A couple years ago Mo Lawal was on top of the world. He had been pegged by many as a guy who could beat Jon Jones, with his explosive wrestling style and high level bonafides in that area. He had held the Strikeforce light heavyweight title and seemed to be a talent the UFC wanted to bring into their ranks sooner than later.
And then a positive steroid test, among other things, and he signed with Bellator to parlay his love of professional wrestling into a dual career of being a professional fighter and a professional wrestler. He was supposed to run roughshod over the division, as well, as he seemed like one of the few genuine talents in the lackluster area of Bellator’s fighters who occupy any weight class above welterweight.
Post steroid test, and after nearly dying from a staph infection in his leg, Mo Lawal’s career hasn’t been the same. He’s lost a ton in explosiveness and multiple ACL repairs have taken their toll on him. His ceiling was supposed to be that of a Top 5 talent in the division … and injuries robbed him of getting anywhere near that peak. He’s maximized what he still has … but the level of fighter he should’ve been isn’t going to happen.
Two losses to Emmanuel Newton, a questionable win over Mikhail Zayats and three wins over questionable talent have left Lawal in an interesting spot. He’s no longer a centerpiece that Bellator wants to build around … but he’s too good a talent (and too well paid) to not be a main card fighter every time he’s scheduled to fight. Now he faces off with Bellator’s newest shiny toy, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, for a light heavyweight tournament crown and the right to challenge Newton for the light heavyweight title.
Fight Breakdown – A King Mo fight generally tends to go one of two ways. If he doesn’t respect someone’s ground game he pressures for the takedown, ruthlessly, and if he doesn’t he’ll stand & trade until he can land something big. Lawal’s very talented, and is skilled in a lot of areas, but he usually looks his best when he’s looking for takedowns (and ground & pound) or hunting for head shots. It’s interesting that he tries to do a ton during fights but his wins are all about when he throws about nearly most of his skill set and concentrates on looking to lamp dudes or get the takedown … so he can lamp a dude on the ground.
That’ll be how he beats Rampage, as well. Mo needs to get him to the ground and grind out a win that way. If he can press him against the cage and work that game, turning it into takedowns in the clinch, then he can win this fight. Lawal won’t win by trying to box with Jackson, unless he kickboxes and keeps him on the outside, because Jackson’s power and Lawal’s questionable chin prevent him from winning a stand up affair.
Jackson’s plan is going to be just as simple. Keep it standing, throw hands and catch Lawal when he tries to explode inside. His takedown defense is good enough to keep it standing and he needs to keep away from the cage, to prevent a Matt Hamill esque clinching game against the cage. He’s got enough power to put Lawal down with one shot and history favors Jackson if this turns into a brawl.
Why it matters – A win here and you’re in a title fight: nothing complicated about that. But it’s about legacies and longer term strategies of Bellator’s promotional arm that make this fight matter.
Lawal wins and he gets a third crack at Emmanuel Newton. He thought he won the second fight, and it was exceptionally close, so perhaps the third time could be the charm for him. It would also be his highest profile win to date.
Jackson wins and Bellator is arguably the happiest. They are in love with the guy, backstage, and nothing would be better from their perspective than Jackson in a title fight (and as champion). He’s charismatic and the type of exciting fighter you want as champion; you can give him a microphone and odds are something interesting is going to come out.
Prediction – Jackson
Tags: Bellator 120, Mixed Martial Arts, Muhammad Lawal, Quinton Jackson