By Elias Cepeda
Bellator light heavyweight Muhammed Lawal remembers the moment when the switch flipped for him regarding Emanuel Newton. Before they fought this past February at Bellator 90, the former training partners were respectful of one another in public statements.
After Newton shocked Lawal and the world with a spinning backfist KO in the first round, however, “The Hardcore Kid” began to suggest that Lawal had simply received his comeuppance for being cocky. To Lawal, who says he made an effort to not trash talk Newton because of their mutual friend Antonio McKee, it was a criticism that came out of nowhere and it created harder feelings than simply losing had engendered.
“A friend told me that [Newton] had said I was cocky and got what I deserved in an interview and I was like, ‘what?’” Newton remembers. (Ed note: I’d like to think it was one of those extended, overly-dramatic “Say WHAAAAAAAAT?” kind of whats. I’m not even here. -Danga)
It’s not that Lawal is unaware of how he comes off when he saunters into the ring or cage wearing a crown and a cape, it’s just that he didn’t expect to be called that after a fight where he’d made a special effort to not do much trash-talking.
“I don’t know what he’s doing. Maybe he’s trying to play to the media so they can write about him, but I didn’t go into that fight cocky and I didn’t fight cocky. I know the mistake I made in that fight and it was a mistake I’d made before and was working on,” Lawal continues.
Contrary to popular opinion, “King Mo” says that did not have his hands low as the result of an over-reliance on Mayweather-taught boxing or arrogance or any combination of the two. “Watch the whole sequence,” he maintains, “I had my hands up. But I drop them when I load up. I have to stop loading up on punches.”
As he heads into a rematch with Newton this Saturday, Lawal clearly feels that he’s improved and will be ready to avenge the loss. Mo has notched two straight knockout wins since the loss to Newton in February and on Saturday he will vie for the Bellator interim light heavyweight title.
It is interesting to consider how much any fighter can truly improve their skills when they are as busy and competing as often as Lawal has. Not only has Mo already fought four times in 2013, he’s also been balancing that with professional wrestling development work.
When we spoke with Lawal some time ago, shortly after he had signed with both Bellator and TNA Wrestling, he was confident that he could handle simultaneous careers in the physically and emotionally demanding fields. Mo is still enthusiastic about wrestling but admits that the MMA/wrasslin’ balance is harder than he thought it would be.
“Yeah, it is,” he says.
“I feel like every time I take a step forward in my development in pro wrestling, I fall two steps backwards because I have to do a fight. Wrestling is definitely hard on the body. I remember one day we had a two hour practice led by Al Snow and then I had to go do a match that night. It is incredible how these guys do this every day and do four or more matches a week and travel. I enjoy doing it and I’m getting better. I’m good at the moves and taking bumps but there’s so much to learn about match psychology. I don’t want to just go do appearances out there, I want to be good at it and put on great matches. I’m still excited to do it it is just hard to find the time to improve the way I want to. I might take extra time after this next fight to focus on wrestling practice.”
The road back
Lawal says that it wasn’t hard for him to recover from his loss to Newton and get focus on winning again. “Not really,” he says flatly.
It wasn’t that he had been knocked out. It wasn’t that a fluke type of shot put him out. Lawal is a competitor. He’s been doing it in amateur wrestling at the highest levels since he was a kid and he knows how to get ready for a competition. Losses are not welcome but they don’t get into his head.
“A loss is always bad but it didn’t affect me psychologically,” he explains. “It just isn’t hard to get back in there and train and get ready for the next one. That’s what I did and I’m ready for this next one.”
Mo doesn’t offer any detailed or boasting predictions for his rematch with Newton but it’s clear that he feels superior to his opponent in more ways than one.
“He’s so cheesy isn’t he?” he asks, having his own answer.
“He’s corny and boring.”
And really, how can a king lose to someone like that?