose some”. It was always a risky move on Lawal’s part after fighting Ishii so soon before the tournament but the former Strikeforce champion has no regrets, “I’m happy that I went out there and fought him. I refuse to back down from any challenge.” Though this most recent entry wasn’t ‘King Mo’s most successful, few fighters in history have had such a range of experiences in MMA tournaments. Whether it be crushing injury, disappointing defeat or emphatic victory, Lawal has seen and felt it all.
Image courtesy of sherdog.com