Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal readily admits, he can't pronounce the full name of his opponent ahead of his Bellator debut this week.
Przemyslaw Mysiala, a 30-year-old Polish journeyman, has tasted defeat in two of his last four bouts, and has yet to fight for a big-name promotion. But as Lawal, the former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion and Bellator's marquee free agent pickup, firmly insists, none of that will matter come fight night.
"He's in the tournament, you know what I'm saying?" Lawal explained on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "When it comes down to it, whoever's in the tournament, it doesn't make a difference, because he has to win the tournament to get a chance to fight for the belt. Eventually, it doesn't matter who it is. It could be him, it could be Mikhail Zayats, it could Jacob Noe, or it could be Emanuel Newton. We're all going to get to fight each other, somehow, someway."
Lawal's upcoming debut at Bellator 86 is moment 12 months in the making. After testing positive for the anabolic steroid Drostanolone last March and posting insulting comments towards NSAC Commissioner Pat Lundvall on Twitter, Lawal unexpectedly received his walking papers from Strikeforce, the promotion that made him a star. However, when one door closes, another always opens, and Bellator MMA approached Lawal with an offer he couldn't refuse.
Now Lawal is set to become one of the cornerstones of Bellator's organization, a dual-sport athlete competing not only in season eight's light heavyweight tournament, but also Spike TV's hit show, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA).
"Pro wrestling was more nerve-wracking for me," Lawal admitted. "Because you don't know what to expect. MMA, I train hard and I know what to expect, because I can go out there and do what I do. In pro wrestling you kind of know what to expect, but you don't, because the reactions from the crowd, if they buy into your character, your demeanor. It's a little bit different. In MMA you just got to knock somebody out or submit them, or be exciting, and you get props from the crowd."
Lawal made his TNA debut under the stage name "King Mo" back in early October, sporting MMA gloves, a shimmering cloak and his trademark crown, while serving as a special "guest enforcer" at the ‘Bound for Glory' pay-per-view.
Lawal, who grew up a fan of professional wrestling, hopes to continue pursuing his dual career later this summer, following the conclusion of Bellator's tournament. Though the process has been far more challenging than Lawal anticipated.
"I remember watching Tough Enough on MTV," recalled Lawal. "And I was like, ‘Look at these guys. These guys are weak. How is that going to hurt you? Man, that ain't nothing. I can handle that.' And then, my first two weeks at (developmental territory) OVW, I was like, ‘Man, what the hell am I doing here.' My back is hurting. My neck is hurting. My heels are hurting, and the right side of my body, from the ropes, was all raw.
"I had doubts, like, ‘I don't know if I can do this.' I really had doubts."
"You have to take the bumps proper," he continued. "You take them wrong, you're going to mess yourself up. I was trying to just like power through and act like it didn't hurt, and then at nighttime I had headaches. It made me rethink, should I really be doing this? Then after that first week, it clicked."
Lawal is more than pleased with Bellator, and in particular Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney, at this stage of the game. Though any conversation of the latter these days inevitably brings up Rebney's current legal battle with former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez.
Lawal empathizes with Alvarez, commenting that the situation is extremely ‘unfortunate.' Somebody is going to be unhappy when the dust settles, a common outcome in the business world. Nonetheless, Lawal vows that his own dealings with Rebney have been quite different.
"It's like this, right? When you're dealing with promoters, promoters are out there to promote and make money. So, look at Don King. You see two sides to Don King. The one side, ‘Oh, he's going to give me this much money, take care of me, fly me first class.' And then the other one, ‘Hey, where's my money at?' It's promoters, and all of them are the same to me. They all offer you something, but they all want something in return, and that's your talent. When you sign contracts, that's when it gets all tied up. So, to me, Bob Arum, Dana White, even Shannon Knapp, Don King, [Lou] DiBella, Bjorn Rebney, Scott Coker, they're all trying to make money. They're promoters trying to make that money, so you can't knock them."
Despite any bad publicity from Alvarez and Rebney's public battle, the Spike TV experiment seems to have worked thus far for Bellator. Ratings for the promotion's network debut last Thursday exceeded expectations, drawing an average of over 938,000 viewers, a number nearly three times larger than the organization's previous record.
"I was very impressed," said Lawal. "I don't know what to expect, because MMA right now, to me, is at a standstill.
"There's too much MMA now, and to get a number like that on Spike TV is pretty impressive.
"I hope the numbers keep on going up," the former champ concluded. "I hope the debut is good, the second one is good, I hope the third one beats the second one, and it keeps on rising."
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