Never has Muhammed Lawal doubted his ability to compete at the highest levels and become MMA’s best 205-pound fighter -- and he is not about to do so now.
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.