A lot of MMA fans don't know "King" Mo Lawal yet. They will. The charismatic wrestler has fought four of his five pro fights in Japan for Sengoku, but with a multi-fight deal with Strikeforce, is ready to take the world by storm. A legitimate world class wrestler who was an Olympic contender for the United States, Mo seems to be a natural in the cage. The sky is the limit for Mo, even fights at heavyweight. He talked with Heavy.com about wrestling, Quinton Jackson, and why Youtube renders television obsolete.
Heavy.com: How does it feel to be moving up to Strikeforce, on television, bringing your career to the big stage?
King Mo: I'm just excited to be in Strikeforce. The TV shit don't matter because they've got youtube. You know what I'm saying? If people want to see me fight they can go on youtube. I'm not trippin about the whole nationwide TV thing. I just want to win, that's all.
Heavy.com: We were talking before about how you are willing to take fights on short notice. Is that because your wrestling skill and athleticism makes you a good matchup against anybody?
King Mo: And my MMA knowledge. I watch so much film, I'm ready for anything. I watch a lot of film. People think I just go out there and it comes naturally but there's a method to my madness. Smarts? I think I have them. I may not be the most technical fighter, but it's coming.
Heavy.com: When you watch film how is it different than the way fans watch. When I'm watching I might just see a guy getting knocked out, but you're looking at something else all together.
King Mo: Footwork, rhythm, body language. I never watch anything as a fan until after. When I first watch a fight I'm breaking it down. Then I'm like 'Okay, I got it now.' Then I can just sit down and enjoy the fight. I break down everything first now. MMA, boxing, K-1, small bum fights, wrestling matches. I love to watch and I store it all up here in my brain.
Heavy.com: When did you know in your head, in your heart, that you were going to be a fighter. I know you were wrestling for much of your life. Were you fighting too?
King Mo: I started wrestling when I was fifteen. So I started late. As far as fighting, I loved to fight when I was young. I didn't know it was going to be my life. Back then it was Vale Tudo or NHB. No holds barred. But when mixed martial arts came around and it was a real thing, that's like a dream come true. Because I love fighting.
Heavy.com: Before your last big fight I interviewed Don Frye and then I interviewed Mark Kerr when he replaced him. Why were you picking on old guys?
King Mo: I didn't search them out you know? M-1 needed a fighter and I was three months out of ACL surgery. People don't know that. A complete reconstruction. I was supposed to be out 6-8 months but I came back and tested my knee.
Heavy.com: I didn't see anything wrong with that fight. I don't know if fans realize how new you are to MMA?
King Mo: I've also only been fighting for a year. A little over a year. People assume I'm a veteran. They don't complain about Dave Herman, who has more fights than me and has been fighting for a few years, fighting Don Frye. No backlash. Jeff Monson fought Mark Kerr. Jeff Monson's been around for a long time. But for some reason I guess people think I'm a veteran trying to go around and get easy hype. When I don't. You don't see me going out there and throwing my name out all the time. I don't care.
Heavy.com: How fast are you learning. You've only had a few fights under your belt, but it seems to me that you're picking this up scary fast.
King Mo: I don't have that much ring time but I've always been exposed to the sport. I watch so much footage as a fan when I was younger. I started noticing things. I would see Nogueira always get the triangle choke, see how he'd control the wrist. He'd push one hand down, bring the leg up. He had good transitions. I started watching more and more and saying 'I see what these guys are doing.' I watched everything to break it down like that. So I've been exposed to MMA for awhile.
Heavy.com: Besides watching on tape, who have you worked out with in the gym that has shown you the ropes? Who has been your mentor in the sport?
King Mo: Everybody I work with! Junior Dos Santos. Rogerio and Rodrigo. Mayhem Miller, Benji Radach, Dan Cormier. Werdum, Pitbull, JZ, Santiago. It's a long list of people. Babalu, Alberto Crane, Dan Henderson, Matt Lindland, Chael Sonnen, Ryan Schultz. Want me to keep on going? Because I can keep on going.
Heavy.com: They used to call Carlos Newton the "Ronin" because he went from here to there, but that's everyone in the sport. I heard Florida, California, Oregon up in there…
King Mo: Oh, and Nathan Marquardt, Kevin Jackson, Kenny Monday…
Heavy.com: So Colorado too?
King Mo: Yeah, I lived in Colorado for two and a half years. Elliot Marshall. GSP was there, worked out with him. Everybody I worked out with I learned something from.
Heavy.com: So many of those guys are submission grappler and jiu jitsu wizards. How hard was it for you, coming from amateur wrestling, to pick up that part of the game?
King Mo: It's been fairly easy because I've been around it. The first time I cornered somebody in MMA was back in 2000. It was King of the Cage in Ontario and I was 20. I've been around MMA for awhile, I just never did it because I was so focused on wrestling.
Heavy.com: You've been around wrestling so long, since you were a teenager. What did it mean for you to fight Mark Kerr? Does his pedigree and his legend cross your mind when you step in against him?
King Mo: The thing is, NCAA champions come a dime a dozen. To me NCAA champion is a joke. I don't care about that. It's a different level when you hit the world scene. International wrestling. That's where you become a man. Mark Kerr was good, but he hasn't wrestled in so long. After five years, once you stop competing and working out with world class athletes, your skills deteriorate. Look at Dan Henderson, Matt Lindland, and Randy Couture. Those guys get taken down by guys that have never wrestled before. If you haven't trained wrestling in awhile, your skills deteriorate. Same thing with jiu jitsu and boxing.
Heavy.com: Training for MMA can mess up your wrestling too, because the stance is so different. Has striking messed with your stance and wrestling balance at all?
King Mo: I just like to see what they do. If they act a certain way, I'll shoot. If they don't, I'll stand and punch. If they kick, I'll catch the leg. I'm real unorthodox, but I can be because I see things real well. I see it all.
Heavy.com: I see you on the internet and your videos. What is the image you are trying to put out to the world?
King Mo: I don't know. I just try to be me. I don't know about the image. I just want to be me, keep it real, have fun. People say I'm this and that. People can say what they want. They don't know me. I just keep it real and be me. I represent myself and my family.
Heavy.com: Do people take it all too seriously? You are trying to have fun, but so much of this sport is focused on respect and some kind of old school martial arts code.
King Mo: They want me to be like Cro Cop or Fedor [Yawns dramatically]. Works for them, not Mo. I can't do that. They say 'Why's Mo do this, why's Mo do that?' Whatever. Like the whole thing with me and Rampage.
Heavy.com: You took a lot of heat for that, saying Rampage was nothing but a stereotype, a minstrel show.
King Mo: I have no problem with Rampage. But when that happened, I'm not going to be disrespected as a man. I'm a fighter too. I'm not going to let someone say they're better than me. The fact that I stood up to him rubbed people the wrong way. I'm an athlete. I'm not going to let somebody come up in my face and say they're better than me. That might work with other people, but not me. I'm a competitor. I can't sit in the backseat.
Heavy.com: When you go forward in this sport, do you see yourself as a light heavyweight?
King Mo: Light heavyweight or heavyweight.
King Mo: I'm both. I feel like I have the kind of skillset to beat bigger guys.
Heavy.com: People say you're too small, but the best heavyweight of all time is Fedor and he's smaller than most light heavyweights.
King Mo: That's it. Size don't matter if you have the proper skillset. I think Anderson Silva could give a lot of these heavyweights a good go. It's about the proper skillset, proper mindframe, build, athleticism, good conditioning, good range, good timing, reflexes, everything. He does it all. If he needs to beat a bigger man he will. It can be Brock Lesnar, Fedor, anybody. I have the right skillset and with the proper gameplan, if you execute that gameplan perfectly, you will defeat that man.
Heavy.com: What can people expect out of you against Mike Whitehead?
King Mo: They can expect me to go out there, lay it on the line, have fun. Try to get that victory. A 'W.'
Heavy.com: Is this a step up in competition for you?
King Mo: Not really. Everyone poses a challenge, but I think Travis Wiuff was the toughest guy I've fought. Whitehead comes from the Ultimate Fighter world, so he has that name. But what has he really done besides that compared to Travis? I think he's good, but my strengths matchup well with his weaknesses. I can take whatever he gives up.