Long before the world was introduced to “King Mo,” Muhammed Lawal was born on Jan. 15, 1981 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee -- a city of 33,000 in the heart of the Volunteer State.
A three-sport star at Plano East Senior High School in Texas, Lawal focused on wrestling upon graduation and went on to enjoy a stellar amateur career. He was a three-time NCAA All-American at the University of Central Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University, struck gold at the 2007 Pan American Championships and was a three-time winner at the Senior United States National Championships. Mixed martial arts proved a natural draw, and Lawal made the transition at age 27 in 2008. He has since compiled a 20-6 record and entrenched himself as one of the sport’s most flamboyant stars and polarizing figures.
Now 36, Lawal this Friday faces a familiar foe in the Bellator 175 main event, as he has been paired with former Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder Quinton Jackson in a rematch -- Jackson won their first meeting by unanimous decision in May 2014 -- at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois. This is the path that led him there:
SEPTEMBER 28, 2008
Lawal made his professional MMA debut against journeyman Travis Wiuff at Sengoku 5 in Tokyo. It lasted a little more than two minutes. Wiuff’s vast reservoir of experience -- he had 65 fights under his belt at the time, including wins over Keith Jardine, Ricco Rodriguez and Kazuyuki Fujita -- was of no use to him at Yoyogi National Stadium. The hulking Minnesotan circled Lawal, pawed with punches, incorporated a few leg kicks and tried to counter whenever possible. “King Mo” stayed crouched and coiled, capitalized on a profound speed advantage and waited for the right moment to strike. He staggered Wiuff with a Superman punch that sent him careening into the ropes and followed it with a takedown. Lawal showed no mercy, as he bludgeoned his well-traveled counterpart with a series of kneeling punches that prompted the stoppage 2:11 into Round 1. He went on to win his first five fights, finishing four of them, before agreeing to terms with Strikeforce in 2009.
APRIL 17, 2010
“King Mo” walked into the cage at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee, donning a fictional crown. He left it with the real thing. Lawal scored with multiple takedowns in the first, second and fifth rounds, as he outpointed Gegard Mousasi and captured the Strikeforce light heavyweight championship by unanimous decision. All three judges scored it 49-45 for Lawal, as the charismatic Murfreesboro, Tennessee, native snapped Mousasi’s 15-fight winning streak. Lawal kept Mousasi’s back pinned to the canvas throughout the fight, as he effectively neutralized his notoriously potent offensive repertoire. Lawal punctuated the win with a strong fifth round, as he took down the defending champion three times. Mousasi virtually sealed his own fate when he was deducted a point for delivering an illegal upkick midway through the final round. By then, Lawal, his left eye nearly swelled shut, had the match in hand. The defeat was Mousasi’s first in nearly four years.
AUGUST 21, 2010
Adversity and MMA often go hand in hand, a message Rafael Cavalcante delivered to Lawal before 8,635 fans at the Toyota Center in Houston. There, “Feijao” took the Strikeforce light heavyweight championship by force, as he wiped out Lawal with third-round punches and elbows. Cavalcante finished it 1:14 into Round 3. “King Mo” executed takedowns and outlanded the Brazilian by a wide margin in the first and second rounds, but his hard work came at a price. He slowed considerably in the middle stanza, his punches and movements growing more and more labored as fatigue exacted its toll. The takedowns dried up in the third. Cavalcante clipped him with a knee strike from the clinch and decked him with a sweeping right hook. Lawal withstood the initial onslaught and lunged at a desperate takedown, only to be met by further punishment. His attempt at a double-leg was unsuccessful and Cavalcante dispatched him with a series of unanswered elbows to the side of the head. Lawal was king no more.
JANUARY 24, 2013
Like all showmen, Lawal understands the importance of first impressions. “King Mo” made his Bellator MMA debut in the Season 8 light heavyweight tournament at Bellator 86 in Thackerville, Oklahoma. Lawal brought down Przemyslaw Mysiala with a short right hand in the first round of their quarterfinal pairing, prompting the stoppage 3:52 into Round 1. Lawal tenderized the London Shootfighters rep with a stiff left jab and had him bleeding heavily from the nose by the time it was over. He stayed composed, stalked Mysiala and planted a right hand on the chin. Referee Kerry Hatley was on the scene before any more damage could be done.
FEBRUARY 21, 2013
“King Mo” was seen as a safe bet to reach the final of the Bellator Season 8 light heavyweight tournament. Emanuel Newton had something else in mind. Newton stunned Lawal and the crowd of onlookers gathered at the Maverik Center in West Valley City, Utah, as he knocked out the former Strikeforce champion with a spinning back fist 2:25 into the first round of their semifinal pairing. Newton confounded Lawal with a variety of kicks and punches, all while leaving his lead hand low. “King Mo” tried and failed to counter an overhand right with a right hook. Newton answered with an exquisitely timed and perfectly placed spinning back fist that melted the Murfreesboro, Tennesee, native where he stood. It was shock-and-awe MMA at its finest.
DECEMBER 31, 2015
It was a study in one man’s fortitude. Lawal defeated three opponents in three days to win the 2015 Rizin Fighting Federation heavyweight grand prix in late 2015, as he once again made his presence felt across the Pacific. The onetime Strikeforce champion delivered a one-punch knockout against Jiri Prochazka in the final to win the eight-main tournament. Prochazka went down 5:09 into Round 1. Having advanced to the final with a unanimous decision over Teodoras Aukstuolis and a first-round knockout of Brett McDermott, Lawal countered the Czech’s hyperactive kicking game with a takedown roughly two minutes into the bout. He then chipped away at Prochazka with ground-and-pound from inside guard, opening a cut above his left eye with a series of sweeping right hands. The two men returned to their feet after an extended stay on the canvas. Prochazka advanced on “King Mo” in desperation and was met with a beautiful right hook that resulted in a face-plant finish.