For a man who’s only competed eight times in professional MMA, Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal has had a very remarkable career. While I generally believe it’s harmful to have a fighter debut against a very tough opponent, that’s exactly what Lawal did, as his pro debut took place against Travis Wiuff in Sengoku. Then Lawal beat Wiuff by TKO at 2:11 of the first round. As might be expected, that earned him a lot of attention.
Lawal has an extremely good wrestling pedigree, as he won an NCAA Division II national wrestling championship, and followed that with a third-place finish in Division I the following year. But having a great wrestling pedigree is no guarantee of success: wrestlers who lack significant skills in other fight disciplines may get by the lower levels of the sport, but will falter against tougher opposition. Lawal, on the other hand, has already shown competent skills in both striking and grappling: despite his relative inexperience, he’s a well-rounded mixed martial artist.
And after beating Wiuff and fighters like Mike Whitehead and especially Gegard Mousasi, Lawal is considered to be an “elite” fighter according to SILVA, with a SILVA score of 45.24. This rates Lawal fourth in the world in the light-heavyweight division, behind only Rashad Evans, Phil Davis, and Lyoto Machida. This is despite Lawal’s loss in his last fight, to Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante.
Now, Lawal will take on a very intriguing opponent: Roger Gracie, one of the truly best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners in the world. But that’s not the only reason that Gracie is an intriguing opponent. Gracie is currently 4-0 in professional MMA, and like Lawal, he got his start facing some tough opponents:
- Ron Waterman, 65.59 Victory Score
- Yuki Kondo, 63.10
- Kevin Randleman, 57.71
- Trevor Prangley, 72.08
Starting 4-0 against this level of opposition is almost unheard of in the sport. And if Gracie beats Lawal, it’ll be his fifth fight, and he’ll qualify for a SILVA score. This SILVA score will be an astronomical 50.87. That would put Gracie behind only Evans and Davis in the light-heavyweight division.
So what we have here, and I don’t think many are catching on to it, is a secretly very high-level fight between an elite light-heavyweight in Lawal and a fighter who could be argued is elite in Gracie. On top of that, it presents a very interesting dilemma for Lawal, who may be dissuaded from trying to take Gracie down, in fear that he would be overwhelmed on the ground. Now, I do think Lawal’s ground game is better than Trevor Prangley, and much better than Gracie’s other opponents, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that Lawal would be able to survive against such a high-level grappler, let alone actually win a fight with the ground game.
I anticipate that, instead of using his wrestling to take Gracie down, Lawal will use his wrestling to keep this fight standing. While Lawal has shown himself to be a capable, if unremarkable, striker, Gracie’s striking game is largely unknown. For the most part, Gracie has been very successful in getting his opponents to the ground and submitting them.
No SILVA prediction for this one, as Gracie needs one more fight to qualify, but I’m going to go with the (slightly) more proven commodity in Lawal to win. Until Gracie shows that he has tools to go on top of his jiu-jitsu, I have to pick Lawal to win, as I think Lawal is fully capable of keeping this fight standing and winning a striking battle. But really, this is a pick that is born out of a lack of information more than anything else: I’m going with Lawal because I have a better idea of what he’s capable of than I have with Gracie. Hopefully the fight on Saturday night will show us a lot more of what each fighter has to offer.