The retirement fight of King Mo Lawal led Bellator to its best television rating since July, even with a lot of sports competition.
Friday’s show from Thackerville, Okla., did 314,000 viewers, the highest for the promotion since a July 12 show that did 325,000 viewers for a Julia Budd women’s featherweight title defense against Olga Rubin.
Lawal, 38, a former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, and one of Bellator’s signature stars during his seven-year run with the promotion, had retired after a loss to Jiri Prochazka on April 21 in Yokohama, Japan. That fight was to determine the first Rizin light heavyweight champion. Lawal had knocked out Prochzaka in 2015 to win the Rizin heavyweight Grand Prix tournament on New Year’s Eve at the Saitama Super Arena. Lawal had started his career in Japan in 2008 with the Sengoku promotion and appeared several times with Japan during his Bellator career as part of Bellator’s working agreement with Rizin.
But he decided to do one last fight, on Friday night, with Andrew Kapel, since the show was in Oklahoma. Lawal had wrestled in college at both Central Oklahoma, where he won the 2002 Division II national championship, and at Oklahoma State, where he placed third at the 2003 Division I Nationals at 197 pounds. Before going into MMA, Lawal was the national free style champion at 185 pounds in 2005, 2006 and 2008.
It didn’t go well, as Lawal was knocked out in an early exchange at 1:22, his fourth straight defeat, to end his career with a 21-10 record with one no-contest. Lawal said he would continue to coach at ATT, and also debuted the next day with Major League Wrestling, a pro wrestling promotion. Lawal had wrestled for Impact Wrestling in the past and was scouted by industry-leader WWE before the start of his MMA career and was close to signing when WWE wrestler Shad Gaspard told him that he could always do pro wrestling, but he would regret it later if he didn’t give MMA a shot first.
Lawal was one of the top light heavyweights in the game until a horrifying staph infection led to multiple knee surgeries and threatened his career. He came back and still competed at a high level, but his wrestling game wasn’t the same after the surgeries.
Bellator had strong Friday night sports competition including WWE Smackdown (2,610,000 viewers), NBA on ESPN (825,000 viewers), College Football on ESPN 2 (787,000) and College Football on FS 1 (648,000 viewers).