MMA: Muhammed Lawal
It was different yet still great.
Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez renewed acquaintances Saturday in Long Beach, Calif., producing prodigious moments of mixed martial arts for the second time in two years.
Unlike their epic match in 2011, which Chandler won by rear naked choke on the fourth round to capture the Bellator title at 155 pounds, Alvarez lasted to the final bell, earning the belt back via split decision.
Judges at cageside saw it 48-47 twice for the repeat champion, with one dissenting opinion of the same score for Chandler. ESPN.com scored the fight for Alvarez 48-47, giving him Rounds 2, 3 and 5.
Both men were busted up after 25 minutes of hard, competitive fighting. There weren't the sort of dramatic swings the memorialized the first encounter, but it was nonetheless dramatic.
The slick lightweights moved well at the start, slipping and throwing punches. After mostly missing, action picked up in the second half of Round 1. Chandler worked to cut off the cage and score with right hands. Alvarez landed as well, until he was dumped down headfirst to the canvas and had to fend off a choke attempt.
The first response from fans came when Alvarez regained his feet at the close of the round. The 26-year-old challenger ate a series of jabs to start the second, but he scored with a solid counter left and began targeting an early-forming mouse under Chandler's left eye. An uppercut combined with a left hook put Chandler on the defensive, though a late takedown made things close.
Alvarez opened the third with a high kick and another pounding attack. The damage on Chandler's face was too clear to miss. Unlike the epic third round from 2011 in which he took unabated punishment for more than two minutes, Chandler was competitive. He also looked tired and sluggish, though that might have been a case of playing possum. Alvarez scored with left before being dumped again to the canvas.
A cageside California State Athletic Commission doctor checked Chandler between rounds, but there was nothing in his performance in the fourth that suggested the previously unbeaten face of Bellator was anywhere near done.
Chandler worked over his challenger for much of the period as fans begged for more.
Chandler's ground-and-pound opportunity came after he, again playing possum, bided his time along the fence before leaping forward with a jumping knee. The shot knocked Alvarez backward, and Chandler rolled him up into a takedown. Most of the damage came when Chandler trapped Alvarez's right arm and poured down punches and elbows.
Still, Alvarez pushed through to the fifth, which caused fans inside the Long Beach Arena to erupt.
The challenger and soon-to-be champion came out swinging punches. Neither fighter could have known how the judges had it, and in their 10th round, together they delivered.
Alvarez did well all night denying Chandler's wrestling. This paid off for him in the final round, as they mixed stand up and grappling sequences with intensity.
"I'm going to take zero credit for what happened tonight. It takes two people to put on a fight like that. Not just me. Me and Mike Chandler," said Alvarez. "The guy fights his a-- off. The heart of a lion."
"At the end of the fight, I didn't give a s-- who won. I was just happy to be a part of it."
Straus upsets Curran; wins title
Bjorn Rebney liked to say Pat Curran is the best featherweight in the world outside of Jose Aldo. He can't make that claim anymore.
It was Curran and the world versus Daniel Straus. And Straus won.
Straus initiated most of the offense off the start, forcing himself on Curran, who was unable to counter or untie his challenger's strong grip throughout much of the 25-minute contest.
The southpaw challenger scored with his left hand early and, though not often, enough to dictate range and distance. Curran, a terrific athlete who won his past six for Bellator, including two title defenses this year, struggled with Straus' pressure.
That sort of attack shouldn't have come as a surprise to the 26-year-old from Crystal Lake, Ill. Straus is a noted grinder was knocked out by Curran in 2009, and they had trained together in the past.
"I can't go to that fight, examine that fight and try to fight him again off that fight," Straus said on Thursday. "I'll lose, again. Pat can't watch that fight, examine that fight and fight me again. He'll take the a-- whipping I got that night. We're both two different fighters from the time I first met. We've grown as people, we've grown as fighters."
Four years following their first contest, Straus, who learned how to fight by fighting, was well prepared to meet Curran.
"It really opened my eyes as to the sport," he said. "Since that fight, I've won 17 of 18 fights. I went on a two-year winning streak of 12 fights. That fight changed me because going into that fight I knew I could beat Pat. And I got beat. So I started taking this sport seriously."
Now training at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla., Straus (22-4) shook off ring rust from a one-year absence that featured injuries and run-ins with the law, to dissect his way to the championship belt.
Saturday's marked Straus' sixth straight win, and the 18th victory in 19 fights since falling to Curran (19-5).
Straus relied heavily on his left hand, which hit its mark multiple times as he mixed in a variety of takedowns and suffocating top control.
Curran showed life in the second, moving well and landing kicks to the body. That was as good as it got for the deposed Bellator champion.
Straus righted the ship in the third round, despite an obviously illegal knee to the face while his knees were on the floor. That sequence from Curran elicited a point deduction from referee Jason Herzog. The hard-nosed wrestler showed no ill effects, landing a quick takedown after the restart.
The situation was perfect for Straus, a grinder at heart, heading into the fourth round. Down two rounds to one, down a point deduction, Curran needed something to shift momentum. He upped the aggression in the third, but that difference-maker he was looking for never came.
During the fifth and final period, Straus who went after Curran, landing a solid left hook that had the soon-to-be former champion reeling.
"It's a good feeling," said the soft-spoken new champion. "I worked really hard."
"I know the type of person I am: I'm a winner, I'm a fighter. Since day one I wanted to get a belt."
Newton defeats King Mo
Emanuel Newton was tired of Muhammed Lawal's talk. Tired of not being taken seriously.
He might not have quieted doubters who don't see him as a top-10 light heavyweight, but he did enough to hush Lawal and his supporters after taking a unanimous decision to claim Bellator's interim light heavyweight title.
"I can't even describe the feeling that I have right now," Newton said. "I worked so hard for this."
Judges sitting cageside agreed on Newton, giving identical 48-46 scores. ESPN.com saw it for Lawal, giving the amateur wrestling world champion the first, fourth and fifth rounds for a 48-47 score.
Lawal, a decorated international wrestler, didn't wish to see a repeat of March, when Newton spun and unloaded a strike that put "King Mo" down in front of a stunned audience.
Newton, however, didn't make it easy for Lawal. Fighting in his hometown, Newton did what he does well: unorthodox striking that includes a multitude of vertigo-inducing techniques. Lawal was well prepared this time, dropping levels at the moment Newton turned his back.
In the second, Lawal (11-3) secured a takedown and top control, but only briefly. Newton's ability to stand after being put down saved him. Newton began doubling up his jab, and brought the right hand behind it, while Lawal appeared somewhat sluggish.
Lawal opened the third with a series of punches, though he was also frustrated and showed that on his face. Newton aimed to kick at the end of combinations, and he did this repeatedly. One to the body scored and hurt King Mo.
The fourth was tight. Lawal and Newton both scored and had their moments.
In the decisive fifth, Lawal opened with a short left hook. He scored on a counter right, and ducked under another spinning backfist attempt. Newton's face began to show damage, as he bled underneath his right eye.
Newton (22-7-1) responded to Lawal's aggression, and he connected with several rights before contending with Lawal's wrestling again.
The win sets Newton up to fight Bellator light heavyweight champion Atilla Vegh, who was forced to the sideline with an injury.
Richman stops Stepanyan in Round 1
In a featherweight attraction that opened the televised card, Mike Richman hit pay dirt against Akop Stepanyan, dropping the Russian to score a finish at 4:05 of Round 1.
With both fighters stepping into the cage off a loss during Bellator's latest 145-pound tournament, they were lined up for a showcase. Action was measured in first 120 seconds. Richman, a southpaw, danced with Stepanyan, and the pair tossed out mostly range-finding punches. Business picked up when Stepanyan (13-7) dropped a straight right to Richman's body and followed with a left hook. Richman responded with several short right hooks, eventually scoring a clipping shot that sent his foe backward.
Vying to become the third straight fighter from Russia to defeat Richman, Stepanyan stepped up and powered a right that sent Richman reeling. The American told himself he was not going to go down.
"I'm going down swinging," he said in the cage afterward.
Riggs revives career with win over Bronzoulis
Veteran Joe "Diesel" Riggs sought a new lease on his fighting life. He may or may not have gotten one after beating Mike Bronzoulis by unanimous decision to take the finals of "Fight Master," Bellator's reality TV series.
Riggs pockets $100,000 richer and knows a tournament opportunity is in front of him.
"It means everything to me," Riggs said. "It means taking care of my family."
Judges cageside tallied identical 30-27 totals. ESPN.com saw it the same.
The fight was that one-sided. Each period looked alike, as Riggs played the aggressor and controlled Bronzoulis (15-6-1) with takedowns, including a big slam in the third. On the floor, Riggs advanced to Bronzoulis's back several times, forcing his way into the position yet never coming close to finding a finish.
The contest was sloppy, yet Riggs (40-14), who won four times on the show to get this fight and struggled with an eye injury that delayed the contest two months, was clearly the superior mixed martial artist.
Six months remain until the 2013 mixed martial arts year officially concludes, but already several knockouts have left lasting impressions.
While some have been more devastating than others, timing and circumstance also are significant factors in determining which knockouts stand out from the pack. And none stands out more than middleweight contender Vitor Belfort’s spinning heel kick on May 18 that finished Strikeforce titleholder Luke Rockhold at UFC on FX 8.
The strike was quick, precise and unexpected. After it connected, Rockhold was on his way to sleep before absorbing a few more of Belfort’s punches, which forced referee Leon Roberts to stop the assault at 2:32 of the first round.
The knockout was so impressive that ESPN.com voted it the best of 2013 thus far.
Rockhold had no chance of defending himself; he didn’t see the head-rattling strike coming. It caught Rockhold just under his left ear. The kick, which likely will be talked about throughout this year and many more to come, was a thing of beauty.
In fact, everything about Belfort that evening was beautiful. His body was chiseled, there was that nostalgic sparkle in his eyes and he exuded an extremely high level of confidence that hadn’t been seen in a long time. Belfort was going to leave to Octagon victorious, and there wasn’t a doubt in his mind about it. The 36-year-old Belfort appeared to have found the fountain of youth: His hand speed and reflexes conjured up images of the 19-year-old “Phenom” who knocked out Tank Abbott in 59 seconds at UFC 13 in May 1997.
These images, however, are the reason this knockout will struggle to retain its top spot at the end of 2013. Heading into the bout, Rockhold repeatedly raised concerns about Belfort’s reliance on testosterone replacement therapy. The topic hovered over this bout like a toxic cloud and fueled hostility between the fighters.
“I don’t necessarily trust him. And I don’t necessarily trust the system,” Rockhold said before the fight. “Do I think he’s cheating? Yes, I do.
“He definitely looks bigger than I’ve normally seen him. If you see the comparisons versus back when he fought Anderson Silva to now, [and] the Jon Jones fight, he put on some serious muscle mass.”
With Belfort’s previous positive test for elevated testosterone levels and the fight taking place in his native Brazil, where questions abound regarding the lack of stringent drug-testing, Rockhold’s concerns seemed reasonable. The outcome only increased suspicion.
But until proven otherwise, Belfort is presumed innocent. And his knockout of Rockhold is the best midway through 2013.
The knockout secured Belfort’s place among the top two 185-pound contenders. He is likely first in line to face the Silva-Chris Weidman winner -- which takes place July 6 in Las Vegas.
But cries have already begun for Belfort’s next fight to be held in the United States. Each fight he has participated in this year has been in Brazil. Belfort won both fights by knockout -- perennial contender Michael Bisping went down in the second round Jan. 19. And yes, Belfort looked physically ripped in that fight.
Belfort didn’t simply beat Bisping and Rockhold; he stopped them with punishing knockouts. It’s hard to imagine any middleweight surviving the strikes Belfort delivered in those two fights.
To begin erasing doubts about the validity of his recent performances, Belfort must prove his resurgence isn’t the result of having a home-field advantage. He must show off his renewed speed, cardio and physical physique under the Association of Boxing Commission’s closely monitored therapeutic-use-exemption guidelines. Otherwise, the doubts will escalate.
Other notable knockouts:
No. 2: Emanuel Newton KO1 Muhammed Lawal: Bellator 90 (Feb. 21). Newton’s spinning back fist that knocked out former Strikeforce light heavyweight titleholder and huge pre-fight favorite “King Mo” Lawal was a thing of beauty.
No. 3: Antonio Silva KO3 Alistair Overeem: UFC 156 (Feb. 2). “Bigfoot” Silva earned a rematch and title shot against Cain Velasquez with an impressive third-round stoppage of top contender Alistair Overeem.
No. 4: Muhammed Lawal KO1 Seth Petruzelli: Bellator 96 (June 19). Lawal makes his second appearance on the KO list, but as the winner this time. His first-round knockout of Seth Petruzelli was about as brutal as they come.
No. 5: Mark Hunt KO3 Stefan Struve: UFC on Fuel 8 (March 2). Stefan Struve suffered a broken jaw and a hit to his title contendership at the heavy hands of Mark Hunt.
News stories following Bellator MMA's first event of the summer will focus rightly on Muhammed Lawal's vicious knockout of Seth Petruzelli and Renato "Babalu" Sobral's retirement.
And for that, Bellator and Spike TV should be grateful.
Because without Lawal driving a rivet through Petruzelli's face, or the memories and plaudits inspired by Sobral -- whose decision to lay down his gloves in the center of the cage while kneeling reverentially was lovely -- Wednesday night's fight card came across as all sorts of ugly.
Bellator can represent itself as challenger to the UFC, as a place where competition between fighters is the only thing that matters -- toughest tournament in sports and all -- but that's undercut when guys such as 35-year-old, 5-foot-8, 260-pound Jeremiah O'Neal (12-22) are given bouts, and the Ron Sparks of the world receive live television slots.
In O'Neal's case, he fought boxing convert Raphael Butler, who went to 6-0 with an early knockout. I failed to see the point. O'Neal won't go anywhere -- he lost to a bunch of names, but mostly at welterweight and middleweight. He entered Bellator off a loss. Worse: O'Neal's last win came in 2011, against 1-3 Kelly Rundle, who turns 51 this August. Prior to that, O'Neal hadn't won since 2007. Want to kill some time? Check out the records of the guys O'Neal actually defeated.
Look, I don't want to tear down O'Neal. It's Bellator that deserves to be embarrassed. I've given them plenty of credit for finding young, fresh talent. For the most part, the promotion's scouting team of Sam Caplan and Zach Light do a very good job, but their work can easily get dinged when this kind of matchmaking happens, even on an undercard contest. Butler can't improve as a prospect against a guy like O'Neal, so what's the point? He hits hard -- fine. But we could have seen that just the same if he faced a heavy bag.
As for television, the decision to match Vitaly Minakov against Sparks was pretty sad. Minakov (11-0) looks like a legit heavyweight prospect, but no one could know one way or the other after he put away the 38-year-old Sparks in 32 seconds. Thankfully, Minakov faces Ryan Martinez on July 31, who at least appears a threat.
Let me leave on an up note. Bellator's card at the end of July near Albuquerque sets up as a terrific night of fights. Lawal meets Jacob Noe in the abbreviated 205-pound tournament finals. Minakov is matched with Martinez. Bellator lightweight champ Michael Chandler returns against gritty David Rickels. I'm most interested in watching 22-year-old Andrey Koreshkov (who is the embodiment of the anti-Jeremiah O'Neal) fight unbeaten American Ben Askren.
GSP-Hendricks is a go
The UFC welterweight championship contest between Georges St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks was made official this week. It will headline what most people will come to call the UFC's 20th anniversary event on Nov. 16, most likely in Las Vegas.
I'll just say this: I don't care that the UFC couldn't pull off an interdivisional mega-fight at Madison Square Garden to mark the occasion. GSP-Hendricks is absolutely fine by me -- no matter the night, regardless of the commemoration.
Why? Easy. Hendricks appears to be the biggest threat to St-Pierre in the welterweight division. And I think the once-beaten southpaw power-puncher pulls off the upset.
Good news, bad news
Bad news first.
Now the good news.
TJ Grant won't get pushed out of a championship spot against Henderson. The 29-year-old Canadian smoked Gray Maynard in May to earn the opportunity, and should be the man to face Henderson -- even if some may say it's not nearly as marketable a pay-per-view attraction as a rematch between Henderson and Pettis, Showtime Kick, et al.
Anyhow, like GSP-Hendricks, I'm calling an upset. Grant beats Henderson.
Lombard to 170
There had been calls for Hector Lombard to drop 15 pounds and fight at welterweight for as long as the strong Cuban competed in MMA. Yet for seven years, Lombard saw no reason to leave middleweight. He was strong and fast, and won more than enough contests by stoppage to form a convincing argument that 185 was the place to be.
Then he entered the UFC. And a year later, Lombard officially revealed it was time to shed the weight. Losses to Tim Boetsch and Yushin Okami indicated Lombard wasn’t as good as he thought, and larger middleweights who were also viable competitors could stifle his explosion.
What could a 170-pound Lombard do?
Get fans excited, for starters, especially if he carries his power down with him. Lombard posted on Twitter that he wants to fight Nate Marquardt, who was also a middleweight convert. That’s a nice first fight for him.
The real question is whether Lombard will be able to handle the speed of the welterweight division. For all of the talk of his power, it was Lombard’s haste that made him at 185. Absent that advantage and coupled with the realization that he’s probably shorter than most welterweights, Lombard will have to make full use of his skills, including a judo game that always seems underutilized when he fights.
Lady Liberty says 'no' to MMA again
Ready for the least shocking news of 2013?
Sheldon Silver, speaker of the New York State Assembly, declined to bring for a vote a bill intended to legalize MMA in the state. That makes Silver 4-0 against MMA legislation, having scuttled the process the past four years.
Because Silver obviously can’t watch pro MMA in New York -- the only state in the Union where MMA remains banned -- he might try the Glory event at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City on Saturday.
See, kickboxing is legal in New York. Yes, even kickboxing three times on one night -- which is what the winner of Glory’s $200,000 prize will be expected to do.
It’s insane that New York licenses fighters to kickbox three times in a single evening and prohibits them from competing in MMA at all.
SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- The update prompted a nod and smile.
Sitting inside a modest conference room at Viacom's MTV Networks, Quinton Jackson was clearly relieved to learn that the number of participants on a conference call about his wide-ranging deal with the media conglomerate had jumped from three to 44.
"That's better," Jackson said before phone lines opened a little after noon Wednesday. He looked at Spike TV president Kevin Kay, who agreed, then swiveled to his left toward Bellator CEO and chairman Bjorn Rebney. There would be more nods and smiles over the next hour, as Kay and Rebney lauded Jackson, a 34-year-old fighter no longer at his best, as the "biggest name in MMA" and an "icon" of combat sports.
Talk like this gave "Rampage" license to describe his new relationship with everyone involved -- there are several groups -- with a broad, sloppy brush.
"We tongue kissing right now," he joked.
Fresh off the announcement that Jackson signed a heavily textured deal to fight MMA for Bellator, pro wrestle for TNA, star in reality programming for Spike TV, pitch feature films to Paramount, and just generally have access to the Viacom lockbox of properties -- a first of its kind, Rebney said -- the former UFC champion suggested this contract is the result of hard work as much as it is his distaste for Zuffa, a company that, he admits, helped turn him famous over the past five years.
When "Rampage" first joined the UFC in 2007, he did so as a relatively unknown commodity after Zuffa purchased the World Fighting Alliance.
He was excited for the chance after feeling unappreciated in Pride.
Three wins later, Jackson was champion, a budding superstar, and the first fighter to unify a weight division by holding UFC and Pride titles at the same time. The rest of his experience in the UFC was a mixed bag, leading to an unceremonious departure from the organization after losing to Glover Teixeira at the start of 2013.
"I'm here to entertain people," said Jackson, who lost his last three bouts and went 4-4 in the UFC after dropping the belt to Forrest Griffin in 2008. "I've done a lot in the sport. I come from the Pride generation, where it's entertainment first. I know realistically that I probably won't win all my fights in Bellator, but I'll be damned if I won't entertain people. I want to put on the most exciting fights.”
Jackson enters Bellator with a knee that's not yet 100 percent. Rebney said he is "completely comfortable" with Jackson's physical condition, which will be tested when the fighter starts doing roadwork after his birthday June 20. The demands of Bellator's eight- or four-man tournaments may be too much for Jackson. He didn't rule out participating in the format -- he said it was one of the reasons he was drawn to Bellator -- but he didn't embrace it either. Rebney said if Jackson wants a title opportunity, he'll have to earn it like the rest, however the promoter also said he'd be willing to work with “Rampage” and sign fights that make sense for everyone involved.
Said Rebney: "This deal is about putting all those pieces together so that that brand becomes bigger than it ever was, and if it comes together effectively it's going to be great for him and awesome for us.”
Vying for Jackson's attention could prove challenging. He said his focus will reliably train on MMA, but he also mentioned writing movies (he has a couple of scripts complete, including one that takes place in the MMA world), and a suddenly serious commitment to pro wrestling, which despite not being a sport undoubtedly requires skill and athleticism. Jackson's participation in the pro wrestling space starts immediately; he'll make an appearance on "TNA Impact Live" Thursday night on Spike TV, and hopes to get intertwined in the fantastical story lines soon. First, there will be many hours of practice.
Already, "Rampage" is pondering a tag-team partnership with Muhammed Lawal, who was the first mixed martial artist to get a taste of the wide-ranging Viacom opportunities available to certain "unique" personalities. Jackson said he remains open to fighting Lawal, a bout some consider the most marketable Bellator could promote at the moment.
No matter whom he fights (Jackson hopes and expects others will follow his lead and defect from the UFC), the expectation from executives at Spike TV is that Jackson’s return on investment will at least produce ratings successes. "Rampage" drew nearly 6 million viewers for his unification fight with Henderson in 2007, and coached on the highest rated season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” though that had a lot to do with another entertainment-centered fighter, Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson.
It’s no wonder Kay described Jackson's appearance in Bellator as a homecoming.
He’ll be healthy enough to return to the cage in a few months and squeeze another four to five years out of his body. (He wouldn’t say whether or not he remained on testosterone replacement therapy. If so, that would make Jackson the first fighter in Bellator to face this issue.)
"I've done a lot in this sport,” he said. “I think a lot of fans forget I'm the first-ever unified champion. That's my most proud achievement in the sport. I did that. I've been champion before. Now I don't really care about it. I want to entertain the fans and put on great fights and go to pro wrestling."
Jackson grew up in Memphis, Tenn., watching and mimicking his favorites, so much so that on consecutive Halloweens he dressed up as WWF superstar The Ultimate Warrior. TNA president Dixie Carter expects Jackson to be "very serious" and "committed to be the best at what we do." Jackson nodded and smiled as Carter spoke via speakerphone.
"I could be one of those old dudes still entertaining my fans," he said while discussing the likes of mainstays Hulk Hogan and Sting.
This was where he perked up most Wednesday. "Rampage" fondly recalled the success of Pride and how it was tied to pro wrestling in Japan, a major reason he believes Bellator is on the right track, and why sharing time between MMA and pro wrestling makes sense.
As foundations go, Jackson’s new relationship appears strong, though he cautioned and history corroborated that “after a while things get stale. You don't even tongue kiss no more.”
The word “popularity” trumps a word like “retread” six days of the week. It did in the case of Quinton Jackson -- the popular, yet polarizing, former UFC champion who just became Bellator’s latest acquisition, according to a Spike TV press release. “Rampage” is presumably headed to the so-called “toughest tournament in sports.”
And with him comes an ounce of that hard-to-find intrigue.
Bellator will hold a news conference Wednesday in Los Angeles to make the announcement. If a 34-year-old on a three-fight losing streak and with strong associations to a rival league seems like an odd choice for a multiyear contract with Bellator, that’s because it is. Traditionally, Bellator has steered clear of picking up the UFC’s sloppy seconds, with a few exceptions. Just last week, Bellator inked prospect Bubba Jenkins, a collegiate wrestling champion from Arizona State who is 3-0 in MMA. That’s a signing that falls more in line with the Bellator ideology of unearthing talent. Landing Jenkins was a major boon.
But Jackson isn’t exactly a cast-off either. He was a disgruntled UFC employee who openly battled with Dana White and the UFC over pay, treatment, integrity, the reinvention of B.A. Baracus, fighting boring wrestlers and a descending scale of pettier issues over the past few years. He’s not known as an “entertainer” for fighting alone. That’s why he fits with Spike, where he can roam into pro wrestling waters under the TNA platform (an idea he’s flirted with before) and play a role in the network’s reality programming. With “Rampage” comes drama, and in his case, that’s interchangeable with “baggage.”
You know what else he brings? Star power and accessible validity.
After all, as of UFC 135, Jackson was name enough to challenge Jon Jones for the UFC’s light heavyweight belt. He didn’t make good, but the UFC sold more than 500,000 pay-per-views, which was the most since UFC 129 when Georges St-Pierre fought Jake Shields. It was the most pay-per-views sold for all of the UFC 130s. When he fought Dan Henderson on Spike, there were 6 million viewers.
Even in a sport where yesterday is a distant memory, that wasn’t so long ago. Yes, the Japan homecoming at UFC 144 against Ryan Bader was a disaster, with the missed weight and the swirling chaos of his TRT/groveling over how the UFC had handled him poorly. And yes, his sayonara bout with Glover Teixeira wasn’t exactly the barn burner he (or we) imagined. Just like Rashad Evans, Henderson and anyone who’s been in the fight game long enough, he’s capable of duds. Ennui is a hard thing to shake.
Yet even with all of that, what’s not to like about this signing? It was Josh Koscheck who said that fans can love him or hate him, it doesn’t matter, so long as they care. Signing “Rampage” will get people to care. And realistically, Bellator could use some love and caring, especially for its tournament structure that stubbornly makes a star of attrition. That concept’s not a fit for everyone. Maybe not even for Jackson, who has had trouble with motivation and weight in the past. It's tough to maintain health, weight and mindset through three fights in three months for anybody. But for a millionaire who doesn't particularly need to?
Then again, remember that he made a name in those Pride Grand Prix’s back in the early days fighting the likes of Wanderlei Silva, Chuck Liddell and Mauricio Rua. Those yesteryear names now become Attila Vegh and his longtime off-limits rival Muhammed Lawal -- not to mention Emanuel Newton, who knocked “King Mo” out in February with a spinning backfist. There’s something about those Memphis “bungalows” that tuned people in, even if they’re being flung at the more curious retread cases of Renato “Babalu” Sobral and Vladimir Matyushenko.
There are always exceptions to the exceptions.
The thing is, Bellator hasn’t strictly adhered to anything other than its own bracketology. Hard to imagine it giving Jackson special treatment and holding him out of the 205-pound tournament. And the promotion has loosely gone about its business of bringing up the next best names over the past couple of years. It's scored with Michael Chandler, Ben Askren, Pat Curran, Eduardo Dantas and Eddie Alvarez (now the subject of a fierce tug-of-war). This is its traditional model, insomuch as tradition exists.
Yet while Jon Fitch didn’t raise the Bellator eyebrow when the UFC released him with a 14-3-1 record under Zuffa, Jackson -- 7-5 in the UFC -- did. Why is that? Fitch will never be confused with entertainment, that’s why. He was never a champion. He doesn’t use words like “bungalows,” much less throw them. Eyeballs aren’t as likely to follow his every move.
Jackson, on the other hand, doesn’t feel too much like the UFC’s leftovers. Kudos to Bellator for thinking inside the box enough to see it.
No matter how long Daniel Cormier competes or how much he improves as a fighter, there are two mixed martial artists he is unlikely to ever face in the cage -- UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and Bellator light heavyweight contender Muhammed Lawal.
It’s unlikely to happen because Cormier will do whatever is necessary to avoid either man. He considers both his brothers, and nothing that will move Cormier to test the American Kickboxing Academy family bond -- not even a title shot.
It’s a very powerful bond, considering Cormier is extremely driven to become a UFC champion in the not-too-distant future. Every second spent in the gym training, each minute of an actual fight, Cormier takes a step closer to achieving his goal. He repeatedly envisions having his hand raised and a UFC title belt placed around his waist.
The fighter ranked No. 3 among heavyweights by ESPN.com is a win, maybe two, from being offered a title shot. But Cormier will not accept such an offer because he can’t bring himself to challenge Velasquez. And as far as Cormier is concerned there isn’t a heavyweight on the current UFC roster capable of dethroning his friend.
With Velasquez seemingly unbeatable by any heavyweight not associated with AKA, according to Cormier, the highly ranked contender is channeling his energies toward a shot at the UFC light heavyweight belt. But getting to 205 pounds is no easy task for Cormier, who currently packs 235 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame.
He is taking his time and cutting the weight “correctly.” As a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic wrestling team, Cormier attempted to cut weight rapidly by ridding his body of water. The strategy resulted in damage to his kidney; to avoid a repeat of that situation, Cormier is on a closely monitored diet.
And the results thus far are encouraging. His weight is diminishing at a moderate pace. If all continues to go positively, Cormier could compete for the 205-pound title in a little more than a year. But there is no guarantee he will ever reach the light heavyweight limit. The only thing Cormier can do is to try.
In the meantime, he wants to continue plowing through highly ranked heavyweights. And that’s where things get a bit complicated. Cormier continues to knock off heavyweight contenders, while making it clear he will not fight Velasquez for the belt. On the surface, something about this scenario doesn’t pass the smell test, and Cormier knows it. He’s aware of the criticism some are tossing in his direction: Why continue to eliminate heavyweight contenders while preparing for a future at 205 pounds? It comes down to physics and economics.
I think I can [make 205] or I wouldn't have started the dieting process. I'm smaller now than I've been [in a long time].” -- Daniel Cormier
“It’s going to take some time for me to get to 205 pounds, if that’s the route that I go,” Cormier told ESPN.com. “But in that time is it possible for me to still fight at heavyweight, while working my way down so that I can stay busy and still make money, instead of being out of the cage for an extended period of time?
“I can’t be the champion at heavyweight when Cain has the belt, and I don’t want him to lose. I can’t cut the weight from 235 pounds; I have to diet. So while I’m in the process of dieting I can fight still. That’s really all it is.
“I think I can [make 205] or I wouldn’t have started the dieting process. I’m smaller now than I’ve been [in a long time].”
It’s a difficult road for Cormier on several fronts: He must continue defeating highly rated heavyweights -- as his body gets smaller -- to remain relevant and also earn top dollar, while assuring he gets a light heavyweight title shot in the event the weight does come off. There’s also the matter of hoping Velasquez retains his belt during this weight-loss process.
Though Cormier strongly believes Velasquez won’t suffer defeat at any time in the foreseeable future, he will accept a UFC heavyweight title shot against anyone else if the unimaginable happens. And if Cormier were to claim the heavyweight title, is a showdown with Velasquez possible?
“If I was the [heavyweight] champion and Cain decided to fight me that would be his call,” Cormier said. “I’d have nothing against him. I don’t want to fight him, because of how he treated me walking into his gym as a top heavyweight [prospect]; how he’s treated me as a friend; how he’s completely pushed my career. I don’t want to [fight him].
“But these are all hypotheticals. They [heavyweight contenders] are not going to beat him. I’m serious; they’re not going to beat him. They’re not good enough.”
With this in mind, Cormier continues his journey toward light heavyweight. He’d love to claim the belt from arguably sport’s the best fighter – UFC 205-pound champion Jon Jones. But Jones’ days at light heavyweight appear numbered. That doesn’t, however, deter Cormier.
“I still want to be a UFC champion and I’m not going to fight Cain,” Cormier said. “Jon Jones is the [light heavyweight] champion. That’s the only reason I mentioned Jon Jones.
“Even if we miss each other, with me going down and [Jones] moving up, I still have the opportunity to be the UFC champion. It’s my ultimate goal. It doesn’t matter -- outside of Mo Lawal and Cain Velasquez, I don’t care who’s standing on the other side of the cage.”
That unexpected first-round knockout loss to Emanuel Newton in February hasn’t diminished his resolve. If anything, the loss strengthened it.
Nothing else about Lawal has changed since that February setback: His camp remains fully intact. Jeff Mayweather -- yes, that Mayweather, the uncle of boxing champion Floyd Jr. -– still calls the shots in Lawal’s corner. And UFC heavyweight Roy "Big Country" Nelson continues to be one of his primary sparring partners.
When he returns to action, which is likely to be June 19 at a Bellator event in Oklahoma against an opponent to be named, Lawal will enter the arena with his familiar swagger. He will have a cape drenched over his shoulders, sunglasses covering his eyes and a crown on his head.
"King Mo" still lives! And he will be as bad and brash as ever. He has no intention of suddenly playing nice. If you didn’t like his act before, wait until you see him in June.
“I’m not going to change up things,” Lawal told ESPN.com. “Some people, after a loss, change their entire camp up. Jeff is on point. Roy Nelson is a great training partner. I’ve got good sparring in Las Vegas.
“I’m not going to be like Mike Tyson. He was a great fighter, but I feel that after he lost to Buster Douglas, he kind of fell apart. He was never the same again. He lost his aura.
“With me, I’m going to keep the same aura going. I’m just going to take it out on my next opponent.”
When he steps in the cage, Lawal, as usual, will be the superior athlete -- regardless who the opponent happens to be. He will remain comfortable dropping his hands, because his high-level footwork allows him to control distance. That footwork is pure Mayweather, and a major component of Lawal’s stand-up success.
Lawal will move his head and change levels repeatedly while delivering those stinging jabs and occasional kicks. They serve to set up either vicious takedowns or knockout-caliber punches. And through it all, Lawal will taunt his opponent with a mean-spirited smile on his face.
It will be the same fighting display Lawal put on against Newton before getting hit with what he calls that "fluke" punch. Actually, it was a spinning back fist that found Lawal's chin at the 2:35 mark.
The punch surprised Lawal, dropping him face-first to the canvas and likely costing him a shot this year at the Bellator light heavyweight title.
Newton went on to claim the Bellator Season 8 light heavyweight tournament and will face promotion titleholder Attila Vegh. A date for that fight has yet to be determined.
Back to Lawal. It’s unlikely he will get caught with the same punch two fights in a row.
He intends to win his next fight and every one after that in the foreseeable future, and he is rooting for Newton to do the same. Lawal believes their paths will cross much sooner if each man keeps winning.
Lawal is itching to get his hands on Newton as soon as possible. He wants to destroy Newton in the cage before humiliating him. It’s part of Lawal’s payback plan.
“Hopefully Emanuel will win the whole [Bellator] tournament so I can beat his ass and get that belt from him,” Lawal said. “And after I beat him, I’m going to do a dance all in his face. I’m going to be so unsportsmanlike; it’s going to be unbelievable.
“This dude is trying to act like he knew what he threw [the spinning back fist], saying ‘I wanted to throw over my shoulder.’ Man, you didn’t want to throw from your shoulder. We’ve seen the replay.
“The thing is I’m going to throw it in his face. I’m going to be the heel. I’m going to be the bad guy. I like being the bad guy.”
Lawal is so confident of landing a rematch with Newton and destroying him that he continues to prepare for his professional wrestling debut. He still doesn’t know when that will happen but emphasizes that MMA remains his top priority.
“I do the pro wrestling stuff for like an hour, two or three times a week,” Lawal said. “That’s it, then I go back to boxing, jujitsu, wrestling and MMA sparring.”
Pro wrestling is intriguing, but Lawal won’t allow it to get in the way of his immediate goal: landing a rematch with Newton and humiliating him.
Given the special kind of ridicule many fight fans reserve for pro wrestling, reaction to Lawal’s new hybrid, multifight deal with Bellator Fighting Championships and TNA Impact Wrestling will no doubt be, eh, mixed. No pun intended.
The obligatory insults about “fake fighting” and the handwringing about how this will look to the mainstream have surely already begun on message boards and in comment sections. The fact that Lawal will enter the world of professional wrestling while his legitimate fighting career still lingers under the cloud of a positive steroid test likely won’t (and shouldn’t) be forgotten, either.
But the truth is, this move may well be a homerun for Lawal, who described it as “a dream come true.”
Considering his impressive amateur credentials, his flair for the flamboyant and his renowned mind for the fight game, you can’t really blame King Mo for looking in the mirror and seeing the complete package. He’s always presented himself as a singular talent; now, he has his chance to prove it in the kind of sink-or-swim environment that will obviously stoke his competitive fires.
If he, Bellator and Impact can pull this off, Lawal’s unconventional new deal will give the former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion unparalleled exposure and, at least in theory, the kind of unique bargaining power he’s always believed he would one day enjoy.
It’s a gamble, yes, but it seems like a calculated one.
For a guy who takes pride in bringing a healthy dose of entertainment value to MMA, it’s sort of a perfect fit. For a fighter who describes himself as a “moneyweight” and an unabashed member of “Team Get Dat Paper,” the financial possibilities are obvious.
If there’s a drawback here, it’s probably not with Lawal, but with his partners.
From an MMA standpoint, it’s not clear what professional challenges Bellator will be able to offer him. The company’s current 205-pound champion is Christian M'Pumbu (yes, I had to look that up), a relatively unknown 34-year-old who isn’t within spitting distance of the light heavyweight top 10 and whose last fight was a nontitle loss to Travis Wiuff. Coincidentally, Wiuff is the guy Lawal defeated in his MMA debut in September 2008, back when the journeyman fighter had just 66 professional contests on his resume.
A quick glance at the 14 other 205-pounders listed on Bellator's website makes it clear this will be a high risk-low reward situation for Lawal. Unless the fight company can go out and sign a number of other top-tier light heavyweight free agents -- from a crop that may not even exist -- every fight in Bellator will be one Lawal should win impressively, and that will make his every appearance there a referendum on his own standing in the sport.
Since he began his MMA career with three consecutive TKO victories in 2008-09, we’ve been waiting for King Mo to become the break out star we believed he could be. So far, though, his fighting life has been punctuated by both highs (i.e. winning the Strikeforce title from Gegard Mousasi in August 2010) and lows (losing it to Rafael Cavalcante in his next fight). From the outside looking in, it doesn’t appear that Bellator will be able to offer up the kind of consistently top-shelf competition necessary for Lawal to boost himself to that next level.
Were I a 31-year-old athlete still very much in the process of proving I was as good as I said I was, that would concern me. Unless, of course, I was just there for the paper.
From a professional wrestling standpoint, the company formerly known as Total Nonstop Action has been trying hard (almost embarrassingly so) to revamp its product in recent months. It has rebranded itself as Impact Wrestling -- or TNA Impact Wrestling, or something, no one is exactly sure -- changed its overall look, made some key additions to the creative team, launched a sister promotion in India and has vacillated awkwardly between trying to establish new talent and trotting out dusty old standbys like Hulk Hogan and Sting.
Somewhere in there, former New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs and one of the dudes from “Jersey Shore” both made guest appearances.
Impact is by no means the complete disaster some wrestling fans make it out to be, but it’s also not the kind of organization I would feel tremendously confident in were I a talented, moderately well-known and self-admittedly green rookie like Lawal.
Unless, of course … right, right, the paper.
Certain fans will gripe, but the truth is we’ve never seen a deal quite like this one, so we have no idea how it will work out. For a guy who seems to enjoy pushing the envelope as much as Lawal does, that’s an exciting (and potentially lucrative) proposition. Hopefully, it all works out for the best.
As both Bellator and TNA are currently constituted though, it would be a disappointment (at least to fans) to see Lawal spend the remainder of his athletic career there.
Perhaps in a perfect world, he’ll help elevate both Bellator and Impact Wrestling to new heights of legitimacy and profitability, while in the process making himself a bigger and bigger star.
Either that or he will use this deal as a launching pad into the UFC or WWE, depending on which path -- and which paper -- he wants to pursue.
For whatever reason, there’s a lot of turbulence within the world of MMA. Maybe it’s because Dana White has been relatively out of touch; or because Lee Murray is no longer being permitted conjugal visits to his lonely Moroccan cell. Or it could be that the long-simmering Jon Jones/Rashad Evans feud has finally succeeded in infecting our outlooks.
But there is tension in the air. And there is tension on the air.
This week it centers on Muhammed Lawal.
So far, Lawal has had a very bad 2012, beginning with a positive steroid test in January and ending with a Twitter tirade that ultimately got him canned a few days ago. This has made for a public rift, and which side you fall to depends on which way your antennae are skewed. In the wake of Lawal’s hearing and suspension, either Pat Lundvall of the Nevada State Athletic Commission is a barely disguised racist, or a totally condescending busy body, or merely a fascinating literalist. The gamut is extreme. And same goes for Lawal. The other side says he’s a remorseless person and a loose cannon -- and a particularly jobless loose cannon, to boot.
(There are even new peanut gallery accusations that he’s a boring wrestler, which somehow plays a role in all of this).
In any case, Lundvall -- the first woman chair of the NSAC -- came off as a pill asking a college educated black man if he could read and speak English during the hearing. And in retrospect, Lawal might have been better served not to fire off a Tweet calling her a “racist b----” afterward. He told ESPN.com’s Franklin McNeil, if he could do things differently, “I wouldn’t have called her a b----. Maybe I should have waited until after the hearing, calmed down a little and approached her directly.”
Obviously this is not remorseless. Lawal’s just selective in what he chooses to feel bad about.
And the Lawal story is prime for a who’s right/who’s wrong debate on the airwaves, to the point that you wonder sometimes if these things blow up as a cure for boredom. People need to talk, and sometimes talking points only require that we give drama a good stir. Sometimes we may even stumble upon new and further afield things to argue about.
For instance, on Thursday night’s "MMA Uncensored" on Spike, host Craig Carton was left to explain King Mo’s absence from the show. Lawal was scheduled to be on to discuss the spiraling events that have shaped his 2012. If you’ve seen the program, you know Carton is outspoken, and the show’s running motto is to hold no punches (which can be refreshing). So Carton made sure you knew right away which side of the fence he was on, saying that there’s a difference between being racist and offensive, and that there was nothing racist about what happened. When reading Lawal’s fateful tweet, he referred to him as “this brainiac” in the only way that people can refer to someone as a “brainiac.”
But then you wondered what was offending Carton more -- the fact that Lawal was so far out of line that he deserved to be fired, or that he stood them up for what might be political reasons.
“Many of you were expecting King Mo to be sitting right here next to Mike Straka, because we said he was going to be,” Carton said. “We had an agreement with King Mo to come on the show tonight. His agents and lawyers got involved, and his agent’s name is Mike Kogan. And Mike Kogan informed us this afternoon, ‘there’ll be no King Mo on the live show.’ Now let’s play that out a minute -- why wouldn’t you put your client on the single most watched MMA show in America and allow him to tell his side of the story and even be contrite? Could it be that Mike Kogan is involved with a low-rated network that also tries to do MMA talk?”
Forget about how quickly the red carpet got rolled back up. How did we shoot past Lawal’s dilemma of being cut, to the drama of which platform he’ll use to discuss it? And did Lawal's flaking out on the show ratchet up Carton’s general ire toward Lawal’s situation? It was a confusing mix of live blossoming dramas, and one which underscores just how irrationally opinions can be shaped.
And yet, on the same show, there sat Rebney, coolly talking about the importance of a meritocracy in his model. He wants his fighters to make their way toward a crescendo, as in other sports, where you start with eight and then whittle to one. He was so soft-spoken and direct on the topic that you couldn’t help pick up on his conviction.
So soft-spoken, in fact, that you could barely hear him through all the noise being made over Lawal.
So when Pat Lundvall, who is the first woman chairs of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, questioned his understanding to read or speak English during a hearing Tuesday, Lawal took offense.
Lawal believed the question did not serve any probative value during the commission's inquiry into his positive test for anabolic steroids after his Jan. 7 bout with Larenz Larkin.
The commission found Lawal guilty. He was hit with monetary fines, suspended for nine months and his victory over Larkin was changed to a no contest.
Lawal was disappointed by the ruling, but accepted it.
What he refused to accept was the question from Lundvall. Lawal believed it was intended to belittle him because of his race.
Lawal is black; Lundvall is white. Attempts by ESPN.com to speak with Lundvall were unsuccessful.
Insulted, Lawal took to Twitter to express his anger. He defined the question from Lundvall as “insulting, prejudice and a lil racist.”
It was on the social media website where he also called Lundvall a derogatory name directed at her gender.
Shortly thereafter, Lawal (8-1, with one no contest) was released from Strikeforce.
Lawal’s anger has not subsided, but he has had time to reflect on his response. And if he could do it over, Lawal would handle the situation differently.
“I wouldn’t have called her a b---- on Twitter,” Lawal told ESPN.com. “Maybe I should have waited until after the hearing, calmed down a little and approached her directly.”
Had Lawal taken that approach, he might still be on the Strikeforce roster. But the 31-year-old former All-American wrestler at the University of Oklahoma is not apologizing for standing up to what he believes was an insult directed at him. And while he is disappointed that Strikeforce decided to cut him, Lawal doesn’t harbor any bitterness toward the promotion.
“My feelings toward Strikeforce haven’t changed at all,” Lawal said. “They gave me my first chance.
“I’d like to fight under Zuffa [Strikeforce’s parent company] again, but they’ve released me and I can’t force them to take me back.”
But Lawal isn’t looking back. He will serve the nine-month suspension that NSAC handed him on Tuesday and begin preparing for life outside the Zuffa family.
“I have injuries, an infection and some healing up to do,” Lawal said. “After that I will get back to training and see what opens up.”
But whether fans like Evans or not, no one can say the man doesn’t speak his mind. Evans can be brutally honest about his feelings toward whoever happens to be his opponent, or potential opponent, for a given event.
Fast-rising Phil Davis is the man who now gets to hear Evans’ personal thoughts about him. And considering the statements Evans has uttered in recent weeks, he doesn’t have a favorable opinion of the man who will oppose him Saturday night in the Octagon at UFC on Fox 2.
But unlike Quinton Jackson and Jon Jones, both of whom Evans dislikes personally, his dislike to Davis isn't personal. It's just business.
“A fight is a fight. And sometimes it’s easier to fight somebody when you don’t like them,” Evans said during a news conference on Friday. “For the most part I’ve really got nothing against Phil, but we have to fight each other so I have a lot against him right now.”
Finding a reason to dislike Davis is difficult. He is one of the kindest guys in the sport and never has a harsh word to say to anyone.
But after digging, Evans fought something negative to pin on Davis: His resume. As far as Evans is concerned, Davis has no business in the cage with him at this time. Evans prides himself on facing the best fighters at 205 pounds, and he doesn't believe Davis fits the criteria.
“Phil is just a nice guy,” Evans said during a recent conference call. “He’s not a fighter. He’s an athlete, a great athlete, but not a fighter. He has no killer instinct for this and he’s got no experience at this level.
“He’s never fought at heavyweight like I had to [on “The Ultimate Fighter” 2] to get into the UFC. He didn’t get punched by Chuck Liddell and Jackson like I did.
“He’s not had to dig deep at all. He’s in deep water, and I’m the shark.”
White not buying Lawal’s denials
Former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Muhammed Lawal vehemently denies ever taking an anabolic steroid, despite a recent positive test result administered by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
Lawal tested positive for Drostanolone.
“I’m very surprised about this,” Lawal told ESPN.com’s Josh Gross earlier this month. “I’m very careful about what I put in my body. I’ve never tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug. I’ve gone through, and still welcome, Olympic-style testing.
“I will do whatever is necessary to get to the bottom of this.”
But UFC president Dana White isn’t moved by Lawal’s passionate pleas. White wants Lawal to take a different approach.
“If you get caught doing something, admit you did it,” White told ESPN.com. “This whole, ‘somebody put something in my system that I didn’t know about.’ ... Who here lets somebody put s--- in them that you don’t know about?
“I don’t buy that s---. Own up to what you did. Everybody makes mistakes.”
White went on to say that Lawal or any fighter who tests positive for a performance-enhancing drug and fails to admit the error of his ways risks never again fighting in a Zuffa-promoted event.
So what does the future hold for Lawal or former Strikeforce women’s featherweight titleholder Cristaine Santos, who also recently tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug earlier this month?
“I don’t know,” White said. “It depends on how they handle themselves. We will see.”
Title shot likely for Miller-Diaz winner
It’s too soon to start calling the lightweight showdown between Jim Miller and Nate Diaz a title eliminator, but that is likely to be the case when they step inside the cage May 5 in East Rutherford, N.J.
“Obviously the guy who wins that fight will probably get a shot at the title,” White told ESPN.com.
But White isn’t quite ready to completely remove former WEC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis from the No. 1 title-contender discussion. Pettis will face Joe Lauzon at UFC 144 in Japan on Feb. 25.
When asked about Pettis’ status, White said: “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
While the Miller-Diaz winner has a good chance of fighting for the lightweight title, the fight won’t headline the UFC on Fox 3 card. White said he is still working to put a high-profile main event together for that event.
The validity of Muhammed Lawal's mixed martial arts monarchy was tested this week.
On Tuesday, the 31-year-old former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion learned a urinalysis administered by Nevada State Athletic Commission returned positive for the anabolic steroid Drostanolone (marketed as Masteron).
The following day, Lawal underwent surgery to insert a new anterior cruciate ligament into his left knee -- a surgery he said he paid for out of pocket because he didn't qualify under Zuffa's insurance policies. (According to Mike Kogan, Lawal's manager, policy restrictions mandate the same injury can't be covered twice within 18 months).
An All-American wrestler at Oklahoma State in 2003 before committing himself to an unsuccessful Olympic team run, Lawal, who's never run afoul of drug-testing authorities before, is aiming to clear his name.
Through Kogan, Lawal supplied a list of supplements to ESPN.com, which he claimed were the only ones used in the run-up to his second round win against Lorenz Larkin in Las Vegas on Jan. 7.
After digesting the news and engaging the Nevada Attorney General about the positive test, Lawal, who entered MMA in 2008, joined Kogan in speaking to ESPN.com.
Josh Gross: Just to start off the top, you’re saying you didn’t take any anabolic steroid -- is that right?
Muhammed Lawal: Yeah, I didn’t take any anabolic steroids, man. That’s not my way of doing things. My track record shows. I came from college to the Olympic and world competition. I was drug tested then and up until now, you know what I’m saying. This is the first time anything like this has happened in my life. I’m shocked just like everybody around me is.
Gross: So, you’ve never taken anything is what you’re saying. In your entire sporting career, you’ve never taken anything that would have put up a result like this?
Lawal: Never, never. I don’t need to. I’m all about competition, game planning and training hard. I’ve gotten to where I’ve gotten to through hard work, smart training and coaching. No type of performance enhancements.
Gross: What was your reaction when you learned that Nevada said you tested positive for Drostanolone? How did you respond to them and what were the steps you took?
Lawal: I heard from the media. They said, “Mo, you tested positive for Drostanolone.” I was bombarded with phone calls. I was just shocked. I didn’t take anything that I think are made of steroids. I’m not a steroid user. I don’t need it. I’m all about training hard and game planning. It took me by surprise and I still am shocked.
Gross: Have you spoken with the commission? Do you plan to appeal?
Lawal: We haven’t spoken with the commission, but [we have spoken] with the Attorney General. I don’t really know what the plans are right now. I think we have to end up meeting with them and go from there. An appeal? I’m not sure yet.
Mike Kogan (Lawal’s manager): I could probably give you a better understanding of what’s going on. I talked to the Attorney General’s office and yesterday (Thursday) we submitted a list of all the supplements and medications that he’s taken prior to this fight. ... The Attorney General’s office is now going through each one of those supplements and medications, as well as I believe they’re going to have some doctor review it also. And then they’ve asked us to do the same thing and go through it. Unfortunately, Mo is not Floyd Mayweather -- he does not make $25 million a fight so I can’t go hire a chemical lab to sort through every one of these things and try to chemically break them down. So we just have got to do the best research we can through Google, and try to see if we can find somebody who knows about this stuff who can shed a little bit more light to it. And they’re going to do the same thing. Once we’re able to discover something or hopefully find something or figure out something that might have caused either a chemical reaction that would have shown up as this Drostanolone or whatever, then from there we’ll present our response to the commission. I wouldn’t use the word “appeal.” I think a lot of people misunderstand the word “appeal.” An appeal would be a questioning of the finding of the commission, or the finding of the test, and challenge either its results or chain of custody or whatever else people question. In our case it’s premature to say that because we don’t know what those supplements show. We don’t know where it came from. So I can’t say we’re going to file an appeal or not file an appeal because we don’t know where it came from. Depending on what our findings show based on the list we have, we’ll then proceed. If we don’t find anything in our supplements or anything that can even remotely approach it, then we may request Sample B to be tested and hope that there was some kind of error with Sample A. We still have the right to do that. We’re taking more of a systematic approach than just yelling from the top of the rooftops that we didn’t do it. Bottom line: he didn’t knowingly take anything, he didn’t put anything in his system that would enhance his performance in any way. As a matter of fact, this particular drug is not even a performance enhancer, it’s mainly used for weight cutting. That’s what baffles us even more, because Mo doesn’t have a problem cutting weight. Never did. He walks around in camp at 212 pounds, 208 after training. He’s 205 right now with a bum knee. So as of right now we’re basically just researching the supplements, the medications the doctor prescribed and the Attorney General’s office is doing exactly the same thing. We’ll circle back with them and go from there.
“Gross: Mo, Mike sent out a list of supplements that he said you took during camp and you take during regular training. Can you walk me through those supplements, and help me understand what they do for you? It’s a pretty long list. I’ll read it off:
I don't need to [use performance-enhancing drugs]. I'm all about competition, game planning and training hard. I've gotten to where I've gotten to through hard work, smart training and coaching. No type of performance enhancements.” -- King Mo Lawal
Bete Alanine by Pro Performance?
Lawal: Bete Alanine is supposed to be a supplement that helps delay fatigue. That’s what I heard it does. It’s for cardio.
Gross: Collagenic Intensive by Metagenics?
Lawal: That’s for your cartilage. It’s supposed to help for your cartilage.
Gross: EC Matrixx by Metagenics?
Lawal: Same thing. Metagenics puts out cartilage supplements.
Gross: Glutamine by Bodytech?
Lawal: Glutamine is another recovery agent. You mix it with your protein powder or amino drink.
Gross: Omega Factors by Nature's Purest?
Lawal: Omega is kind of like a natural anti-inflammatory. It helps with your heart.
Gross: Endurox R(4) by Pacific Health Laboratories?
Lawal: That thing saves me, man. It keeps me from cramping up. It’s a carb drink.
Gross: Elite Recoup Amino by Dymatize?
Lawal: That’s amino acids. I mix it with my Endurox. It gives me extra amino acids.
Gross: Iron by Nature Made? That seems self-explanatory.
Lawal: Yeah, it’s Iron.
Gross: SuperVitamin B Complex with Vitamin C by Nature Made?
Lawal: It helps with the Iron absorption.
Gross: OK, and there were two that were “take only as needed.” Mass Lean Gainer by Rock Solid?
Lawal: Yeah man, I usually take that when I’m lifting. It just depends. When I’m doing rehab stuff I like to take a pill or two. One pill in the morning and one pill after I lift. That’s supposed to help you work out longer and tighten up the muscles.
Gross: And AminoCell-AKG by Nuetraceuticals?
Lawal: That’s amino acid pills. Sometimes when I travel I don’t want to travel with all the powder. If I carry the powder there’s been a few times when it comes undone in the bag, so I just carry the pill form of amino acids.
Gross: Are these the only supplements you took leading up to the Larkin fight?
Lawal: Yeah, those were the only supplements I took leading up to the Larkin fight.
Gross: So there was nothing you added during the camp for the Larkin fight that was different than previous fights? No change? Nothing that is a possible reason for the positive steroid test?
Lawal: No, there’s nothing I needed to add. That’s my whole routine right there.
Gross: What about the shot the doctor gave you, the anti-inflammatory shot for your knee. What was that?
Kogan: That’s Dexamethasone, an anti-inflammatory steroid.
Gross: So that’s different. That’s not something you take that’s normally part of your camp?
Lawal: No, that was just a thing when I came back from Brazil and Austin, my leg was swollen. I was training and my leg was swollen. I was trying to do rehab on it, lifting and leg curl extensions. My leg was still swollen and I went to the doctor. He drained my knee. He said the leg wouldn’t be better unless I got the swelling and the fluid out of the knee. So we went to him to drain it.
Gross: How many times did that happen leading up to the fight, and how far out from the fight did that take place?
Lawal: That was three weeks before the fight. Honestly, three weeks before the fight and every week leading up to the fight I was getting my knee drained.
Gross: Were you also taking Dexamethasone every week before the fight, or just the once?
Lawal: I’m going to be real with you. I turned my head when he put the needle in, so I’d lean back and close my eyes and try to focus on something else
Kogan: I spoke to the doctor, Josh, and the anti-inflammatory was only administered the first time when the most swelling was there. He pulled out almost a glass full of liquid from his knee. That’s the only time that he shot the anti-inflammatory in. From there on, including that day and every week thereafter, every time he would drain him he was injecting Orthovisc, which is the rooster cartilage lubricant. Once the anti-inflammatory took effect and then because of the constant lubricant being put in through the Orthovisc, the knee wasn’t really getting that swollen anymore. That was the only time they put that particular anti-inflammatory steroid in, just once.
Gross: Mo, you had surgery on the knee Wednesday. How are you and how was the surgery?
Lawal: I’m good. I feel good. No problem really.
Gross: What’s your recovery period and how soon would you be able to fight if you were not potentially suspended?
Lawal: What it comes down to more than anything with microfractures is how they heal. I was thinking, the last few times I came back within four to five months. So I’m thinking maybe the same. The microfractures [issue] is mostly cartilage growth. That’s the big thing there. I was hoping around four months, or sooner.
Gross: And you also had an ACL inserted into your knee, was this a major operation?
Lawal: Every time you have a knee operation I think it’s major. But one thing the doctor stressed to me is that the ACL is an issue, but it’s not that bad compared to the microfracture. Most of the thing he said as [about] cartilage. Microfracture is when they stimulate cartilage growth to the knee, I guess. He said one thing I don’t want to do is mess that up.
Gross: You’re addressing your situation in the media. What do you hope to accomplish by addressing publicly like this? Also, steroid use is an issue in mixed martial arts. Are you concerned about being labeled a steroid user, perhaps a cheater, and what effect that may have on your career?
Lawal: That’s always the issue. I don’t want to be labeled as that, but you have people that don’t like me that will say that regardless. In the public eye, you’re always guilty before innocent. All I got to do is worry about the people that have been there for me since day one, my family and my friends. I want to prove my innocence to those people first and foremost. I’ve been a clean athlete. I’m still a clean athlete. I don’t know what happened here but we’ll get to the bottom of this. I’m kind of in disbelief. I’m having a hard time eating and sleeping because of all of this. I’m just hoping the sooner we can get the ball moving, we can get my name cleared.
Gross: If you don’t have the answer to this, maybe Mike can answer. What steps, in addition to speaking to the Attorney General and giving them the list of supplements, are you planning to do in the immediate time period, and what’s the game plan?
Kogan: I’ll backtrack for a second and offer some elaboration on your last question, if you don’t mind and then I’ll give you the timetable. When the news first came out on Tuesday, obviously the first day was not the day for us to talk. I asked Mo to stay away from media and stay away from Twitter. Mainly because we spent half the day Googling to figure out what it is. The day after he had surgery and [Thursday] was really the first day we sat down, made the list up, and decided we need to send this list to the commission and also to select reporters. It’s time for us to talk to the media. The most important thing is this: there is a large group of fans that, ultimately, they hear the words “anabolic steroids” and they make up their minds -- it doesn’t matter what you say or what you do. You’re never going to change their minds. We also have a very large contingency of supporters and we feel like it’s important for them to hear from Mo directly that he’s not hiding [he’s not coming up with random excuses or some UFO stories. He’s ready to face it, ready to deal with it, ready to investigate it and try to do our best to explain it. So that’s basically all we’re trying to accomplish -- to say his side of the story.
We’re not going to address every single media outlet and let people just drive traffic to their Website. We’ve selected a handful of people that we feel have been around this sport for a long time, have a legitimate journalistic interest in anything that deals with MMA and are not just some fly-by-night spontaneous people who just want to get people to their Websites. So without doing any investigating ourselves, as soon as that list was complete and sent to the commission, you, Greg Savage [of Sherdog.com], and MMAJunkie.com got the same list. Our intention is we’re not hiding anything. We’re actually out in the open with whatever we find and whatever our process is, and allowing select media and the Attorney General’s office to follow us along in this process. Everything that we’re doing is going live. We find something, you get it and the same thing with the Attorney General’s office. The only delay was I wanted to talk to the Attorney General’s office because this is an offense that needs to be dealt with the Attorney General’s office, and that’s really the primary concern of ours. I don’t want to fight this thing in the media and create a big thing in the media without first taking the steps that are necessary in the process -- that we’re going to deal with the Attorney General’s office. I spoke to them and I said, “Listen, we’re going to release this list to select media and we want to be able to have them do their own investigating, is that going to be a problem?” They didn’t have a problem with it, so we said OK, that’s the step we’re going to take. We’re talking because we don’t have anything to hide, and we want to be sure as we find something and take the next step, then you guys are right there with it and are able to do your own assessments and conclude your own judgments.
As far as the process moving forward, there is an administrative hearing the commission has Feb. 1, and the Attorney General has informed us that they will inform the commission at that time to issue a temporary suspension pending further investigation. From last Tuesday when we were served with the papers, we have 20 days to file a response, whether that be an appeal or just an answer to their complaint. And then sometime in March, when the commission gets together for their scheduled hearing, we’ll be able to go up there and present our case. That’s the timetable we’re following. My goal between now and for the next 14 or 15 days is to narrow down what these supplements do from a chemical standpoint, not just their general conceptual use but how they break down, and see if there’s anything in there that might have caused it. And if it has to, we’ll file an answer to the commission with that. And if it doesn’t, we’ll also file an answer. Bottom line is if we don’t know, we don’t know. There’s nothing wrong with filing an answer saying, “I don’t know. Here’s what I took and nothing causes it. This is all we did.” Then face the commission and deal with it then. If we don’t find anything in these supplements that may raise a red flag, we will ask for the B Sample to be tested. We felt at this point it was premature because we don’t know what’s showing up. What’s the point of testing the B Sample if I don’t know what could have caused this? If I’m 100 percent positive that nothing he took could have caused this, then we’ll ask for a B Sample to be tested and hope that it was some kind of mistake.
As one of MMA’s most intelligent and analytical fighters, Lawal must have regretted the choice of words immediately. He’s since apologized and backed off the original statement, even though -- aside from the dreadful phrasing -- the underlying sentiment was one most people shared at the time. For much of 2011, we all assumed that Strikeforce was just playing out the string, that it would vanish at year’s end and that up-and-coming stars like Lawal would be absorbed into the UFC.
Approximately 120 days later, things look at lot different and, frankly, even more unclear.
With an extended broadcast deal reportedly struck with Showtime, Strikeforce enjoys an unexpectedly bright future as it prepares for its first show of 2012 on Saturday night. While that’s great news for the brand itself, it has to be sort of unsettling for fighters the caliber of Lawal, who is slated to fight undefeated prospect Lorenz Larkin on this weekend’s televised card.
At least back when it seemed like Strikeforce was about to go the way of the dinosaur, fighters knew where they were headed -- either to the Octagon or the independent circuit.
Now that SF will reportedly live out this year, guys like Lawal, Luke Rockhold and Tyron Woodley must feel condemned to continued time in limbo. Indefinitely confined to an organization that has seen its end date extended, but has yet to feel any more vital or relevant than it did in September, when Lawal initially pronounced it terminally ill.
Dana White has promised change, a worthwhile working environment for fighters and a positive experience for fans. That change could well still be coming, but at least on paper, Strikeforce’s first offering of 2012 doesn’t feel any different.
There are some interesting matchups -- Lawal versus Larkin and Woodley’s bout with Jordan Mein probably chief among them -- but Rockhold’s middleweight title defense against Keith Jardine feels downright nonsensical as a main event and there has been typically little promotional buildup. Stuck as it is between last weekend’s UFC 141 and next weekend’s UFC 142, this event threatens to get totally lost in the shuffle. Especially with Zuffa planning a show every weekend during January.
For now, fighters and executives alike are putting a brave face on things. If there’s one constant in fight sports, it’s that you can count on everyone involved in a bad and frustrating situation to insist it’s neither bad, nor frustrating until after the fact. Especially when that seems like the best way to continue getting paid.
But if change is truly coming to Strikeforce, well, it needs to hurry up and get here. If it doesn’t, it might be tempting to think the organization is still just playing out the string.
A much, much longer but similar looking string.
Well, yesterday, along with Strikeforce’s Scott Coker and Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza, he finally dished what’s been burbling behind the scenes between a Ken Herschman-less Showtime and the UFC and Strikeforce and all the contents therein.
What was it? Let’s just say it was the right kind of stuff to make our socks remain snug on our feet.
The gist was this: Strikeforce lives. Nobody’s absorbing anything. There will be six to eight Strikeforce events airing on Showtime in 2012, to go along with the fat bank of 32 UFC events that, if slapped on a two-page spread, would look like a United Airlines destination map. This kicks off Jan. 7 with a middleweight title tilt between Luke Rockhold and Keith Jardine. As for the belt vacancies in other weight classes? You’ll have to stay tuned.
Strikeforce not only lives, but it will operate as a non-feeder league. Viable on its own. A second port for the industry’s best. The women’s division will remain intact (in fact, will be glorified). Miesha Tate, Ronda Rousey, Cristiane Santos, Gina Carano (presumably) -- these are the network stars. And the rest of Strikeforce will stay pursuant of the top global talent, so long as you cut a reasonably lean figure.
That’s because the heavyweight division will be disbanded after Josh Barnett and Daniel Cormier sign off on the heavyweight grand prix, and of all the participants to that tournament, none of them will assuredly graduate to the UFC (though some surely will). Rather, the Barnett/Cormier winner will have one more fight in the heavyweight division, a cryptic prelude to something up somebody’s sleeve. Otherwise, there was no satisfactory answer as to why the heavyweight division will be phased out. Yet the hunch is that the UFC will deepen its heavyweight division by integrating its strongest pieces. Let’s face it, even if the Strikeforce/UFC heavies are consolidated, it’s a division that still lacks depth. But it’ll be a lot deeper than it is now.
As for lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez? He remains an island. A totally stoked, rich, tourist-unfriendly island just off the coast of the archipelago islands known as the Coveted Elite. Who will he face? Jorge Masvidal this weekend, then some opponents who, we are assured, will keep him happy for something like forever. The details on Melendez grow vague from there so, as is the common refrain from Dana White, “we’ll have to see what happens.”
The light heavyweight division -- arguably the strongest in Strikeforce with the most thievable pieces -- will rev along as is. That means Gegard Mousasi, Rafael Cavalcante, Muhammed Lawal and Ovince St. Preux are still the bedrock. Lorenz Larkin will be knocking. This is the lushest patch in the Strikeforce garden.
And all the rest is still being determined. The bottom line is there will be 40 weekends in 2012 with Zuffa cards. This is good news for MMA volumists, those who can’t get enough. This is horrific news for Sean Shelby, who as a matchmaker in both organizations will spend the heft of 2012 staring out an airplane window wondering about home.
But in the end, the news was that Strikeforce will go on, and Showtime will harbor it.
As for all the speculative matchmaking between Strikeforce’s hemmed-in best and those in the UFC? Not going to happen, which couldn’t help but make these new revelations a little bittersweet.
Mo knows Jackson. He wants Jackson. Jackson wants Japan. Mo loves Japan. Jackson likes yen-to-American dollar conversion rates. Mo called Jackson an Uncle Tom for, amongst other things, hating on multi-syllabic words.
Talk about pulchritudinous. If all that doesn’t translate into something worthwhile, what does?
The gutters are about to start running over with Strikeforce’s best sloshing their way toward the UFC. It wouldn’t be surprising if Dec. 17 is the last big Strikeforce card, at least for things like “championship belts” being contested over. If Strikeforce becomes a feeder league, as some suspect it might, Lawal is already well past prospect level. If it folds completely, that doesn’t change the basic fact that King Mo exists (though Dana White has sort of disputed this).
Everybody knows that Strikeforce has become a foster home, and that the UFC is the mansion on the hill with all the spoiled children. Lawal, like others in the less desirable circumstance, wants to make his way over there and smack somebody in the mouth. What’s not to appreciate? And realistically, Lawal versus Jackson would be a fun fight both leading up and in actuality. Lawal would happily stand and bang with Jackson, and that’s all Jackson ever asked for. Somebody to throw “bungalows” with. That Lawal can wrestle only intensifies the settings.
We know that Jackson requested a fight with Mauricio Rua for the Feb. 26 card in Japan. Jackson probably forgot (or didn't care) that Rua has a fight lined up with Dan Henderson on Nov. 19. It’s possible that Rua loses to Henderson and a fight with Jackson looks attractive enough. But from a fetish standpoint of build-up -- the fight game’s bread and butter -- Rua is always polite and Lawal, to use his own words, likes to “keep things 100.” In fact, he’s already barking.
“This fool Rampage calls me out, and then people get mad when I respond?” he told MMA Fighting’s Ben Fowlkes. “[Jackson]’s a b---- in my eyes, because he didn’t respond. Maybe he’ll respond later, but the word is he wants to fight ‘Shogun.' That’s whatever. But he called me out, so I’m going to respond.”
Lawal’s contract is up in February. If he’s not on the December card, he won’t likely be fighting before then anyway. If it’s not Rua and Jackson in Japan, it should be Lawal and Jackson, two former champions who’d never allow things to be anything other than thoroughly entertaining.