Bellator 106 Preview – Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal vs. Emanual “The Hardcore Kid” Newton

The last fight at Bellator 106 before the two championship events features two fighters rematching roughly 8 months after their first bout, the results of which were a shocker to almost everyone in the MMA community. Emanuel Newton upset (and I do mean upset) Muhammed Lawal with a rocking spinning backfist in February of this year. Since then, both guys have gone on to defeat other opponents and will meet once again come fight night for the Bellator LHW Interim Championship.

Fighter Summary –

Emanuel “The Hardcore Kid” Newton (21-7 overall, 4-1 Bellator)

Strengths: Good instincts, submissions, tons of experience despite his age

Weaknesses: Can’t hang with the elite (despite W over Lawal)

Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal (11-2 overall, 3-1 Bellator)

Strengths:  Takedowns, Ground and pound

Weaknesses: Attitude

Fight Breakdown – If you haven’t seen the highlight of Newton’s backfist on Lawal, go watch it. Newton really caught Lawal with that swing, just perfect timing and accuracy. He made Lawal tip over like a tree, you can almost hear someone yelling “Timberrrr!” in the background. With that highlight burned in everyone’s mind, including Lawal’s, you can bet the farm it won’t happen again in this fight. Or will it?

The reason it happened in their first fight was because Lawal was way too overconfident and underestimated Newton severely. You could tell by the way he dropped his hands and eventually it cost him the fight. Lawal didn’t even need to see Anderson Silva’s loss to Weidman, he lived it himself.

So there’s no way in hell Lawal would underestimate Newton again, right? King Mo is one of the most polarizing figures in MMA. Some fans love him for his style and bravado, but other fans hate him for the same reason. He was supposed to win the first fight, easily, and he got cocky and lost, plain and simple. But that sense of superiority probably hasn’t gone away. Lawal is supposed to win the rematch too, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see him once again underestimate Newton. He probably won’t drop his hands and he’ll keep his guard up, and he’ll be extra-wary of spinning backfists. But it may show in other ways.

Lawal wins fights in one of two ways: he either knocks his opponent out or wins by trying to knock his opponent out. He’s got great takedowns and absolutely smothering ground and pound, and yet he doesn’t have a single submission victory to his name. Only two of his eleven wins have gone to a decision. He’s also susceptible to getting knocked out himself, as demonstrated by Newton, but for the most part, when Lawal wants to stand and trade with someone and his opponent obliges him, it usually favors Lawal, who will set up a takedown and work his GNP.

That strategy should be enough to win him the fight, provided he doesn’t act foolish or discredit Newton. Lawal may look to take this fight to the mat as soon as possible and just wear through Newton. Lawal has very good conditioning and similar to guys like GSP and Cain Velasquez, he doesn’t just lay on top of guys, he’s always looking for openings to throw shots, hammer fists, knees, elbows, the whole bag of tricks.

With that said, Newton has to have a strategy here. Lawal can be arrogant, but he’s going to be on a mission for this fight, to avenge that last defeat and erase the backfist from the records with a beatdown for the ages. Lawal probably wants people to see him demolishing Newton when people look up “Lawal vs. Newton”, instead of the other way around.

So Newton can’t rely on knocking Lawal out again. That backfist was far from lucky, but it did take a lot of arrogance from Lawal to make it happen. He can’t expect Lawal to keep barging in, hands down and chin up in their rematch. Of course, if that does happen, expect another KO victory from Newton, which wouldn’t be as surprising as the first. But assuming Lawal shows more caution this time around, he’s got to have a backup plan. Lawal is going to have a slight edge in the stand up game and Newton will also have to be wary of any takedown attempts.

So what can Newton do? First of all, his takedown defense has to be immaculate. It’s not a question of might or maybe, Lawal is going to shoot for a takedown. So Newton has to be able to fend him off in all instances and if he does get taken down, he better be able to get back to his feet. There’s only so much punishment he can take and Lawal is excellent at distributing it from top control.

Newton has to take away Lawal’s greatest strength and make him fight out of his comfort zone. He can’t let Lawal dictate the fight, meaning he has to make Lawal respect his own striking enough to keep him a little defensive, and he has to move well and stay out of trouble spots. He can’t let King Mo corner him against the cage. If he can mix things up and keep Lawal guessing, it could lead to an opening for another surprise strike or better yet, a submission attempt.

Newton has quite a few finishes by rear-naked choke. He loves that move. If you see the Lawal KO, he even makes a move for it after Lawal tumbles, but the ref already stopped it. Taking the fight to Lawal would probably surprise Lawal as well, so it would be a great plan. He should come out aggressive and make Lawal defend himself, by throwing an array of strikes from every zone and shoot for a few takedowns himself. A great way to nullify Lawal’s top control is to be in top control himself, and that could very well lead to a nice submission opening, which could be Newton’s best chance at winning this fight.

Key to Victory: Can Newton fend off Lawal’s takedown attempts?

Assuming Lawal has learned from his past mistakes and comes in with the right mindset, then the big question will be if Newton can keep Lawal on the defensive. If Newton can keep it off the ground and take away one of Lawal’s biggest weapons, the fight will be much more interesting. Newton can make this thing an ugly affair and have both guys going after each other, but only if he can stay on his feet for the majority of the fight.

Why It Matters – For Lawal, avenging that loss in February, only the second of his career, has to be the motivating factor here. Again, it was such a huge upset because he was supposed to win that fight handily and obviously it got to his head. He came out arrogant and overconfident and was promptly put on his ass with a fantastic highlight reel KO from Newton. Lawal is a proud guy and he wants to even the score and show people what was supposed to happen in their first meeting. There’s been a lot of smack talk between the two guys since the fight and in recent days before their rematch. This is redemption time for Lawal, who is much better than the guy we saw get floored the first time around.

For Newton, it’s a chance to show the first fight wasn’t a fluke. Excuses come out of the woodwork anytime a heavy underdog wins in big fashion and there were plenty for Lawal, the main one being he was too cocky. Newton wants to prove he is better than Lawal no matter where the fight goes and defeating him a second time, when we can assume Lawal was 100% focused, would say it all.

Putting those personal matters aside, this fight is also for the Bellator LHW Interim Championship. Champion Attila Vegh is sidelined with an injury and the winner of this one will meet him when he comes back to unite the belts. This is basically a ticket to a championship fight and it doesn’t get much bigger than that.

Everything you could want in a fight is here. You got two guys with a bit of history, tons of animosity, entertaining smack talk, a shot at the title on the line and most importantly, both of them are great fighters. However, Lawal has been more impressive in his fights since that loss, bouncing right back to post back to back KO finishes. If Lawal is at the top of his game, he’s simply better than Newton.

Prediction – Lawal

 

 

 

 

 

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