Describing his next career move as a "dream come true," Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal on Thursday announced that he had signed side-by-side deals to simultaneously fight and wrestle professionally. Starting in 2013, his new MMA home will be Bellator, but before that -- as early as this summer -- he'll be seen in TNA's Impact Wrestling ring.
Dismissing concerns that Lawal's crossover would blur the line between reality and fiction, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney likened the former Strikeforce champ to one of sports' all-time great two-sport athletes.
"First there was Bo [Jackson], now there's Mo," he said.
Rebney and Lawal were joined in the joint announcement by Spike TV president Kevin Kay, and TNA Entertainment president Dixie Carter, and Rebney acknowledged that it took a team effort to bring Lawal under the Viacom banner.
Rebney said that he and Carter have spoken for over a year about the possibility of recruiting an athlete capable of crossing both worlds, and that when Lawal came free, they both knew he was the one.
"For concern for the credibility of what we do as a brand at Bellator and how it needed to work, we needed to find someone who was a very, very special fit," he said. "We needed to find someone who completely fit within this realm."
"It just made so much sense," Kay added. "One of the greatest mixed martial arts fighters in the business and he has so much charm, charisma and personality. When Dixie and Bjorn brought it to me, I was like, 'Yes, go for it. Let's do it. Let's figure this out. Let's everybody get on the phone, get out there, do whatever we have to do and make a deal with Mo and get him with both organizations.'"
The lengths of the respective deals were not disclosed, but Lawal said it was long enough that he'd "probably have some gray hairs by the time it's done."
According to sources, Zuffa -- which released Lawal on March 27 -- had matching rights, but either could not or would not exercise them.
From Bellator's point of view, his appeal was simple. Lawal has a career record of 8-1 with 1 no contest, is a former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion and is still considered one of the sport's top 205-pounders.
Lawal was released shortly after he was suspended for nine months following a hearing related to a failed drug test for PEDs. In recent weeks, though, UFC president Dana White had hinted the door might be open to a return.
Lawal, though, said he wasn't about to wait and see what happened, not when he had a strong offer on the table that would allow him the flexibility to take part in two different fields.
Phone calls from TNA stars Hulk Hogan and Sting, as well as executives from Spike and Bellator, helped convince him of the move.
"I want to go where I'm wanted," he said.
Lawal is a lifelong wrestling fan, counting among his most cherished memories a 1988 Clash of the Champions match between Sting and Ric Flair that went to a draw.
"I was pretty crushed Sting didn't win the belt," he said.
Lawal was seven years old at the time, but he's remained a fan of pro wrestling, and many have felt his "King Mo" character to be influenced by that. Several years ago, he had a tryout with wrestling powerhouse WWE and later spent a week in one of their developmental organizations.
As far as timelines go, he'll make his pro wrestling debut first, at least partially because he's still a suspended fighter. Lawal, who is still rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee, says that when it's healed, is expected to start wrestling sometime during the summer.
"I love knocking people out, especially with the right hand, but I've never hit somebody with a chair before, so I'm looking forward to that," he said. "I feel sorry for who that victim is."
A return to MMA won't come until after the New Year, and also until after Bellator moves to Spike from its current home on MTV2. Lawal was thrilled with the move, saying that it offers him more exposure than his former fighting home on Showtime.
Rebney said he wasn't concerned about any confusion between the products.
"You can do two different things. Look, when Bo jackson played baseball he never tackled anybody. And nobody called that out as an oddity or something unusual. Nobody ever said, 'Why aren't you tackling anyone?' Because they're two different arenas. And that's what you're going to see with Mo. He's going to be participating at an elite, world-class level in two different arenas, and I have a lot of trust in our fan base."
Lawal will stay at light-heavyweight, where Bellator's current champion is Christian M'Pumbu.
"I will enter the tournament, and I'll win the tournament, and I'm going to get that belt," he said.
As for the physical grind he's about to put his body through while preparing for both fighting and wrestling, Lawal had to acknowledge the obvious, that's where it will be challenging. He's certainly going into it with energy, saying that he's been so excited thinking about it, he has barely been able to sleep, and he can't rub the smile off of his face.
"It's going to be hard, but I'm going to try my best to make it easy," he said.