Oh, no. That wouldn't be Lawal's style. Not after being out of the cage for over a year. Not when he's taking on a member of the famed Gracie family. As he told Ariel Helwani on Thursday's edition of The MMA Hour, he's come up with the perfect moniker to mark his return: Blackuraba.
As in, the black Sakuraba. "Hell yeah, 'the Gracie Hunter,' fool," Lawal explained.
The former Strikeforce light heavyweight champ even has a new team to match his new nickname, but will it be enough to knock off the ring rust and get back in the win column?
The last time we saw Lawal in the cage was August of 2010, when he lost his 205-pound title to Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante via third-round TKO. Since then he's had surgery, he's done his rehab, and he's relocated his training camp to the friendly confines of the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., where longtime friend Daniel Cormier makes his home.
The move was "a breath of fresh air," according to Lawal. What remains to be seen is whether it's prepared him to deal with Gracie's submission game, which has accounted for a slew of jiu-jitsu titles as well as all four of the Brazilian's MMA victories.
"I'm not afraid to go to the ground with him," Lawal said. "This ain't Abu Dhabi. This ain't [the Jiu-Jitsu World Championships]. This is MMA. Wherever the fight goes, I'm prepared to battle."
And while Lawal, who came to MMA from wrestling, said he still thinks high-level grapplers hold major advantages over most opponents, he doesn't seem terribly worried about Gracie's ground skills, saying, "It's going to be an interesting fight, but I think I'm going to smash him."
The question Lawal and many other Strikeforce fighters are wondering is, what then?
The current Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, Dan Henderson, seems poised to make the leap to the UFC, which would leave yet another Strikeforce belt vacant.
"If I'm going to fight for the belt, I want to fight the champ, and that's Dan," said Lawal, who insisted he had no interest in owning a title that's been vacated by the previous champ.
"The thing is, what's the point? What's the point of having the belt when it's been vacated, and the person who vacated it is still fighting somewhere else within the same umbrella, but not the same organization?"
At least for the time being, it's a conundrum that's familiar to many fighters on the Strikeforce roster. The welterweight and heavyweight champs have already been removed from the picture by the Zuffa brass, and the same seems likely to happen in Lawal's division, leaving him wondering what's really at stake in these fights.
"It feels a little weird, because it's not the same," Lawal said. "It's like a cancer patient, like a dying cancer patient. That's how I feel like the organization is. We're just waiting for it to die, to pass. As long as I can get my fights in and they're still around, I want to get them in."
After more than a year off, he'll get his chance to get another one in this Saturday in Cincinnati. Considering the precarious position of the promotion he's fighting for, he'd better make them count. Who knows how many more there will be under the Strikeforce banner, particularly for the losers.
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