Preview: Bellator 233 ‘Salter vs. Van Steenis’ - Lawal vs. Kapel

By: Keith Shillan
Nov 8, 2019

Muhammed Lawal vs. Andrew Kapel

I’m sure you already figured this out but in case you haven’t, I wanted to let you know that MMA retirements don’t last long. Add Lawal to the long list of fighters who stated they were done competing in the sport only to return a short time later. “King Mo” said in April after he suffered his third straight loss that he was done, but now he is back for what he claims is his swan song. If this is the last we see of the former Oklahoma State University wrestling star, let me recap his career by saying I believe he is one of the most accomplished light heavyweights in MMA history and doesn’t get the credit he deserves. The 38-year-old was able to capture titles in both Strikeforce and Bellator, while also winning Rizin Fighting Federation’s 2015 Open Weight Grand Prix. However, the man that was able to accomplish those great feats are not the same man we will see Friday night. Well, at least not in talent. In his prime, the American Top Team product was able to become a savvy pocket boxer, who did extremely well at rolling with punches and using his vision to find a spot to place his power shots. While the former Bellator champion still hangs his hands low, he doesn’t fire them off with the same snap he once did. He still moves his head well but when he gets touched with a shot, his chin can’t absorb the damage it once could. The best area for Lawal to do damage on the feet is in the clinch, where he still shows signs of a great dirty boxer. He also began to utilize calf kicks in his final bouts. King Mo’s bread and butter was always his elite level wrestling. The three-time Freestyle National Champion can still find ways to get in on his opponent’s hips, yet lacks the same explosion he once had to drive through. Once on top, King Mo will look to land ground strikes as he has never submitted an opponent.

I am glad Bellator has brought in Kapel. He is better than his 14-6 record indicates and is a formidable opponent. He makes his Bellator debut on a four-fight winning streak, finishing three of the bouts via first round stoppage. His lone decision in that streak was over Kevin Nowaczyk, which was highly controversial and Kapel even stated that he thought he should have not had his hand raised. The 34-year-old is a well-rounded fighter. He has professional muay Thai experience and has even competed on the Lion Fight circuit. The Minnesota native does well to pick apart opponents from range with kicks to the legs and also to the head. He makes the mistake of throwing one strike at a time and gets hit sometimes because he tends to admire his work. He also often loses balance by over-reaching on his strikes, leaving him in a bad position. The Minnesota Martial Arts representative has a strong plum clinch, where he uses elbows well. Kapel doesn’t have good takedown defense. He does well to slice up his opponents with elbows on his back and has 10 wins by submission. While he is a threat with the subs, he makes the mistake of trying to work from the guard instead of scrambling back to his feet.

I was really tempted to pick Kapel to ruin Lawal’s retirement fight, however, he hasn’t faced much in terms of high level competition besides Anthony Smith five years ago. I wonder if the bright lights might impact his performance. He will also be giving up size in this 195-pound catchweight bout. Lastly, while King Mo isn’t the elite wrestler he once was, he doesn’t have to take Kapel down. The Midwesterner will throw up submission attempts but with the former champion never being submitted in his career, I doubt it happens now. Lawal wins a close unanimous decision and hopefully leaves his gloves in the cage for good this time.

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