King Mo Lawal may become the first person in the U.S. to regularly appear on both MMA and pro wrestling programming at the same time, but he doesn't think he'll be the last.
He joked on Wednesday, one day before he makes his debut as a character on TNA Impact Wrestling, Spike TV's wrestling franchise, that ever since word got out about his deal to be a major player with two companies in altogether different worlds at the same time, he's been getting calls from fighters asking how they can get a similar deal to break into pro wrestling.
"Just about every number (on his phone) from MMA has been, 'Man, you're lucky. How can I do it too?,"' said Lawal, who will debut with Bellator in their light heavyweight tournament starting in January. "They ask, 'What should I do?' I've had some big names, real big names, contact me. Don't be surprised if you don't see some very big names joining me in the future in TNA."
He even talked about the possibility of a Bellator faction in TNA. Because Spike TV is the home of TNA, and parent company Viacom owns Bellator, which starts on Spike in 2013, both companies have been ratcheting up the cross-promotion, feeling there is a significant crossover fan base. The reality was that the original fan base when UFC exploded in 2005 on Spike TV, consisted mostly of pro wrestling fans between the ages of 18-34 who were watching Raw, which was on Spike at that point, and served as the lead-in for the first season of The Ultimate Fighter reality show. The entire Japanese MMA economy was built at first on crossing over both pro wrestlers and pro wrestling fans.
For the past year plus, even before Viacom purchased Bellator, it was a fairly regular deal to see the announcers for each company plug the others' television show. Of late, the cross-promotion has gotten stronger. Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney, announcer Sean Wheelock, and fighters Joe Warren and Eddie Alvarez have all appeared in the past on TNA television. TNA has also used MMA fighters Frank Trigg, Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz (during the period he was out of UFC) over the years. On Friday night's Bellator season opener, they openly pushed Lawal's first appearance on Impact, to the point they aired an interview by Hulk Hogan from the Impact show the night before.
Lawal talked about expanding the co-promotional ideas, such as having TNA wrestlers work his corner or be at ringside during his Bellator fights next year, and more Bellator personalities appearing on Impact.
"I want to do an angle where we do a Bellator takeover, like Brett Rogers, Ben Askren, the Pitbull Brothers, and Michael Chandler come over and help me out when I need help. I may need help from Aces and 8s (a new masked villainous group on the wrestling show)."
The idea of people doing both pro wrestling and MMA at the same time was a regular part of both industries in Japan almost from the inception. But there, lines were blurred greatly. There were legitimate, real matches at times on pro wrestling shows. And while they were never advertised as such, there were, particularly in the 90s, often things billed as real matches on MMA shows that were just pro wrestling matches. There were several organizations in that time period that were almost a missing link between the two, which regularly featured both competitive and entertainment matches and some of the guys, notably Japanese MMA stars like Kiyoshi Tamura and Kazushi Sakuraba, were so good at making pro wrestling matches look real, that it was at times hard to tell what was what. There are a not a few, but a multitude of pro wrestling matches listed on some big names' MMA records in current databases.
In the U.S., it's completely different. There is no confusion over what is what. What there may be confusion about is what is easier.
"A lot of people in MMA don't realize how hard this is," said Lawal, who has just started training at a camp in Louisville under the auspices of Allan Sarven, a former pro wrestler best known as Al Snow. In a weird trivia note, Sarven was in Dan Severn's corner during the early days of Severn's MMA career. "I definitely feel MMA is easier than pro wrestling."
"It's different, I'm used to knocking people out," said Lawal, a former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion who has an 8-1 record with one no contest in MMA. "Now I have to be a lot smarter how I'm hitting people."
Lawal hasn't had a lot of time to work on his wrestling training. He's been studying a lot of videotapes, mostly of wrestlers from the 80s, looking at their mechanics in the ring. He's been doing a lot of media this week, but he's going to Holland in November to work on his kickboxing skills, and back to the AKA Gym in San Jose in December, to prepare for his January fight. But he noted that even when he has fights upcoming, he'd like to keep his face on the wrestling show, noting that they tape in Orlando, Fla., and he can train with the Blackzillians camp in Boca Raton, Fla. on those days.
Pro wrestling is nothing new to him, as he started watching it at a young age. He talks about how much he loved Mid South Wrestling, a promotion that was big in Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma, but actually folded when he was only six years old. At his press call, he talked about the details of a famous match between two of his favorites, Ric Flair and Sting, on television at the first Clash of Champions.
He was only seven when that bout took place in early 1988.
He noted he was more of a fan of the other brands than the World Wrestling Federation in those days, so his favorites were more Sting, The Great Muta, Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard and others. While he noted he had recently met Hulk Hogan, the aging star of the TNA promotion, it was meeting Sting that was the bigger thrill.
"To me it was an honor just to shake Sting's hand," he said. "When I see him, I start sweating, I get nervous."
Later, when growing up, his goals in life were to first win a gold medal as an amateur, a goal he didn't reach, then win a world championship in MMA, which did happen, and cap it off by winning a world championship as a pro wrestler. His goal was always to wind up in pro wrestling, and his King Mo MMA character was taken from seeing the wrestler Jerry Lawler as a kid.
When the joint offer came from Bellator, TNA and Spike, he said he didn't even think about the money. He said he also didn't think much about staying with Strikeforce. Lawal was expected to face Gegard Mousasi, who he had beaten before, for the vacant Strikeforce light heavyweight title when his world started collapsing. First, he tested positive for an anabolic steroid in a win over Lorenz Larkin, which was then overturned. Then he was fired by Zuffa when, after his hearing, he went on twitter and called female commissioner Pat Ludvall of the Nevada State Athletic Commission a "racist b----."
Then he battled a staph infection that resulted in countless operations, which got so bad it was life threatening and he's only recently fully recovered from.
"When I got the contract, I was ready to sign it," he said. "I didn't even hear the numbers. It was a deal to fight in Bellator and do pro wrestling, I thought, `I'm going to do it.' I was thinking about Sting, Hogan, I'm going to sign this. This is going to go down. As far as the lines being blurred (between wrestling and MMA by doing both), in Bellator, we fight in the cage. In TNA, we wrestle in the ring. If people can't realize the difference, that's their problem."
But it wasn't until this past Thursday when it really hit him.
"I was watching TNA with my boys and Hulk Hogan went to the ring, and we're talking. Then I heard Hogan say, 'King Mo.' I rewinded it. I heard Hulk Hogan say we're going to bring in King Mo. I almost fainted. That's when it hit me. I'm going to make an appearance. I almost fainted. I'm still scared, armpits sweating, can't sleep, it's something I've been dreaming of my entire life. When I fight, I'm not nervous. I know I'm going to knock somebody out. Here, I'm just going to do what I'm going to do."
There are no plans as far as when he's going to have his first pro wrestling match, saying it won't be until Snow says he's ready, and he knows that is a ways away. His current role will be to build for a role as a guest enforcer in a match on a TNA pay-per-view show on Oct. 14 from Phoenix. A guest enforcer is essentially a role for a tough guy positioned at ringside to make sure nobody interferes in the match, and to be the backup referee when the original referee gets knocked out, which is almost guaranteed to happen when an enforcer is there. The role was first created in the 90s for Chuck Norris when he did a WWF appearance.