By now, you've probably heard that former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Muhammed Lawal has signed not one, but two deals, inking contracts with TNA IMPACT! wrestling, as well as with Bellator Fighting Championships, yesterday (May 10, 2012).
Alongside TNA IMPACT! President Dixie Carter and Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney, "King Mo" sat down with Spike TV's "MMA Uncensored Live" to discuss the deals, as well as the events of his much publicized last year.
"You know, it's been a dream. That's why. It's a great opportunity and, you know what? I'm doin' it. The thing is, one door closed, and two doors opened. So I just jumped in the two doors, you know what I'm sayin'?"
Lawal went on to make the comparison between his former employers, Zuffa, and his new relationship with Bellator. His analysis wasn't particularly complimentary:
"Zuffa's okay. They're alright if you like working long days ... in a hot field, asking, begging for water. But with Bellator, I'm in the A.C., sippin' cold lemonade, gettin' massages. It's a big difference. You know, I think Zuffa has a lot of people, and they just look at fighters as numbers. It's a business. They're trying to make money. But I feel like Bellator, we're a lot closer family, and the people are more personable."
Lawal's new bosses went on record with their take on how the deals went down. According to Carter, she's been trying to make something like this happen for a long time, she's just never had a willing partner:
"Well, I've been fairly vocal about this for the last couple of years, wanting to do something like this. I ran into resistance finding a company that saw the potential in it, quite honestly. So, when Bjorn joined the Spike team, Kevin Kay, the head of Spike, set us up in a meeting, and we clicked right away. I brought the idea to him. He loved it. So, hopefully the rest will be history."
Here, Rebney was asked if he believes mixed martial arts (MMA) fans will be receptive to the dual deal, and if he feels there will be any backlash over the professional wrestling connection. He's optimistic that the two things can work hand-in-hand:
"I don't think so. You know, I've been an MMA fan for years. MMA fans are very bright. They're very smart people. They hit a demo. They understand there's two different sports -- two different things going on here. There's mixed martial arts, there's Impact wrestling. They're two completely different things, and I think they can appreciate the fact that they're two different things, and I think they can appreciate the fact that Mo's a world class martial artist and will transition into becoming a world class wrestler. You look at 'em both. They're two great followings."
One of the biggest obstacles Lawal has had to overcome in the past year was a positive drug test for steroids, after his win versus Lorenz Larkin at Strikeforce: "Rockhold vs. Jardine" in "Sin City" on Jan. 7, 2012 (which was later overturned and changed to a "No Contest").
The positive test resulted in a suspension from the Nevada State Athletic Commission and some pretty negative public relations for "King Mo."
Carter is aware of Lawal's past troubles, but believes the future will be bright:
"I heard the story, and I completely support where he's at. We drug test as well. I'm the only head of a professional wrestling organization whose gone and testified in front of congress about illegal steroid use. I feel completely confident with our testing that he'll be the most tested person in both of our sports, and he's a hundred percent fine with that."
"I'm very fine with that. I've been through the strictest testing you can go through. Actually, they used to test me from 2005 up to 2009. There's random urine tests. They'd show up at my house, seven in the morning, show up at my training spot, you know, I'm an open book."
Regarding his now infamous NSAC hearing and his contentious run-in with Commissioner Pat Lundvall, Lawal reiterated that he feels his comments on Twitter were a mistake, and that he feels he's closed the book on that painful chapter of his life:
"Here's the thing. I said I felt like she treated me like a racist b----. The b---- part was out of line, but I just felt like, as a black male, throughout history, it's been documented that it's a touchy subject. We get questioned. Our intelligence always gets questioned, like, we couldn't coach, we're not smart enough to fly planes, we can't play quarterback. We're not intelligent enough to control stuff or teach anything. So when she asked me that question, I was kind of offended, and an hour later, I went on twitter and said what I said about it. You know, I made mistake calling her a b----. I talked with her, and I apologized to her, and she accepted it. She told me that the questioning kinda got jumbled, and it was a misunderstanding. We're cool. She's a cool woman. She's just real intense about her work."
Fans may be curious as to the timeframe and schedule, regarding Lawal's two deals and the priority each will have. Carter answered those concerns, stating that "Mo" will see action with TNA IMPACT! first:
"It'll be TNA first. He won't join Bellator until they go on Spike in 2013. But the most important thing is his health. Once he's healthy, then we'll make a decision on when he debuts with us. Hopefully, it'll be sooner than later, but the key thing is to get him healthy. It's all about his health though. We want to introduce him the right way, and I think today's been a great start, tonight and everything else, we're really excited."
Rebney commented on what Lawal's place on the totem pole will be. According to the Bellator CEO, nothing will change and Lawal will get no preferential treatment:
"Of course. He's gotta go through three fights, he's gotta win the tournament and then he's gotta face our champion, Christian M'Pumbu. So, he'll have to go there like anyone else would have to go there."
Rebney went on to address the issue of Bellator signing a former Zuffa fighter, a move that could be viewed as a response to the recent Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) signing of former Bellator Middleweight Champion Hector Lombard, as well as its current courting of former Bellator Lightweight Champion Eddie Alvarez, who is currently still with the promotion.
According to Bjorn, the two things have nothing to do with each other. He just believes Lawal was a good fit:
"Not so much. You know, Mo was just the perfect fit for this alliance. You look at a guy that is a world class MMA fighter, and a guy who's got the personality, the love of wrestling, to be able to transition to the wrestling realm, this is the perfect guy. We never plant the flag in the ground and say, 'We're going to this. We're going to do that.' We develop some amazingly talented fighters under our banner. Mo's the perfect fit. When a guy like this at this level, with this kind of personality, with this kind of ability inside the cage becomes available, of course we're gonna make the move.'
As the interview winded down, Lawal prognosticated on what he thinks the future will hold for him at Bellator. First and foremost, he knows he needs to adapt to what Bellator is doing with their tournament format. He's good with that and looks forward to the challenge:
"I gotta work my way up. I'm new to this organization. You know, to prove that I'm the best man that's suited for the title shot, I gotta beat everybody else in the tournament, and that's what I'm gonna do."
Finally, "King Mo" was asked about the possibility of becoming a champion, both as a professional wrestler for TNA IMPACT! and an MMA fighter for Bellator. He believes both are within the realm of possibility, and he issued a special message for the Bellator Light Heavyweights:
"Whichever one I earn first is the most important one. I still have to pay my dues. I have to go out to Ohio Valley and work on my in-ring skills and the chain wrestling. You can't just throw somebody out there and say, 'Okay, perform. You get the belt.' You have to put in hours and days and years to perfect your craft. We'll see. I think it'll take a good year, year and a half before I get the title at Impact, but Bellator? The guys at 205? Those guys are in trouble."
Only time will tell how things will ultimately play out for Lawal, but for now, it's good to be "King."