If you assumed that Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal could only function on cocky trash-talker mode, you need to watch this video taken Saturday night, in which Mo is so emotionally vulnerable after defeating Gegard Mousasi in Nashville that he can’t even give Ariel Helwani an interview while standing up. Lawal credits his victory to his trainers, and to the fact that most MMA fighters don’t have good takedown defense. But overall, he wasn’t too impressed with his performance: "I got lazy a few times. I took [Mousasi] for granted because I didn’t respect his skills all too much because I knew I could beat him. I should have taken him more serious, I couldn’t even finish him…I didn’t want it to go five rounds, I wanted to leave him sleeping, but he’s tough, man, he’s seasoned."
And now, let’s all take a moment to reflect on that fact that King Mo is the light-heavyweight champion of a major MMA organization after just seven bouts — only three of which were actually contested at light-heavyweight. While some may interpret that as a triumph of style over substance, or as a symbol of how thin Strikeforce’s 205-pound division is, I just see a guy who did everything right — a fighter whose brief career should be studied by every young scrapper trying to get into the game.
Lawal developed tremendous wrestling credentials before even considering a career in MMA, then seized on an opportunity to make his professional debut in Sengoku against an opponent with 65 fights under his belt. Most transitioning wrestlers with limited striking training would probably pass on the offer, but Mo accepted, and made his presence known. In Japan, Lawal acted like a star before he was one, crafting an outsized persona that audiences immediately responded to. By the time he started competing in the U.S., he was already known by hardcore fans, and began calling out big names to draw attention. For his efforts, he was rewarded with a title fight against Gegard Mousasi, a Top 10 pound-for-pound fighter who was supposed to chew King Mo up. Instead, Mo exploited his vast advantages in wrestling, and made a lot of us eat our words.
There are fighters with two or three times as many fights as Lawal who continue to toil in obscurity while King Mo’s MMA celebrity grows. If you think that’s unfair, then you don’t fully appreciate Lawal’s talent, personality, and good sense to be at the right place at the right time. To put it in Mo’s words, "Eff the haters."