Emanuel Newton’s spinning back fist sent shockwaves through Bellator. | Photo: Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com
3. Hardcore Upset
When Bellator MMA announced the signing of former Strikeforce champion Muhammed Lawal, many people -- myself included -- began digging plots to bury the rest of the light heavyweight division before “King Mo” had even stepped into Viacom’s cage. This turned out to be a mistake, as a far less heralded signee, Emanuel Newton, had other plans for the 205-pound category.
Despite inking his deal with Bellator and TNA Wrestling, Lawal nevertheless went through a difficult 2012. He tested positive for the anabolic steroid Drostanolone following a Jan. 7 knockout of Lorenz Larkin and was suspended by the Nevada Athletic Commission for nine months. “King Mo” also contracted an aggressive staph infection that put his life in jeopardy.
However, Lawal managed to beat the infection and appeared no worse for the wear when he returned to competition to kick off 2013, toying with Przemyslaw Mysiala before knocking out the Pole with a nice counter right hook. The former NCAA Div. II wrestling champion had steadily improved his boxing under the watchful eye of Jeff Mayweather, and Lawal was expected by most to dominate the unorthodox Newton in both the standup and the grappling when they clashed in the Season 8 tournament semifinals.
Newton, however, was not a man to overlook. The former Maximum Fighting Championship titlist was always viewed as a crafty and talented fighter, but one that could never quite get over the hump to achieve world-class status. That perception quickly changed with one well-timed strike.
Newton entered the Bellator 90 contest as a massive underdog, with odds listed as high as 9-to-1 in some places. Clearly unconcerned with such figures, “The Hardcore Kid” settled into his herky-jerky rhythm and fired off a right hand and a switch kick upstairs. Lawal, meanwhile, appeared equally confident; he initially kept his hands low before raising his guard and cracking Newton with a gorgeous counter right. The cat-and-mouse games continued for another two minutes, with the powerful Lawal looking to counter his more active foe.
Then, in the blink of an eye, it happened.
Newton launched a right hand that missed by a mile, but the momentum of the punch carried him nearly parallel to Lawal’s right shoulder. Lawal, no doubt viewing his out-of-position opponent as easy pickings, fired a right hook counter. Unfortunately for “King Mo,” Newton had already released a beautifully concealed spinning back fist on his left side, which caught the former Strikeforce king clean on his jawline. Lawal’s body suddenly short-circuited and his legs gave out. Newton tried to crack him with one more right as he spun to the canvas, the effort resulting in Newton actually cradling his opponent’s head as he slumped to the mat. Commentators Sean Wheelock and Jimmy Smith went berserk, as did the Salt Lake City crowd.
With a single blow, Newton had changed the landscape of Bellator’s light heavyweight division. Eight months later, he proved the victory was no fluke by taking a unanimous decision from Lawal in their interim title rematch at Bellator 106.
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