Hail to the King

by Kevin Marshall   September 07, 2012 at 2:00PM  |  Views: 1,232

At 31 years old, Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal has already been a champion at the amateur and professional levels of grappling and combat sports. But that's only the beginning. He's now contracted to both Bellator and IMPACT WRESTLING in an unprecedented agreement that will see him compete in both the cage and the squared circle.

In 2008, Lawal exploded onto the MMA scene with a strong ground game, undeniable presence, and endearingly absurd ring entrances that featured him donning a cartoonish crown and robe while flanked by dancers that bounced and grinded to a custom beat. In accordance with the instructions in his theme song, when it said King, the crowd said "Mo." The Japanese fans ate it up and instantly made him a star of the Sengoku promotion. Talk of the prospect reached Stateside MMA websites and blogs while the spectacle of his ring entrances in Sengoku reached the American audience through YouTube.

Within six months of his MMA career and with only four professional fights under his belt (or crown), Mo became one of the most talked-about fighters in the marquee Light Heavyweight division. Now, four years later, he finds himself an established star and will simultaneously fight for Bellator and perform for IMPACT WRESTLING.

Few have made the transition from MMA to pro wrestling or vice-versa, and nobody in North America has done it at the same time. To call it daunting is an understatement, but it ain't no thing to the King. This is a guy who has excelled in every arena – figuratively and literally - that he's stepped into. As an amateur wrestler he was a three-time Senior Freestyle US National Champion, a former Division 2 national champion, a Big 12 Conference champion and Division 1 All-American, and a champion at 184 pounds in the now-defunct Real Pro Wrestling league. His quick ascent in MMA had some skeptical that he'd captured lightning in a bottle but would be exposed as a grappler too reliant on his amateur background to compete at a higher level. He proved them wrong in his Strikeforce debut by taking a fight at heavyweight (a full weight division above his usual fighting weight of 205) against Mike Whitehead and knocked him out in an outstanding display and punching power. Then, just to cement the deal, he captured Strikeforce's Light Heavyweight title in just his second fight with the promotion.

As an athlete, he's a pathologically successful overachiever. But he's also got personality and charisma for days. He's jovial and friendly to nearly everyone he encounters and he regularly engages his fans in person and on twitter, shooting the breeze on everything from 80s cartoons to professional wrestling. He's an intriguing personality, and as a promo guy, he rivals Chael Sonnen.

So there was a dilemma. He's an athlete by all accounts, and a brilliant one at that, but is he a fighter or an entertainer? Is he the perennial sportsman who was and will likely one day again be a champion, or is he a brash and outspoken heat machine and the next marquee star for IMPACT WRESTLING? Is he the next Light Heavyweight or the next World Champion? Will he send his opponents to the ropes on Thursday nights or knock them into the fence on Friday nights?

Why not both?

Well, because it seems like madness. Taking on one or the other is a daunting proposition for any man regardless of their pedigree or resume. We've seen no shortage of hot prospects flame out in MMA competition and can't-miss properties fail to meet the promise of their entry into professional wrestling. For every superstar, there are a hundred should've-beens.

But Muhammed Lawal is different. He's a rare combination of natural talent, superior work ethic, and undeniable charisma and camera presence. He's not one to make outrageous claims, but if he makes a promise pertaining to victory, whether it's in the cage of Bellator or the IMPACT zone, you can guarantee that he has all the tools at his disposal to actually make it happen.

After all, they call him King Mo. Or he calls himself that. Where he's concerned, there doesn't seem to be much difference.

Image credit: Josh Hedges/ Forza LLC/ Getty Images

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