'King Mo' Lawal on juggling combat sports: 'MMA is a lot easier than pro wrestling'
Lawal playfully admits WWE superstar AJ Styles stole his finishing move back in their TNA days
When Bellator MMA light heavyweight Muhammad "King Mo" Lawal speaks out about something in the world of combat sports, there's little doubt he's coming from a place of knowledge.
The former NCAA All-American wrestler at Oklahoma State was an MMA champion at 205 pounds with Strikeforce and is also a huge boxing fan who trains with coach Jeff Mayweather, the former pro boxer and uncle of Floyd Mayweather. Lawal also knows a thing or two about pro wrestling, having performed sporadically with TNA (Total Impact Wrestling) from 2012-2015.
Lawal, 36, looked back on the difficulty of his original WWE tryout in 2007, remembering that initial feeling of taking his first bump.
"I said this and I'm going to say it again -- MMA is a lot easier than pro wrestling. Hands down, hands down," Lawal said. "There are times that I fought three times in two nights [in MMA]. Whatever. And then I went home, took a week off and trained again. I did three matches in two days at OVW [Ohio Valley Wrestling, WWE's former development territory ] and I was sore for two and a half weeks. I mean sore. … That's when I realized maybe wrestling wasn't for me."
Lawal turned down WWE's offer in 2007 and instead pursued an MMA career. But after UFC purchased the Strikeforce promotion in 2011 (dissolving it less than two years later), Lawal signed with Bellator in 2012 and simultaneously inked a deal with TNA to wrestle (both promotions aired on Spike TV).
But back in 2007, "King Mo" admits he was a wide-eyed mark when he got off the plane in Kentucky for his WWE tryout alongside fellow prospect Brock Lesnar protege Brandon Eggum (now the University of Minnesota head wrestling coach). He was instantly put to work by the likes of coaches Tom Prichard, Jim Cornette and Al Snow.
"The bumps were not a big thing, it's just hitting the ropes and taking a bump," Lawal said. "That's what got me because when you hit the ropes and you do that little shoulder tackle spot, I missed that a few times and hit the back of my head on the mat. And guess what you people, the mat isn't soft. It's wood, metal and a small piece of styrofoam.
"In OVW, they have had the same ring and haven't changed nothing out of that ring since they first opened. So it's the same ring they had. I was hurting, the heels are hurting, my neck, back and hips."
You can listen to the full interview with "King Mo" below.
Coming from an amateur wrestling background, Lawal said he was "gung ho" and attempted to hit every move and spot at full speed while thinking, "the more you put in, the more quality you get out of it." But the physical grind caught up with him quick.
"I'll never forget the second time around Al Snow had us doing five-hour workouts and practices," Lawal said. "Body slams, chops, jumping over the ropes and jumping through the ropes, and taking duplexes … I'll put it like this -- I got chopped 30 times during that workout and my chest was bleeding. They don't feel good at all."
Lawal would later return to OVW, which became a TNA territory, after signing his deal. He went on to make occasional appearances for the promotion, including a special guest enforcer role in the Bobby Roode-James Storm street fight at Bound for Glory in 2012 and as a heel in Dixie Carter's "Team Dixie" stable in 2014.
Looking back on his TNA run, Lawal likes to point out that it was AJ Styles, the former TNA star and current WWE United States champion, who secretly "borrowed" a finishing move from "King Mo" that is still a main part of his repertoire today as the calf crusher.
"Let me put it like this -- AJ Styles stole my calf slicer move," Lawal said. "You can ask Al Snow, we were going over the move and I hit it in the match and got the submission win. Three weeks later, I see AJ Styles hit it. Now AJ Styles is a great wrestler so he can do whatever he wants."
After a two-year break, Lawal returned to Impact Wrestling, which has been rebranded Global Force Wrestling, at Slammiversary XV in June when he was in the corner of Bobby Lashley, his MMA teammate at American Top Team in Florida. Lashley fought in the main event against current GFW champion Alberto El Patron.
Lawal believes a return to pro wrestling is definitely in his future.
"It's going to come back, man. Let me tell you, I put in that work," Lawal said. "I'm hoping that [GFW] will bring me back for some more. I've been talking to Jeff Jarrett. We'll see what's up. Him and Karen, they are cool people. Hopefully they can use me but if they don't, I'd love to go do some Ring of Honor."
Lawal remains an ardent fan of wrestling and considers Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega, Hangman Page and the Young Bucks as his favorite performers. No surprise considering his legitimate fighting background, he also prefers the styles of New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), Ring of Honor and GFW as his favorite promotions.
"You know why? Because they have more of an independent feel and they wrestle harder," Lawal said. "You see more variety of wrestling with higher spots. People call them spot monkeys but I enjoy watching them. You see different styles.
"You see guys from AAA [in Mexico] and then you see guys from Lucha [Underground] and they are all together. And then you see BOLA [Battle of Los Angeles] over at PWG [Pro Wrestling Guerrilla]. I like that. I feel like WWE had the same thing with NXT but then once they go to the big stage [of WWE's main roster] things get watered down.
"It's not just [overly] scripted but it's the style. I like the stiff and strong style like New Japan and Ring of Honor. And now you're starting to see it more with Global Force and hopefully WWE starts to catch up on that. The stiff style, the strong style is the way to go."
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