(Main photo image courtesy of Bellator MMA)
I'm a big fan of MMA so I was excited when presented with the opportunity to interview MMA fighter, Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, for The Shadow League.
King Mo was my first MMA interview and prior to our conversation I thought I appreciated the sport of MMA and why I favored it over boxing. But Mo, an enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable boxing fan, politely reminded me that I really need to get my weight up in regards to both sports.
A fighter in Bellator MMA, and host of the TSL "On the Throne with King Mo" podcast, Lawal holds an impressive professional record of 19-4. This past week he won the 2015 RIZIN FF World Grand-Prix in Tokyo where, in the final match, he knocked out Jiri Prochazka of the Czech Republic with a vicious right hand to his jaw in the first round. In the earlier matches during the eight-man tournament, he defeated Lithuania's Todoras Aukstuolis in a unanimous decision and knocked out Englishman Brett McDermott.
Before he went on his ass-kicking spree in Japan, I was able to speak with Lawal about the fight game in general. I was more of a student during our call than a reporter, but it was great picking King Mo’s mind and getting an understanding of him as a person.
Terrell: I know you’re a big boxing fan and that you train with Floyd Mayweather’s uncle. You saw that Holly Holm/Ronda Rousey fight. I think Rousey was overwhelmed by Holm’s boxing game and couldn’t get her on the mat and that is why she lost. Do you ever worry about getting into the ring with a seasoned boxer and getting knocked out like Rousey did?
King Mo: The only guys I really worry about are those who are more seasoned. Most boxers who come into MMA are either old and get into it just to get a payday or fought a few ametuer fights and are bums. If they’re journeymen, I might be able to do good, but if they’re a seasoned fighter, I’m in trouble. Straight up. But with Holly Holm and Ronda Rousey, I have more tricks up my sleeve than Ronda, because Ronda was probably overwhelmed by Holly Holm; I know what to expect.
Terrell: Let’s talk about the state of boxing. In my opinion, boxing kind of sucks, man. One of the reasons why I got into MMA was because it seems like there's more competitive fights in that sport than in boxing. It takes forever for the top people to fight each other in boxing. Like Floyd Mayweather; he and Pacquiao were supposed to fight, like, five or six years ago. It just seems like with MMA, all of the right people who are supposed to be fighting each other actually fight each other.
King Mo: OK, but tell me who?
Terrell: In regards to boxing?
King Mo: Yeah, because all of the fights in MMA that are supposed to happen don’t happen either. A lot of these fights don’t happen because it’s just not the right time. Also, there has to be a build up to the fights. Boxing is a business and boxers understand their careers can end. They’re thinking, “I don’t wanna end up broke like Joe Frazier.” Joe Frazier was an all-time great, Hall of Fame boxer. World champion.
Terrell: Yeah, that’s true. But going back up to the build up, I feel like, with MMA, I feel like I get to understand who all of the fighters are. You get to understand where they are from.
King Mo: Which organization? UFC or Bellator?
Terrell: UFC, in particular.
King Mo: OK. UFC. Tell me where Aljamain Sterling is from?
Terrell: Don’t know.
King Mo: Yeah, exactly. The UFC will have fighters in the fight and you don’t know who the f**k they are. The only people who get pushed are the big names. You know Rousey, you know Nick Diaz, but where is Mike Johnson from?
Terrell: You got me, bro. You got me. It just feels like I know more about the fighters in MMA for some reason.
King Mo: It feels like it because it's over-saturated. But now boxing is on Spike TV and ESPN. You actually get a chance to see free boxing. The thing about UFC, they do good things, but most of their fights are on Pay-Per-View. Where’s Paige Vanzant from? Do you know where she’s from?
King Mo: See. You’re under the illusion that UFC is doing a great job. Bellator does a great job marketing their fighters. Because every fight, you get a good piece on who the fighter is, their background. Every time. That’s why you can tell where a Bellator fighter is from on the most part because they push you over and over again.
Terrell: What do you think the sport has to do to appeal to more people or get to the point where it can compete with boxing.
King Mo: MMA is expensive. A lot of people can’t afford it. With boxing, you have European fighters, Mexicans and every other demographic and boxing finds a way to market to them. And boxing fights are free to watch on TV. You got fights on Spike, NBC, CBS, ABC and ESPN. So people can see these fights more often. Like, when Kimbo Slice fought in St. Louis, people were like, “Kimbo, we ain’t know you was fightin’. The hood didn’t know.” And look who Kimbo appeals to.
So, if you want people involved in MMA, you have to have it in urban areas. For example, there aren’t any MMA gyms in Detroit; they’re in Dearborn (a suburb of the city).
Terrell: Right. I grew up in Detroit and you need to get on a bus to get to Dearborn. Unless you have a car, you really can’t get there and the buses aren’t that great.
King Mo: Exactly. Take Highland Park (a small city within Detroit), for example. Highland Park has talent. There aren’t any MMA gyms there, though. You have to have money in MMA. You just can’t do MMA. For instance, I have a wrestling background. People were willing to be like, “Alright, Mo. You’re a good wrestler. Wrestle with these kids and we’ll let you work out for free here." So I had to do that. It was a trade. Now, if I was a kid off the street, they wouldn’t be like, “Damn, Mo. You’re talented. You don’t wrestle? You don’t do anything? Well, guess what? You can train here from free." Hell no. It don’t work like that. If you look at it, most black MMA fighters have a wrestling background. If you’re a real boxer, you’re boxing. But, after the Olympics, there is no real alternative for wrestlers other than MMA. And most of us are college educated. We ain’t dumb.
Terrell: What’s your bachelor's in?
King Mo: General education.
Terrell: Do you ever think there will come a time when you take one hit too many hits or suffer one injury too many and be like, “I’m gone. Let me use this education degree and do something else?”
King Mo: It’s already happened. I’ve already had four ACL surgeries. I’ve had a staph infection. It almost killed me and ruined my career. I guess I’m just strong enough to fight through it. The thing is, I am already preparing for a life after fighting. I don’t know what I will do as far as work but I love to give back. So when it’s all said and done, I can see myself being a coach or mentor. So I’m already thinking about that.
But for now, King Mo seems like he’ll be fighting for a while and schooling people like me on how the MMA game really works. He seems to enjoy doing both.