When Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal arrived in Bellator MMA in early 2013, his ascent to the top of the Light Heavyweight division seemed per-ordained. His debut in Thackerville, Oklahoma was described as “an easy KO” on this very website. Unfortunately for the former Strikeforce champion, the hype train went off the tracks when “The Hardcore Kid” Emanuel Newton smacked him with a spinning backfist for an easy KO of his own.

A flamboyant and confident Lawal was not going to let that upset victory slow his roll. Bellator seemingly crafted a “Summer Series” around King Mo precisely for the purpose of getting him back into title contention, and Lawal did not disappoint. He returned to Thackerville on June 19 to face another upset artist in “Silverback” Seth Petruzelli, the man who knocked out Kimbo Slice, hoping to erase the sting of defeat with another signature win. Lawal only needed 95 seconds to leap into Petruzelli with a knockout shot.

That 205 lb. tournament semifinal victory moved him to the finals of the hastily assembled bracket to face Jacob Noe a month later at Bellator 97. This time it took Lawal two and a half rounds to finish his opponent, despite having called Noe “a bitch” in a pre-fight interview. When a shot at the world champion is on the line in the finals, even the opponent you dismiss as not being on your level is motivated to give it everything they’ve got.

Winning the “Summer Series” earned Lawal a chance at a world title shot, and when current champion Attila Vegh wasn’t available, the promotion made the deal even sweeter for King Mo. They created an interim Light Heavyweight title and put it on the line at Bellator 106 in Long Beach, California on November 2, 2013. His opponent? The man who gave him his first defeat in the promotion — Emanuel Newton. It was a chance at both revenge and a title.

Lawal came out strong in round one. He scored with takedowns and Newton missed with his signature spinning backfist. Lawal delivered a well timed knee to the body that took the wind out of his opponent’s sails, nearly giving him the opportunity to finish the fight fast. Newton managed to make it to the bell but Lawal had proved his point by not succumbing to what he believed was another fluke knockout.

Newton was taken down and mounted in round two, gave up side control to Lawal, but managed to escape that dangerous position and quickly responded by rocking Lawal with a head kick. Both men decided to rely on their striking at that point, but Newton got the better of the exchanges standing and had evened up the scorecards heading to Round 3.

With the rematch having five round potential as opposed to their previous bout, this was a whole new ballgame for both men, but each seemed to have dumped their gas tanks out over the last ten minutes. Lawal worked the jab, Newton worked the body shots, and occasionally tried to spin and land something flashy. Even though Lawal was huffing and puffing at times he seemed to be hurting Newton more, and by going for a guillotine choke late left an impression on the judges that he was in charge.

“The Hardcore Kid” was far from done. As he had done in the first fight, Lawal was getting cocky and leaving his hands low, smiling at Newton even when the head shots connected. That’s usually a sign you’re pretending you didn’t just get hurt when you did. Newton tagged Lawal repeatedly with kicks, stuffed a takedown, and cracked King Mo’s chin with a hard uppercut. Lawal was in bad shape as Round 4 wound down, throwing wild strikes that connected with nothing but air.

If Lawal wanted revenge let alone the interim title he’d have to dig deep in the final round. Wrestlers often go to what brought them to the dance in these situations and Lawal certainly tried, going for a takedown attempt and getting Newton’s back, but he didn’t have enough energy left to drag him to the ground. Newton patiently picked his shots with leg kicks and a spinning back kick, accruing damage as the round wore on. Lawal got a late takedown that Newton quickly stood up from. Would any judge believe Lawal won Round 5?

As it turned out they didn’t even believe he had won two rounds let alone the final one of the bout. By a unanimous decision of 49-46 X3, Emanuel Newton became the newest Bellator MMA champion, frustrating “King Mo” for a second time. As Mick Jagger once famously opined, “You can’t always get what you want.” Bellator may have wanted the charismatic Lawal as their champ as much as he wanted to be champ but it wasn’t meant to be at Bellator 106 nor at any point in the future.

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