Lawal always a man with a plan
Mo Lawal headlines Saturday's Strikeforce card in Texas against Rafael Cavalcante
A confessed wrestling snob, Lawal is considered a heavy favorite against 'Feijao'
Lawal thinks UFC fans 'for the most part' don't understand the nuances of MMA
Don't expect any "Korean Zombie"-Leonard Garcia reenactments from Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Muhammed Lawal.
"My goal is to never have a fight like that," Lawal said Wednesday from Houston, where he defends his title for the first time, against Brazil's Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante. "If I have a fight like that, it means the guy is way more skilled than me and I have to go do that in order to win. Or the guy is mentally weak and I can walk through whatever he gives me."
Lawal (7-0) is one of the few light heavyweights competing outside the UFC with a legitimate chance to be considered No. 1 in the division someday. He's that gifted. That committed. That smart. So when he says he has no intention of standing in front of someone and punching as hard as he can for 15 minutes, like Garcia did with Jung Chan-Sung in the WEC last April, it's because 1) that's not his surest path to victory and 2) he doesn't feel like he needs to in order to gain the respect of fans or anyone else.
A decorated collegiate and international wrestler, Lawal, 28, just two years into his MMA journey, is beginning to get his bearings in the fight game. A week before Garcia-Jung, Lawal made his own statement with a five-round, lopsided decision against Gegard Mousasi to capture the Strikeforce title.
"I game-plan how I want the fight to carry out, but at the same time I try to take away my opponent's weapons," Lawal said. "Both those things work together. If you take away a person's weapons, they're basically a sitting duck."
That's exactly what he said he would do to Mousasi, a young, talented fighter who failed to find any answers for what "King Mo" brought to the fight.
Lawal analyzed all the footage he could find of the young Armenian. (He does this for everyone he faces in competition. And, often, for those he hasn't.) The Strikeforce champion described himself as "obsessed" with MMA starting in 1995 -- just as he was with wrestling in high school, at Oklahoma State and at the international level.
"I break everything down," he said. "When I became obsessed with wrestling and MMA, I couldn't watch it as a fan too much. I had to break it down."
That always-keen eye, which focuses first on a fighter's "rhythm, footwork and timing," led Lawal to identify and incorporate varying styles, making him just different enough from most wrestlers.
Against Mousasi, Lawal said he would bring something called "Cuban" style into the fight, which mimicked what boxing wild-man Emanuel Augustus does in the ring with elevation changes and attacks from weird angles. For Saturday's fight at the Toyota Center (10 p.m. ET/PT, Showtime), Lawal says he has a bit of Bernard Hopkins mixed with Matt Lindland in mind for "Feijao," an aggressive Muay Thai stylist who trains with UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
What's the common thread with Lindland and Hopkins? Both men are unafraid to mix it up on the inside or take a bout to a dark place if need be.
"I started to implement certain things," after watching tape, Lawal said. "If I see something I like, I'll tweak it so it works for me."
The champion sounded unconcerned about fighting in Feijao's clinch, or anything else about his game.
"He's heavy-handed and likes to fight coming forward," Lawal said of the challenger, who is 9-2. "We'll see his conditioning. I'm pretty sure he'll lack conditioning. He can't stop my takedowns. As far as hands, I feel like I can stand with him. There's a lot I can do. I'll just feel it out when the bell rings."
Some of it is bravado. Some of it the confidence the comes with competing at the highest levels of wrestling. But most of it is just Mo, born talker and showman. He's a wrestling snob who likes to take shots on his Twitter page at competitors he sees as unworthy of a "world-class" label. (Lawal believes, if everything else fails, he can always wrestle.) And he's gone after MMA fans as well, questioning their collective wisdom when it comes to knowing what they're watching.
"They're idiots, for the most part," he said. "A lot of them don't understand MMA. They know Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin. Just UFC fans, for the most part. They're not MMA fans. UFC is a good organization, but their fans don't understand different styles, different types of fighters. People have strengths in certain areas. Not every fight can be 'Korean Zombie' versus Leonard Garcia."
Perhaps Lawal's assessment of fight fans isn't as astute as his breakdown of wrestlers and mixed martial artists.
So if Lawal has no interest in a slugfest, what does he want?
"Hopefully a one-sided, controlled beating," he said. "My side. I don't want back-and-forth. I want one-sided, like I tried to do with Mousasi. Once it's like that, then finish him."