There’s something special about Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal winding up as potentially a champion in both professional wrestling and mixed martial arts at the same time. Being on top of two different avenues is remarkably tough; combining MMA with one that shares historical roots with MMA but lacks the sporting aspect to it will actually be harder than if he were to try another combat sport. Putting on a pro wrestling match is a difficult feat in and of itself; it’s why being successful at both at the same time might be too much for him.
Alistair Overeem was the reigning K-1 World Grand Prix champion and Strikeforce heavyweight champion at one point, a tough feat in its own right, but Overeem took time off from MMA for the most part to be a pro kickboxer. He didn’t just dabble in it and then go and compete in MMA; he became the best heavyweight in the world by honing his striking to be able to compete at that level. That’s hours in the gym perfecting technique, etc, that normally would go towards his total MMA game.
So Lawal being an active pro wrestler while also pursuing a fighting career concurrently on an athletic basis has to be something we can admire on one level; being top in both is no easy feat, though in pro wrestling it is significantly easier to get on top because of the fake nature of it.
Top pro wrestlers are artists in one sense: they hone their craft so that being a believable tough guy isn’t a stretch. It’s why someone like Hulk Hogan, who didn’t have much athletic ability or bonafides but possessed a million dollar physique, can be considered an athletic artist as opposed to an athlete properly. He was very good at what he could do and honed it to perfection: dropping the big leg, hulking up, etc, all were things he honed to a razor’s edge. It takes time, dedication and effort to do so.
Let’s not kid ourselves: Hogan would’ve been beaten up in an MMA fight, even in his prime, but as an entertainer he took what he could do and became great at it. So would most of the top pro wrestlers now: putting on a pro wrestling match is difficult but is a performance, not a contest. Great pro wrestlers become very good at what they do in the same way an actor’s dramatic chops improve over time; playing the part of anything takes time and effort. Unfortunately on a whole number of other levels Lawal is about to find himself having a much more difficult time as both a fighter and as an entertainer than he would as either/or.
The problem Lawal has going in is training to be a fighter while also training to be a pro wrestler. Lawal may have been a pro wrestling fan since childhood, and spent a week training to be a pro wrestler years ago, but the process of transitioning into that particular field isn’t something that happens in a short amount of time. Even notoriously quick learners like Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar, who come from similar backgrounds as Lawal, took well over a year before they were ready to debut on national television. And this is working as a wrestler on the local level at Ohio Valley Wrestling 4-5 nights a week and training during the day; Lawal won’t have that luxury is he’s to debut in January for Bellator’s first season on Spike, especially if he hasn’t fully recovered from the staph infection that set in after his knee injury.
Transitioning between fighting and fake wrestling will also be tough because of how wildly different being an entertainer and being a fighter are. From how he’ll throw a punch to his mentality going in, etc, are all going to change from fight to match and back again as he competes in both MMA and on TNA Impact on a regular basis.
It’s a mentally different game and even a great who managed to both at the same time in Sakuraba was famously quoted as saying that it takes a while for even someone with his high level experience in both to get used to going back and forth; he said it took six months of doing one straight to get comfortable at it again. Mo won’t have that level of comfort or timing, especially if he’s fighting and wrestling on a regular basis. He’s a relative neophyte in the world of pro wrestling (most likely to be respected because of his love for it and bonafide tough guy credentials) and he’s going to be behind the eight ball in it early because he won’t be putting in the time as a pure pro wrestler as others have before him.
There’s a learning curve to it, of course, but even the fastest learners take significant chunks of time to get good enough to be thrown into the pond that is TNA wrestling. He was a good enough athlete to survive a trial by fire in MMA, taking his first fights with minimal training, but this sort of induction the hard way won’t be easy. Odds are he’s charismatic enough to have a minimum of training and be productive as he’s he learns how to work; Lawal has a presence to him that’s undeniable and honed in the right way he could be a big star in that field. It won’t be easy, however, and being in Bellator won’t be easy, either, in one major way: he’s now the biggest fish in a small pond.
The one downside to being in Bellator, from Lawal’s perspective, is that now all eyes are going to be on him. The higher the weight division the more sparse the talent and light heavyweight is the weakest division in the company outside of heavyweight. The best light heavyweights in the world are in the UFC, Lawal the one real exception to that rule now that he’s been cut from Strikeforce due to his inflammatory comments following the upholding of his suspension for using steroids.
Once he’s healthy enough to fight again, and able to get licensed, every fight in Bellator he’s going to be expected to win and win in dominant fashion. Anything less and it’ll be easy to think of him as being overrated from the start; any fighter not in the UFC but with a significant enough name has to win regularly to maintain that sort of status. The only top light heavyweight in the world to be in the same realm as Lawal is going to be Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at some point in the near future. Whether or not Bellator could afford him is one thing, but so far Jackson appears to be the best credible opponent for Lawal in the next year.
Everyone else that Bellator could potentially throw at him is going to seem a massive step below the bottom tier guys with a Zuffa contract, rightly or wrongly, and even something like a fluke loss to someone like Trevor Prangley will take a massive chunk out of the perception of how good a fighter he is. Bellator isn’t likely to bring in guys who’ve been cut from the UFC, either, and as such Lawal has to keep winning to stay as a fringe a Top 10 fighter. It’s about perception; we won’t know if he’s that good until he steps into the UFC and takes on guys like Rashad Evans, Ryan Bader, et al.
And we might never at this point; Lawal is not in the good graces of Zuffa and on the downside of his career based on his age and injury history alone. He could potentially finish his career as an active fighter without ever having stepped into the Octagon and having his true worth measured like a handful of top fighters; in many ways his legacy could be that of a fighter with a good pedigree but who never wanted to be in the UFC badly enough. Lawal has always seemingly defined himself as someone concerned with “getting paid” ahead of being the best; the money he could make as both a fighter and entertainer under his Bellator/TNA deal seemed more important to him when he discussed it then being the best fighter in the world.
Having a handful of major knee surgeries has the potential to rob him of the explosive athletic ability that has defined his career so far, as well, and transitioning to entertainment and fighting is perhaps a faster way of becoming as rich and famous as Mo has always talked about becoming.
Fans are smart enough to know the difference between Mo the pro wrestler and Mo the fighter, hopefully, but no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people. Hopefully Mo hasn’t overestimated his ability to learn something as difficult as being a pro wrestler while also keeping up his considerable talents as a fighter.
Tags: Bellator, Mixed Martial Arts, Muhammed Lawal