Bjorn Rebney isn’t one of “King Mo’s” favorite people. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Muhammed Lawal was one of the most memorable players involved in Bellator’s first-ever pay-per-view venture this past May.
His evening was not, however, indicative of someone on the verge of making a long-term commitment to the promotion -- it quite the opposite, in fact. After accusing then CEO Bjorn Rebney of d—k riding during a pre-fight interview with analyst Jimmy Smith on Spike TV, “King Mo” went on to lose a contentious decision to Quinton Jackson in the Bellator 120 main event. Lawal’s displeasure with the verdict – and conceivably, all things Bellator – came to a head in the immediate aftermath.
“Bjorn, you know what’s up, man,” Lawal said that night. “You know you didn’t win that fight, all smiling and s---. ‘Rampage,’ nothing against you. I beat you, though. You know it, and your corner knows it. I won that fight; and Bjorn, cut me if you don’t like me. You know I won that fight.”
Oh, how the times have changed. The promotion announced last week that Lawal, still one of its higher-profile talents, had signed a contract extension that will keep him in the Bellator cage “for years to come.”
For his part, Lawal claimed it was “one of the easiest decision I could have made,” a far cry from his cut-me-if-you-hate-me edict from three months ago. Of course, Bellator’s decision to jettison Rebney in June and hire former Strikeforce head Scott Coker as the organization’s new president might have helped change Lawal’s line of thinking.
Would Lawal have signed a new deal had Rebney still been at helm?
“Probably not, man,” Lawal told Sherdog.com. “He’s a different guy. I rock with people that keep it real. To me, he was good at keeping it real fake.”
Right up until the end, the former Oklahoma State University wrestling standout didn’t trust Rebney, even after the two men had a chance to talk following the Bellator 120 controversy.
“He flew me out there and fed me some bull. I wasn’t feeling it. He told me that he thought I won the fight even though, at the press conference he thought the [judges] got it right,” Lawal said. “I was like, if you thought that, then you were lying to somebody. Who were you lying to: Me or the MMA media? And he didn’t say nothing.
“I wish him luck in the future in whatever he does – as long as it doesn’t involve me, I’m good.”
Lawal’s immediate future with the new regime includes a matchup with Dustin Jacoby at Bellator 123 on Friday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. The two-time UFC competitor is Lawal’s third proposed opponent for the Spike-TV televised event after injuries derailed potential bouts against both Tom DeBlass and Marcus Sursa. “King Mo’s” fight is the co-main event of a card that goes head-to-head with a UFC Fight Night bill taking place on the same night in the same state.
Neither the shuffling of opponents nor the potential ratings war with the UFC is of great concern to Lawal. As he sees it, if he performs as he should, everything else will take care of itself.
“My goal is to go out there and win my battle and take care of business,” he said. “If I do that, I’m going to put on a show. I feel like if we all take care of business with that card – because we can’t worry about the UFC, we’ve got to worry about what we’ve got to worry about and that’s our fights. If we take care of business, we’ll put on a good show, and that will be good competition in itself.”
“King Mo” has been up and down since he arrived in Bellator. He is 4-3 with the promotion, including a pair of surprising losses to current light heavyweight king Emanuel Newton as well as the aforementioned disputed defeat at the hands of Jackson. If Lawal has been maddeningly inconsistent, it might be because he has not been physically 100 percent in a couple years
The American Top Team representative is still hindered by the aftereffects of a staph infection that he suffered following an ACL surgery in 2012. The infection required numerous surgeries and nearly killed Lawal. The recovery remains an ongoing process.
Lawal says he’s 75 percent there. In the meantime, he feels like he has grown to be a savvier, more intelligent fighter than when he first burst upon the scene to capture the Strikeforce 205-pound strap with a win over Gegard Mousasi in April 2010. It’s only a matter of time before the mind and body align.
I’ll be there; I’m almost there. It’s a day-to-day journey that I’m working to get back to where [I was at],” he said.
A win over Jacoby could once again trigger discussion of a rematch with “Rampage.” Although Jackson earned a light heavyweight title shot with his victory over Lawal, the former UFC star had little interest in fighting Emanuel Newton, a man who he counts as a friend and training partner. Bellator’s matchmaking seems to be respecting Jackson’s wishes, as Joey Beltran will challenge Newton for 205-pound gold on Sept. 12.
Even if Jackson’s schedule remains clear, Lawal isn’t so sure a rematch is what his rival really wants, despite his claims otherwise.
“Here’s the thing, he wanted a shot at me,” Lawal said. “He asked me for a rematch; I didn’t ask him for one. It’s whatever, man. If he wants to fight me, I’m down. I don’t think he wants to fight me.”