Muhammed Lawal is a fighter in search of some consistency.
After notching back-to-back victories to conquer Bellator MMA’s 2013 Summer Series light heavyweight tournament, the former Strikeforce champion has alternated wins and losses in his last five fights. Now, coming off a second-round knockout of Dustin Jacoby in September, “King Mo” has a chance to build some momentum when he steps into the cage to take on late replacement Joe Vedepo at Bellator 131 on Nov. 15 in San Diego.
“Camp has been going well,” 33-year-old Lawal recently told Sherdog.com. “I’ve been working at American Top Team with people like Douglas Lima and Todd Duffee. There are a lot of good bodies to work with. I’m just ready. I’m ready to go.”
Lawal was originally scheduled to face Tom DeBlass -- Lawal’s original opponent at Bellator 123 before a knee injury took DeBlass out of that fight -- but DeBlass suffered a sizable cut in training that forced him to withdraw from a bout with Lawal for the second time. Vedepo took the fight on less than two weeks’ notice, having last fought and won at Bellator 129 in October, when he scored a third-round stoppage of Davin Clark. That fight took place at middleweight; Vedepo, who is 3-0 in 2014, said there was no hesitation to move up a weight class when the opportunity to fight Lawal came up.
“When I got the phone call to fight on November 15, I didn’t even need to hear who the opponent was, I was all in,” Vedepo stated in a Bellator press release announcing the fight. “Mo’s tough as hell, he’s one of the best wrestlers in the sport, but I haven’t stopped training in months and I know this is a chance of a lifetime. I always thrive on coming into the fight as an underdog, and while I have all the respect in the world for a guy like King Mo, underestimating what I bring to the cage would be a huge mistake.”
Lawal has been on both sides of the short-notice game, having taken several fights in Japan on short notice, including his 2008 pro debut at Sengoku 5 against Travis Wiuff. Even with a late change in opponents, Lawal, a 2007 Pan American Games gold medalist and three-time U.S. National champion in freestyle wrestling, said that he’s prepared for whatever might happen in the fight.
“Wherever the fight goes, it goes,” said Lawal, who has 10 knockouts among his 13 professional MMA victories. “When I’m on the ground, I don’t worry about submissions. When I’m on top, I’m trying to ground-and-pound and I’m looking for submissions. I’m going to control where the fight goes. If I’m going to take him down, I’m going to take him down on my terms. If we're going to stand, we’re going to stand on my terms. I’m going to be the one in control.”
In the Jacoby fight, Lawal controlled most of the first round with a takedown, but in the second round, he used a pair of right hands and a number of punches and elbows on the ground to put away the Glory veteran. That win came on the heels of a unanimous decision loss to Quinton Jackson at Bellator 120 in May, a loss that Lawal isn’t exactly champing at the bit to avenge.
“I don’t know. It’s up to Bellator. It’s up to them and what they say. I don’t care,” explained Lawal, who also has two losses to Bellator 205-pound champion Emanuel Newton in his last seven fights. “[A rematch with Jackson or Newton] is going to happen eventually, so let’s get it over with. I’m looking forward to it happening when it happens.”
One thing is certain: Lawal isn’t going anywhere any time soon. The ATT representative signed a long-term contract extension with Bellator shortly after former Strikeforce boss Scott Coker replaced Bjorn Rebney as president of the organization.
“This was one of the easiest decisions I could have made,” Lawal told Sherdog in August. “After everything that went down over the last six or seven months, I didn’t think this was something that would ever happen, but when [Coker] came on board with Bellator, everything changed. This is where I want to be. I don’t care who I fight, when it is, or where it is. I get paid to fight, and that’s what I’m going to do for Bellator. That’s it.”
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