By the time former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal steps into the Bellator cage this Thursday night (Jan. 24, 2013), it will have been over a year since he last competed.
And what a tumultuous year it was.
It all started when the former standout wrestler tested positive for Drostanolone following his second round knockout of Lorenz Larkin and continued when he nearly lost his leg following an atrocious staph infection which could have ended his career and then some.
To make matters worse, after his hearing, he was released from his ZUFFA contract following some choice words for one of Nevada's commissioners, who he felt hadn't given him a fair shake.
After getting everything in order, he signed a deal with Bellator which would allow him to fulfill his dream of competing in professional wrestling on the side (he would make his TNA debut late last year). In just two days, he'll be making his debut with Bellator when he faces Przemyslaw Mysiala in the co-main event of the Bellator 86 main card on Spike TV.
Lawal spoke with MMAmania.com about everything from future crazy fighter entrances, how it feels to finally have a healthy knee and making a good first impression to both the hardcore and casual audiences in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You spent a lot of your training camp working at Mayweather's gym instead of American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) or down in Texas like normal. What was behind your decision to go over there?
Mo Lawal: Well at the time, AKA had a lot of their top guys locked up like Cain in heavy camp and I decided to just change it up a bit, get with Jeff Mayweather and my boy Roy Nelson, grappling with Vinny Magalhaes and some kickboxing with Kit Cope. I just wanted to change it up a bit.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you feel that it helps you to get all sorts of new looks at things during your training camps instead of staying anchored down in one place?
Mo Lawal: Yeah, I'm getting work in and every time you go to a place and stay there for a while, you get stuck in a bit of a rut. People there can get used to you doing the same stuff over and over again and training with the same people and it can make you predictable. When you mix up who you train with and what you're learning, it makes you harder to prepare for.
Mo Lawal: (laughs) Man, I destroyed him. I crushed him. He knows better. In terms of making fun of people, it's hard to hang with me. I'm like the best. I'm an All-American, a future Hall of Famer.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Has anyone started up a food drive for him or anything yet?
Mo Lawal: (laughs) Not yet, not yet. Oh man, I had poor Julie Kedzie going too.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Okay, back to Bellator. Last week, three of the four light heavyweight tournament bouts took place plus the alternate bout. Was there anyone that stood out to you, or are you just focused on this upcoming fight?
Mo Lawal: All of 'em, man. All of 'em. They were all finishes so all of those guys are hungry. I'm definitely focused on my opponent though. I'm focused on winning and winning impressively by stoppage.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you feel like, since this Bellator show is coming off the heels of the TNA broadcast, that you really want to go out there and make a good first impression for these casual fans who might be new to MMA and are curious about what you look like in a real fight?
Mo Lawal: Yeah, definitely. I want to make a lasting impression particularly on those guys that only watch TNA. We'll see what happens. I'm gunning for hopefully a highlight reel, ESPN SportsCenter-type finish.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I heard they unchained you a bit compared to Strikeforce and you'll be able to do whatever type of entrance you want when walking to the cage. Is there any sneak preview on what we can expect for Thursday night?
Mo Lawal: Well, I my special walk to the cage, I'm saving that for the finals. I'm gonna have something, it's gonna be really good. My entrance, we're working on it right now. It's gonna be big time, something that's never been done for either MMA or for boxing. I'm gonna wait for the finals though. First thing's first, I gotta mark my territory. I gotta beat this dude up and when the finals come, I'm gonna bring some crazy shit out and then when the title fight comes, it'll be even bigger than that.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How does it feel physically, after all that time off, after the horrible knee injury and the scare with the staph infection, to finally be healthy again?
Mo Lawal: Yeah, it actually feels good for a change to have my knee healthy instead of all fucked up. It feels good.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you feel even more explosive now compared to even when you were Strikeforce champion?
Mo Lawal: Well I feel more stable now because even when I was champion I had no agility. It was just like something died in my knee. Now, I can actually box. I couldn't even stand on one leg before. I'd be all wobbly. I had to change my style before but now I can bounce around on both legs. It feels good.
I'm not doing all this stuff for no reason. If I wasn't capable of coming back and being a killer, I wouldn't have come back. You're going to see that on Thursday night.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Bellator has some good talent in its lower weight classes, but there isn't much buzz at light heavyweight. Do you think you're inclusion in this tournament will help put their 205 pound division on the map and get people to take it more seriously?
Mo Lawal: I am just trying to make sure I come in and win. That's up to Bellator to get guys in there, get all the pieces of the puzzle together. As far as that, I don't know. I just got to win and beat whoever they put in front of me. The talent will keep rising and I'll just have to keep getting tougher.
Mo Lawal: I think it would be great for Bellator to bring him in. He'd have to get past this upcoming fight right here, take some time off and we'll see what happens from there. If he wants, he'd be able to do some TNA, some boxing if he wanted to just like me. He could fight at 205, heavyweight, wherever. He'll bring respect to Bellator though because he gets respect from the fans.
You can follow King Mo on Twitter @KingMoFH.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Do you think Lawal will make that amazing first impression he's hoping for with a "SportsCenter highlight reel-esque finish" on Thursday night? With Babalu getting upset last week, should he be a little bit more cautious heading into his debut with Bellator?