Sunday, March 28, 2010

MMA's Majesty is regal, real and ready to reign


In 1973, the classic martial arts film 'Enter the Dragon' was Hollywood's introduction of Bruce Lee to the world. However, it also featured a young and exciting new martial artist named Jim Kelly, whose character 'Williams' was a confident, smooth talking ladies man with fast hands and lethal skill. 37 years later, meet this generation's Williams, Muhammed 'King Mo' Lawal.

At just 29 years old and only six fights into his professional fight career, this self proclaimed King has taken the MMA world by storm and is about to make his own introduction to the world on network television in less than three weeks. On Saturday April 17, airing live on CBS, King Mo will challenge Gegard Mousasi for the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Championship of the World.

Mousasi, another young rising star in MMA, has had 31 fights in his career, winning 28. Comparing the two records, one would think the odds are against Lawal winning this fight, but take a closer look at his competition career, whether it's been wrestling at the amateur, pro and international level or mixed martial arts, and you'll see King Mo's been beating the odds all along.

Originally born in Tennessee, King Mo was raised in the south, as his family moved from state to state, eventually settling and growing up right outside Dallas, Texas. A happy go lucky personality at heart, who is all about having fun, for some reason King Mo would always find himself in the middle of a scrap growing up. Not one to back down from a challenge, he actually noticed he enjoyed fighting.

Blessed with lightning quick hands and feet, he was a natural athlete, which made his transition into wrestling that much smoother. In a state where normally football, especially at the high school level, is king, no pun intended, King Mo was introduced to the sport of wrestling at the fairly late age of 16. It was an outlet for him to utilize and harness his natural aggression and skill.

Most amateur wrestlers by trade, especially those that excel in high school, have been applying themselves at their craft since the ages of four and five. However, just like Matthew Modine's character in the movie 'Vision Quest', Lawal and wrestling seemed to be made for each other; that God given ability just flourished in the sport as he went on to become a Texas State Champion while wrestling at Plano East High School.

This natural raw talent landed at Division II Central Oklahoma University where he would work his way to a second place National runner-up finish in 2001. He would follow that up by winning the whole thing in 2002 and becoming an NCAA Champion. While at Central Oklahoma, Lawal would commute to Division 1 wrestling powerhouse Oklahoma State in the off-season to work on his wrestling with the likes of All-American wrestlers such as Daniel Cormier and Mark Munoz.

The hard work paid off as King Mo was offered a scholarship and transferred to Oklahoma State where he would go on to become a Big 12 champion and earn a third place overall finish in the 2003 NCAA Championships. The accolades would continue for Lawal as he went on to become one of the most decorated wrestlers in the past decade.

After college he participated in a now defunct organization called 'Real Pro Wrestling', which used rules closely resembling freestyle wrestling. In its only year of existence, King Mo was crowned champion. He then went on to win the U.S. Senior National Championships in 2005, 2006 & 2008, along with a runner-up finish in '07, and just barely missed making the 2008 Olympic team by literally seconds as he was winning his final match up until the very end.

To put into perspective what an accomplishment all this truly is, two-time Olympian Cormier, a current training partner and close friend of King Mo's, was a guest on MMA Junkie Radio earlier this week. When I asked him to explain how remarkable this achievement was, he said, "That is unheard of; wrestlers of that caliber begin training before elementary school and for Mo to accomplish all he has in wrestling after starting in high school is a testament to how hard he is willing to work."

Why does he work so hard? Well, it depends on which Muhammad Lawal you ask. If you ask "King Mo," his alter ego, he's all about 'GDP', "gettin' dat paper," which is slang for making money. However, in my phone interview with him over the weekend, Lawal told me "What I want is to be a legend; I want to go down in history as one of the greatest fighters that ever lived. I want my name to be mentioned the way people refer to names like Ali, Holmes, Robinson, Pep etc."

I asked him how he knew so much about boxing history and he said he would always watch fights growing up with his father and his siblings. Boxing and fighting were part of his childhood, which would explain his foray into MMA. In his first pro fight he was a last minute replacement against MMA and UFC veteran Travis Wiuff.

Fighting far from home in Tokyo, Japan where most first time fighters would probably suffer from jitters and home sickness, Lawal went out and TKO'ed Wiuff in less than three minutes of the first round. More of the same followed in his next five fights as he won four of five by either KO or TKO and the only fight that went to a decision was against Ryo Kawamura, Pancrase Light Heavyweight Champion, and that was only after suffering an ACL tear of the knee in the first round. Of course he went on to fight two more rounds with the damaged knee and earn the victory; unbelievable!

That brings us to April 17 and his approach to the biggest fight in his career. He is currently training in California with an All-Star line-up and virtual who's who of MMA. He told me he has been working with the aforementioned Cormier and Munoz along with, Rashad Evans, Fabricio Werdum, Renato 'Babalu' Sobral, Mike 'Joker' Guymon, Rodrigo Nogueira and that is just to name a few. He's also working his Boxing with Mike Wilson, Jiu-Jitsu with Marc Laimon and his Muay Thai and overall stand up game with Rafael Cordeiro along with his secret training partner Syiar "The Killa from Afghanistan."

I was lucky enough to meet King Mo last summer in Las Vegas while he was a guest host on Junkie Radio. I got to co-host a show with him and then got to know him a little afterwards. Most people that only see the flamboyant "King Mo" image side of him would be surprised to know that, he's incredibly knowledgeable about the sport and extremely cerebral towards his approach to it.

His confidence may lead some to believe he's cocky, but it is just the opposite as he could care less about winning or losing. His philosophy on fighting and life are both the same, "Just go out and have fun," and he's totally serious and very real when he talks about it. I told him that he reminds me of Kelly in 'Enter the Dragon' when his character tells the evil Mr. Han, "I don't even think about losing because when it comes, I'll be too busy looking good." Regardless of which it is, one thing is for sure, MMA's Majesty is about to reign on his empire.

I want to thank King Mo for granting me the time for an interview during his very busy schedule and for always keeping it real.

King Mo thanks his Manager Dr. Ryan Parsons and Percy Crawford of FightHype.com. Also, Cage Fighter, Iomega, Future Clothing and EA Sports. He also wants to acknowledge all his training partners, Team Thirsty and finally, "anyone out there that is about pursuing greatness."


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