By Elias Cepeda
With how often former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion Muhammed Lawal talks about money, one might think it is his only motivation. He can go on and on about how cash motivates him during fights and how he invests wisely so as not to have to depend solely on professional fighting for income.
Lawal’s financial focus fits in well with the namesake of the Mayweather Boxing Club in Las Vegas, where Lawal does much of his training these days. (San Jose, CA, the home of the American Kickboxing Academy where he has previously trained during fight camps, got “too expensive,” according to Mo.) But just as with Floyd Mayweather Jr., there is a lot more substance behind the former wrestler’s style and talk.
The fighter known as “King Mo” has not been able to fight professionally for over a year because of a suspension stemming from a positive steroid test after his last fight against Lorenz Larkin. So, for the past year Mo has not gotten paid a red cent to fight — yet he says his motivation to train hard never waned.
“I never had a problem [staying motivated]. Never,” he tells CagePotato. “I love being in the gym, I love working out. My mind is always on fighting of some sort.”
Take, for example, a month-long training trip that Lawal took to Holland. “I just wanted to test myself,” he remembers.
“It was tough, man. I was up every day at 5:30, training by 7. We did that until 11:30 every morning and then came back at 6. We did pads, partner drills, sparring, ground and pound drills, conditioning,” Mo details.
The former collegiate and international wrestling standout says that because grappling comes more easily to him, he wanted to do intensive striking work. He chose Holland over Thailand to train Muay Thai kickboxing because, for one, the Dutch style is considered better for larger fighters, and also because he had friends like Melvin Manhoef who could ensure he’d get quality instruction.
“In Thailand they’ve just got a guy holding pads yelling at you, ‘Harder! More! Faster!’ You don’t get no technical training out there. They just want to get paid.”
In Holland, Mo found himself being taught and pushed each day during strenuous training. To underscore the rigor, he remembers the day Japanese heavyweight prospect and former Olympic champion Satoshi Ishii walked into the gym.
“Ishii showed up one day. We sparred for an hour,” Lawal recounts. “He never showed up again after that. It’s hard training. Melvin [Manhoef] and I did 15-20 rounds out there. The guys are very good out there.”
In earlier years of MMA, it seemed that top practitioners from different styles, like wrestling or Brazilian jiu Jitsu, were reluctant to put in time to learn other styles. Lawal says he loves to stay in the gym year-round and also loves to turn his weaknesses into his strengths.
“I always enjoy other disciplines because I like to learn and I like to improve,” he says. “I like doing everything because you never know who you will have to face.”
The next man Lawal will face is Przemyslaw Mysiala at tonight’s Bellator 86: Askren vs. Amoussou card on Spike, and his attitude should serve him well in his new promotional home. Mo’s fight against Mysiala is part of this season’s light-heavyweight tournament, and if he is to advance through and win, he’ll have to fight about once a month.
The pace is breakneck for MMA, and pretty much un-matched outside of Bellator. Mo says that his wrestling experience, where he’d have to compete in tournaments on a weekly basis at times, prepares him well for this new fighting challenge.
“I guess so,” he chuckles. “It’s going to have to. I plan to go out there, get the knockouts and come out as healthy as possible. If I get injured, I’ll keep on fighting, because that’s how I am.”
His extensive, high-level, amateur wrestling experience has also helped Lawal deal with the pressure of fighting in a cage. The psychological and physical grind of professional MMA is nothing compared to amateur wrestling, according to Mo.
“I started wrestling when I was sixteen. The goal from that point on was to be an Olympic champion,” he explains.
The pressure he put on himself to succeed in wrestling far surpasses any that he places on his shoulders now as a fighter. Plus, the guaranteed pay is much better now than it was as an international amateur wrestler.
In terms of the physical toll competition takes, don’t let the punches and kicks of MMA fool you, Lawal says. Wrestling in a tournament is its own formidable meat grinder.
“Compared to amateur wrestling, MMA is a lot easier,” he maintains.
“These punches don’t hurt. These knees don’t hurt. Leg kicks hurt the next day. You go out there and do a wrestling tournament you’ll feel like you just went through a fight. That’s how it feels. You’ve got an Iranian in the first round, a Cuban the next round. Then you’ve got a guy from Azerbaijan after that and a Russians in the final. You are out there scrapping.”