SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Conor McGregor might be reigniting the trend of jumping around weight classes. But he surely didn't start it, according to Muhammed Lawal.
McGregor left the division where he is champion, featherweight, to fight Nate Diaz at welterweight last month. He'll fight Diaz again at that weight at UFC 200 in July. McGregor and Diaz both made it clear they didn't "give a f*ck" about weight classes and that was a major selling point of their fight, which could end up being the highest grossing of all time for the UFC.
"King Mo" has talked about being a "moneyweight" for years, competing at light heavyweight and heavyweight and even flirting with middleweight. He doesn't think McGregor should get any love for starting the trend -- and he doesn't think he should, either.
"People want to credit Conor McGregor, how about guys like Din Thomas?" Lawal said at a Bellator media day Friday. "Din Thomas is the original moneyweight fighter. Sakuraba was the original moneyweight fight. Royce Gracie was the original moneyweight fighter. I'm a throwback fighter. These guys back then didn't care about weight class."
Lawal, 35, will meet Phil Davis in a light heavyweight feature bout in the main event of Bellator 154 on May 14 in San Jose. Over New Year's week, "King Mo" won the Rizin Fighting Federation heavyweight grand prix tournament. And last year, he beat Cheick Kongo at heavyweight in Bellator and also would have gone to the Dynamite 205-pound tournament final if not for an injury.
Lawal is hoping to face Bellator heavyweight champion Vitaly Minakov if he beats Davis next month. Then, he'd be down for a champion vs. champion bout against light heavyweight titleholder Liam McGeary. "King Mo" doesn't fancy himself as any kind of pioneer, though.
"Now all of a sudden people want to give the credit to Conor?" Lawal said. "Or me? I don't deserve credit for nothing. I'm copying what these guys did back in the past. These guys fought when there were no weight classes."
Lawal (19-4, 1 NC) does give McGregor plenty of props for being a showman. "King Mo" has denied for a long time that MMA is a sport; he's a believer that it's all about the spectacle. And McGregor is the personification of that.
"That's why Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey get so much burn, because they understand that it's entertainment," Lawal said. "You gotta go out there and you gotta sell your product. That's why they get so much burn. Some cats are like, 'Well, he's one hell of a competitor. I went out there and gave it my all and I came away with the victory.' People are sitting there like, 'Let me get some popcorn. F*ck what this dude is talking about.'"
"King Mo" said he's not a huge fan of MMA. He's a longtime pro-wrestling enthusiast and likes to watch up-and-coming mixed martial arts promotions like Legacy FC, Titan FC and Invicta FC (and Bellator, of course), but he doesn't fancy himself as a big fan of the sport he competes in.
"People want to be entertained," Lawal said. "They want to be entertained when you're coming to the cage, while you're in the cage and when you leave the cage. They want to be entertained. That's like pro-wrestling sh*t. I went to Ring of Honor and I was entertained from start to finish. I watched Wrestlemania. Wrestlemania was alright, it was good. But I was entertained. MMA, sometimes you're like, 'Damn this is boring.'"
The sooner the entire MMA world embraces being entertainment, Lawal said, the better off everyone will be. Promotions like the UFC can't have it both ways.
"It's entertainment," Lawal said. "For instance, CM Punk. I like CM Punk. I want him to do good, I want him to win his fight, but he has no experience and he's in the UFC. But you can't bash him. He brings eyes to the network. So yeah, you sign him. And when he fights, he's gonna do over a million buys. I know he will. And he's gonna win."
"King Mo" points to UFC 197 as a prime example. Daniel Cormier, the UFC's light heavyweight champion, fell off with an injury, so Jon Jones will now take on Ovince Saint Preux. The interim light heavyweight title will be on the line. Why? Well, why not?
"There's no true ranking system," Lawal said. "My boy Daniel Cormier is the champion, got hurt, now they got an interim belt. Jon Jones is fighting OSP. OSP's record the last three fights is what, 2-1? Why didn't Glover Teixeira get a title shot?
"There's no true ranking system. That sh*t is smoke and mirrors just to get fans involved. There ain't no true ranking system in this sh*t."
Bellator has embraced the entertainment aspect of MMA unequivocally and no one in the promotion is pretending otherwise. Kimbo Slice has been a main event or co-main event in the two highest rated events in Bellator history. There's obviously a market for what Slice brings to table, even if he isn't the best fighter in the world or appearing on anyone's rankings list.
"[The UFC] had Kimbo first," Lawal said. "Entertainment. How come nobody was bashing them when they signed Kimbo back then? They had Tank Abbott. People watched Tank Abbott, because he'd go out there and entertain. MMA is entertainment."
And "moneyweight" is a product of that and has been for years. Just don't say it's because of McGregor, Lawal said.