MMA’s Next Big Thing: Muhammed Lawal

Heavy hands. World class wrestling. Solid cardio. Explosive. Intimidating. These are just a few attributes that MMA new-comer Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal has going for him these days as he boasts a 5-0 record and is poised to become the “next big thing”. While the average fan may not be aware of King Mo just yet, that’ll change… and soon. After cutting his teeth in MMA circles exclusively competing in Sengoku competitions during the last year, Lawal destroyed a past-his-prime Mark Kerr in 25 seconds at M-1 Global: Breakthrough in August and recently signed a deal with Strikeforce to fight primarily in the promotion’s 205 lbs. division. He makes his debut this weekend at the Strikeforce: Evolution event, albeit at Heavyweight, against a tough Mike Whitehead. The formula is easy for Lawal – win in Strikeforce and become a star thanks to the millions watching on CBS television or Showtime. As Al Davis used to say when the Oakland Raiders were actually good, “Just win, baby”.

So who is King Mo, and beyond having a handful of nice wins under his belt, why is he the next big thing? First things first – Lawal is an exceptionally decorated wrestler, which seems to be an optimal base for building MMA champions… just ask Brock Lesnar, Dan Henderson, or Randy Couture. Although he would eventually become a Big 12 Champion and All-American at Division I powerhouse Oklahoma State in 2003, he also garnered All-American honors and a National Championship while competing in Division II. Post-OSU, he would go on to win three U.S. Senior National Championships, take 7th at the 2005 World Wrestling Championships in Budapest, and was even the #1 ranked wrestler in the United States for over three years in the 84 KG division. Decorated, indeed.

While just being a dominant wrestler has fueled many within MMA, King Mo is intent on being more than a one dimensional fighter and brings more to the table. Besides having a wrestler’s classic cardio, he has heavy hands. Very heavy hands – just ask savvy vet and ex-UFC competitor Travis Wiuff. Lawal sacrificed over 20 lbs competing against Wiuff at Sengoku 5, yet still finished him halfway through the 1st round thanks to a brilliant Superman punch. Not convinced? The squeamish might not want to watch his dismantling of Mark Kerr recently. Lawal scored a big takedown of the much larger opponent, had his back for a second or so, then rained down a barrage of fists that knocked Kerr’s mouthpiece 15 feet away and almost put him into a coma. Impressive it was… and ugly.

Finally, Lawal seems to have decided upon a weight class appropriate for his frame. As he’s slated to compete at primarily in Strikeforce (Whitehead fight aside), 205 lbs now seems to be King Mo’s home for the immediate future and beyond. Although he competed as a small HW previously, LHW is the more appropriate home in most observer’s eyes.

King Mo’s performances haven’t gone unnoticed. While he’s scored plenty of invitations to train at established MMA camps / facilities, he’s now a member of “Team Thirsty” and “Team GDP” with Rashad Evans and Dan Cormier – pretty nice company! Working with an established star like ex-UFC champ Rashad Evans should be of immediate value to the relatively inexperienced, yet promising Lawal. Dominant wrestling and heavy hands can go a long way – Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin, and Cain Velasquez are prime examples of that. The sportsbooks seem to be jumping on the bandwagon early – he’s a huge favorite (-600) this weekend against an opponent in Whitehead (+400) who’s won 15 of his last 16 fights. Sure, King Mo is still new to MMA, but look for big things to come.

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