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'King Mo' Lawal's smile has returned in Bellator's new era

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SAN DIEGO - "King Mo" Lawal's smile is back.

The former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion seemed to have developed a permanent scowl over the past year or so. From decisions that didn't go his way to a relationship with a former boss which turned sour, Lawal was far from the happiest person on the Bellator roster.

But it's a new day in the company, and Lawal, who meets late sub Joe Vedepo on the main card of Saturday's Bellator 131 card at the Valley View Casino Center, was cracking jokes and laughing as he got ready for Wednesday's open workouts.

"Things are good, man," Lawal said. "Sometimes all it takes is a little change here and there and things turn back around."

While Lawal has let go of his issues with former boss Bjorn Rebney, he's still passionate about a pair of unanimous decisions he dropped over the past 12 months, the first a loss to current Bellator light heavyweight champ Emmanuel Newton last November, the second to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson on May 17.

The Newton fight, in particular, remains a sore point.

"The last fight, just go back to the fight and watch the highlights," Lawal said. "That thing, I mean, look at that fight and tell me one thing he did to me, except push kick at me ineffectively. He threw kicks and they didn't even hurt me. He ran at me, I slipped and I grabbed his leg on the way down and they scored it for him. There's no highlights. I took him down and I controlled him and for some reason they gave him extra credit. One judge gave Newton all five rounds! The crowd was cheering for him every time he threw something, but he didn't land much. I didn't even have a bloody lip. I wasn't even sore. Who knows what the judges want."

Talk of the Newton fight and an eventual path back to a light heavyweight title shot will be moot, of course, if Lawal loses to Vedepo, a former UFC competitor and a veteran of 25 fights. Vedepo stepped up when Tom DeBlass had to back out of a fight with Lawal for a second time.

"Look, I can't take this guy lightly," Lawal said Vedepo. "Things happen in this sport, you have to adjust to new opponents and everything, but I don't see a guy who is a journeyman or what have you, I see a guy who knows this is his big chance to make himself relevant, so it's my job to make sure that doesn't happen."

Meanwhile, Lawal, who was known early in his career for spectacular ring walkouts, claims to have something up his sleeve for his entrance on Saturday. In a nod to Scott Coker's Strikeforce past, there will be a ramp-and-stage setup at the arena, and Lawal plans on making the most of it.

"Let's just say it will be too sweeeeeeeet," Lawal said, using Hulk Hogan's mid-1990s NWO catchphrase. "Something like that. It's going to be better even better than my old entrances. It's going to be an homage to people that I held highly. We'll have fun with it."