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Emanuel Newton vs Muhammed Lawal: ‘Hardcore Kid’ usurps ‘King Mo’s’ crown - Pt. 1

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King Mo vs Emanuel Newton staredown
Emanuel Newton
Esther Lin

“The Hardcore Kid,” Emanuel Newton, doesn’t have a recorded bout since 2017 when he got knocked out courtesy of a devastating Nikita Krylov knee. That was the beginning of Krylov’s ascent to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and seemingly the end of Newton’s mixed martial arts (MMA) career, and that’s the brutal reality of the sport. One moment a former two-time world champion, the next a rung on someone else’s ladder as he climbs up the ranks.

Muhammed Lawal (a.k.a. “King Mo”) undoubtedly thought Newton would be just another step on his way to the top back in 2013. Lawal arrived in Bellator MMA as the former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight champion, sporting a pro record of 8-1 (1 NC). He was immediately entered into the Season 8 Light Heavyweight tournament and proved himself ready for the opportunity by smashing through Przemyslaw Mysiala at Bellator 86 in Thackerville, Oklahoma. It wasn’t the fastest knockout of his career (that was only 25 seconds), but it was definitive.

If he wasn’t taking Newton seriously in the semifinals that was to his own detriment. While Lawal was the higher profile fighter, had the world titles and big victories over Gegard Mousasi and Roger Gracie to go along with it, Newton was the more experienced man coming in at 19-7-1 after submitting Atanas Djambazov in the opening round. Djambazov who? Exactly. Finished in his both of his appearances for the promotion, Djambazov is the definition of an afterthought and hardly a win that would put fear into King Mo’s heart.

When they met at Maverik Center in West Valley City, Utah, at Bellator 90 on Feb. 21, 2013, Lawal was the clear favorite. Newton was slightly taller at 6’1,” but the decorated collegiate wrestler turned power striker had four inches in range over him with a 79-inch reach. And 75 percent of his wins (six of eight) came from his heavy hands. What could Newton offer the phenom of the 205 pounders in response? Grit. Determination. Toughness. Faith in God. The very things that defined “The Hardcore Kid” throughout his MMA career.

Lawal’s cockiness in the bout showed in his refusal to keep his hands up defensively. He came forward aggressively with looping punches and little concern for counter strikes. In the critical exchange of the first round, Lawal connected with a left hook that would have put lesser fighters down and followed it with a right to put Newton away. Instead, Newton pivoted on his left foot, causing King Mo’s second shot to be only a glancing blow, and instinctively threw a spinning backfist from the same side. It hit Lawal like a cannonball to the head, freezing him in his tracks, disconnecting his brain from his body in a split second.

Lawal crumpled to his knees before Newton could even land a follow up, with referee Rob Hinds sprinting toward the fallen fighter to quickly wave off the contest. In what remains one of the most memorable upsets in Bellator MMA history and a perennial highlight reel favorite, Newton crushed Muhammed Lawal at 2:35 of round one via spinning backfist knockout. It was destined to be Lawal’s night until it wasn’t any more, and instead it announced to the world that Newton was the man to watch in Bellator at 205 pounds. The loss would eat away at Lawal until they met again later that fall.

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