Last week Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal racked up his second consecutive impressive victory over the Chute Boxe-trained Fabio Silva at World Victory Road’s Sengoku VI. The victory went undetected in the MMA mainstream but it is noteworthy because Lawal has the fighting ability and charisma that could allow him to become the sport’s next crossover star.
Lawal joins Cain Velasquez, Jake Rosholt, and Johny Hendricks in a growing trends of championship-level college wrestlers turning to MMA in order to continue the pursuit of greatness in athletics. In year’s past, top-level amateur wrestlers were faced with the prospect of either continuing to scrape by on the amateur level during their post-college career; turn to pro wrestling; or abandon athletic competition altogether by joining the rest of in the rat race and working a typical 9-5.
For the benefit of those unfamiliar with Lawal’s amateur wrestling credentials, he won a NCAA Division II national championship while competing for Central Oklahoma in 2002. Following his success at Central Oklahoma, Lawal transferred to Oklahoma State for his senior year where he was not only the Big 12 champion but also placed third in the NCAA Division I tournament.
The shift from wrestling to MMA came for Lawal after he won the 2008 national championship and began training at Dan Henderson’s Team Quest outfit in Temecula, Calif. However, Lawal hadn’t abandoned wrestling altogether and was splitting his time between Temecula and the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Col. in a bid to represent the United States at this past August’s summer games in Beijing.
Despite being a favorite to represent the U.S. in his respective weight class, Lawal was upset at the Olympic team trials in Vegas and his dream of representing the States fell short. Soon after, Lawal’s attention turned back to MMA, where he began to focus fully on making his pro debut.
It was a debut that came sooner than anyone had anticipated.
After Roger Gracie pulled out of a scheduled bout on Sept. 28 in Japan at Sengoku V, Lawal was tapped on a few days notice to step in against former YAMMA heavyweight champion Travis Wiuff.
But he would not debut as Muhammad Lawal, instead, WVR officials re-dubbed him as “King Mo,” a flamboyant showman complete with a crown and female valets. Just seconds into his heavily produced introduction it was clear that the fledgling promotion had plans for Lawal, which made the selection of Wiuff as a first opponent a curious one.
Despite Lawal’s background in wrestling, boxing and judo, Wiuff was still a tall order for any fighter making their pro debut, regardless of how good their pedigree is. A veteran of over 60 fights, Wiuff had fought for the UFC and PRIDE and has recorded notable victories over the likes of Sean Salmon, Ricco Rodriguez, and Kazuyuki Fujita. This wasn’t Kimbo Slice vs. Bo Cantrell, as Wiuff entered Sengoku V riding high on the heels of a 10-fight win streak.
Drawing off his formal boxing training, Lawal appeared more than happy to stand and trade with Wiuff in the opening moments of the first round. Coming into the fight against the man known to some as “Diesel,” many pundits assumed Lawal would rely on his wrestling base and attempt to grind out a decision victory. So much for the pundits, as Lawal looked extremely relaxed as he sized Wiuff up and tried to gauge his distance. Moments into the first round, Lawal connected with a powerful superman punch that was followed up with a strong takedown.
On top of a dazed Wiuff, it was downhill for Lawal as he rained down well-placed blows that prompted the referee to call an end to the contest at 2:11 of round 1. And just like that Lawal was awarded the upset victory and a new star in Japan was born.
Just a few short months later, Lawal was back at it in second professional bout against Silva, a seasoned fighter hailing from a great camp that has produced numerous world champions. The fight would provide Lawal with a terrific opportunity to prove that his debut against Wiuff was no fluke.
Seconds into the fight, Lawal scored an impressive double leg takedown on Silva and immediately began to rain down a flurry of hard strikes. He continued to control Silva from the top position while working some effective ground and pound for a while until Silva was able to scramble back to his feet for mere seconds before Lawal was able to scoop him up and put him right back on the mat.
Once again Lawal was able to control Silva from the top and inflict damage with hard punches until the Chute Boxe veteran managed to climb back up to his feet just long enough to fire off a head kick of which Lawal was able to block. Immediately after the block, Lawal snatched up Silva and slammed him back to the canvas, bringing the one-side round in Lawal’s favor to a conclusion.
In the second round, it was more of the same, as Lawal continued to show tremendous takedown ability. Whenever Silva began to muster a little momentum, he was sent to the mat on his back. As the fight wore on, Silva had yet to stuff a single takedown attempt of Lawal’s.
Silva was able to take Lawal into the third round but the judges would not be needed on this night. At one point Silva rushed in with bad intentions and was met by a devestating right uppercut from Lawal that left him wobbly. Reverting back to his roots, Lawal ducked underneath a sloppy right hand thrown by Silva and brought him down to the canvas. Silva, still visibly rattled from the uppercut, could do little to him hold off as he absorbed more than a dozen hard punches to the chin before the referee stepped in to save him from any further punishment. And like that, “King Mo” moved to 2-0 in his young career following a TKO at 41 seconds of round 3.
In the States, Lawal will likely be marketed as a pure athlete. However, in Japan, where spectacle often takes precedent over sport, Lawal is being marketed as a pro wrestler. It’s a role that Lawal has accepted and one that he’s playing well.
Following the win over Wiuff, Lawal did an acrobatic forward roll that drew a rise out of the normally-subdued Japanese audience. And after the win over Silva, Lawal seized a moment after his win to grab the mic and address the audience. “I need a favor of y’all,” Lawal announced. “When I say king, y’all say Mo.” While many of the ringside observers may not have initially understood what Lawal had said, when once he started dancing and clapping his hands, the crowd soon got the point and were chanting right along.
Lawal’s combination of a strong wrestling resume coupled with an ability to grasp the showman aspect of the sport could just be what the struggling Japanese MMA scene needs to begin to regain some of its past glory. Whether one man can revive MMA in Japan remains to be seen, but in the event that he doesn’t, his prospects in the U.S. appear brighter than ever.