Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal wants to make his mark in Bellator. | Photo: Tony Loiseleur/Sherdog.com
Muhammed Lawal finds himself under the microscope once again, as he works to live up to the considerable investment that has been made in him.
The former Strikeforce champion will meet Seth Petruzelli in the Bellator MMA Summer Series light heavyweight tournament semifinals at Bellator 96 on Wednesday at the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla. Lawal’s latest appearance comes four months after he was turned away by an Emanuel Newton spinning back fist, which resulted in his being knocked out 2:35 into the first round of their Bellator 90 encounter.
Anchored at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., the twice-beaten Lawal already owns wins over two-division Dream titleholder Gegard Mousasi, 2005 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist Roger Gracie and 1992 NCAA wrestling champion Mark Kerr. The 32-year-old Murfreesboro, Tenn., native has delivered seven of his nine professional victories by knockout or technical knockout, five of them inside one round.
Petruzelli had his moment in the sun back in 2008, when he served as a last-minute replacement for Ultimate Fighting Championship hall of famer Ken Shamrock and wiped out reformed street-fighter Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson in 14 seconds on national television. “The Silverback” has compiled a mediocre 4-3 mark since and last appeared at Bellator 85 in January, when he succumbed to punches from Jacob Noe at the UCI Bren Events Center in Irvine, Calif. Petruzelli, 33, sports 13 first-round finishes among his 14 career wins.
With “King Mo” front and center, here are 14 facts surrounding Bellator 96:
FACT: This will serve as Bellator’s eighth trip to the state of Oklahoma. Only Florida (12), Louisiana (10) and New Jersey (nine) have been visited more by the promotion.
FACT: Undefeated Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler was originally slated to headline the event with a five-round title defense against Season 7 tournament winner Dave Jansen. However, matchmakers were forced to nix the bout when Jansen suffered a knee injury in training.
FACT: Lawal was a three-time NCAA All-American wrestler, earning the honors twice at the University of Central Oklahoma and once at Oklahoma State University.
FACT: Petruzelli has competed in 14 different promotions during his 21-fight career: the UFC, Bellator, EliteXC, British Association of Mixed Martial Arts, World Extreme Cagefighting, King of the Cage, Ultimate Warrior Challenge, World Vale Tudo Federation, World Vale Tudo Championship, Reality Superfighting, Cage Wars, Knight Fight, Art of Fighting and World Extreme Fighting.
FACT: Noe hails from Brighton, Tenn., a small 2.7-square-mile town in the Southwestern quadrant of “The Volunteer State” with a population of roughly 1,700.
FACT: Five of former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Renato “Babalu” Sobral’s 10 career defeats have come to Dan Henderson (twice), Chuck Liddell (twice) and Fedor Emelianenko -- three of the most accomplished fighters in mixed martial arts history.
FACT: A four-time world sambo champion, Vitaly Minakov has made the transition to MMA look easy. The 28-year-old Russian has compiled a perfect 10-0 mark, including first-round knockouts over UFC veterans Fabiano Scherner and Eddie Sanchez.
FACT: Eight of Ron Sparks’ nine career bouts have ended inside the first round, five of them having lasted less than a minute.
FACT: “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 6 graduate War Machine has not fought since he stopped Roger Huerta on third-round punches under the Ultimate Warrior Fighting banner on Nov. 26, 2011 -- one year, six months and 24 days ago.
FACT: Born on June 30, 1983, World Extreme Cagefighting alum Blas Avena shares a birthday with 18-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps, former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin and Robert Ballard -- the underwater archaeologist who discovered the sunken wreckage of the RMS Titanic in 1985.
FACT: Based at the same Team Takedown camp that spawned top UFC welterweight contender Johny Hendricks, the undefeated Chas Skelly holds a pair of submission victories against former two-division Legacy Fighting Championship titleholder and current UFC featherweight Daniel Pineda.
FACT: Onetime King of the Cage middleweight kingpin Keith Barry has stopped seven opponents in less than a minute: Brendan Ellison, Sam Salas, Brian Campbell, Jeff Avants, Adrian Perez, Aiki Cavanaugh and Donny Rider.
FACT: Heavyweight Raphael Butler, a former national Golden Gloves champion, was a professional boxer from 2004 to 2011. He posted a 35-12 record, including a pair of wins over Travis Fulton.