Sports is a form of entertainment. Grasping that reality is something that can be difficult for athletes, as they are predisposed to the competition side of the business.

But not Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal. Not only does Lawal understand the importance of putting on a show, he embraces it. It’s what has made him a perfect fit for Bellator MMA, as well as Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA).

Yet, it goes much deeper than that for the 32-year-old. As a lifelong athlete, he’s experienced the ins and outs of the sports business. Never the type to hold back, Lawal is more than candid about the world of MMA.

“For me, it’s all about making money and entertaining the people that watch it,” he admitted in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “Hopefully people start to open their eyes up and don’t just be groupies toward a brand. Some people are so stuck on the brand that they’re clueless, they’re idiots. It’s not about the organization, it’s about what you do and how much money you can make.”

As the former light heavyweight champion of Zuffa-owned Strikeforce, as well as a veteran of Japan’s Sengoku promotion, Lawal has seen the politics involved in combat sports. In fact, it wasn’t just the chance to join TNA that led him to sign with Bellator in May of last year, but the promotion’s tournament format.

Lawal (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

“It’s not like [Bellator CEO] Bjorn [Rebney] picks who fights who,” said Lawal. “If you keep winning, you’re going to fight nothing but winners.”

Lawal’s Bellator debut came in January as part of the Season Eight Light Heavyweight Tournament quarterfinals. As the favorite heading into the eight-man tournament, few were surprised when he dispatched of Przemyslaw Mysiala by first-round knockout. But few, if any, could have predicted the outcome of his semifinal match-up with Emanuel Newton just one month later at Bellator 90.

After dictating the pace for the first two minutes of the fight, Lawal found himself on the receiving end of an unexpected spinning backfist from Newton. The punch knocked Lawal out and resulted in just the second loss of his career.

“I think it’s one of those fluky things that happens in the sport,” declared Lawal. “I was beating him, controlling him. He was looking jittery, feeling scared. I was looking to set up a right hand, stepped aside, and then he threw that spinning backfist while running away from me.

“Most of the time when someone throws a spinning backfist, they do it when they’re moving forward—I would’ve been prepared for that. They don’t turn away from you and then throw it. That’s the equivalent of just ducking your head, closing your eyes, throwing an overhand right, a left hook, and another right hand, hoping one of them lands.

“He threw it out of fear. He didn’t know what happened, just like I didn’t,” Lawal said with a lighthearted laugh.

While the loss to Newton spurned plenty of trash talk from pundits and armchair fighters, Lawal took the defeat in stride, even comparing it to another infamous—and equally unexpected—combat sports upset.

“A loss is a loss,” he quipped. “It’s happened before in wrestling. It’s happened to me in football. To me, it’s not a big deal. It happens in sports. Mike Tyson versus Buster Douglas, that’s all I have to say.”

Following the loss, some were critical of Lawal’s decision to participate in professional wrestling in addition to his fight career. Many hinted that wrestling was hindering Lawal’s training regimen, but the fighter is quick to dispatch that notion.

“My main goal is MMA,” he adamantly proclaimed. “[About] 99.8 percent of the time I’m doing MMA. The other 0.2 percent, I’m doing pro wrestling. I spend only about an hour or two a week doing pro wrestling training; that’s it. People think that I’m on the road and stuff, but I’m not.

“My goal is to have the Bellator belt. Then after that I can worry about getting the TNA belt as well.”

While Lawal’s primary focus is on his fight career, it doesn’t mean that his situation with Bellator and TNA won’t spurn more combatants to follow his path. Just recently, another larger-than-life MMA persona, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, followed suit and inked a contract with both companies. Although Lawal and the former UFC champion didn’t always see eye-to-eye, fans could see them joining forces in the future.

Lawal (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

“We’re cool now,” he explained. “We actually talked about being tag team partners on TNA. I think it’s a great signing on the behalf of Bellator and TNA.”

Reiterating his stance of making money and putting on a show for the fans, Lawal isn’t against the idea of fighting Jackson.

“If we get a chance to fight each other, let’s do it. I’m down,” expressed the fighter.

Before Lawal can worry about his TNA obligations or the prospect of fighting Jackson in the Bellator cage, he’s got a more pressing task at hand: the Summer Series Light Heavyweight Tournament. Unlike Bellator’s past tournaments, the Summer Series will deviate from the eight-man format to expedite new title challengers. Just two wins will earn a fighter a title shot.

On Wednesday, June 19, Lawal will face off against UFC veteran Seth Petruzelli at Bellator 96 in Thackerville, Okla. The pair will serve as the headlining attraction for the promotion’s first event in two months. With the Newton loss still fresh in the minds of Lawal’s critics, don’t expect the wrestling stalwart to underestimate Petruzelli.

“He’s a tough veteran,” Lawal said of the man known as the “Silverback.” “I have to get past him to get to the finals.”

If Lawal can bounce back against Petruzelli, he’ll be one step closer to a potential rematch with Newton, who went on to win the previous tournament. Newton will face current 205-pound champion Attila Vegh later this year to determine who the Summer Series winner will face for the title.

“I’m always motivated, so there’s not extra motivation to fight Newton again,” said Lawal. “I’m hoping he can get the belt, but he has his hands full with Attila.

“Regardless, we are going to cross paths sooner or later. All he has to do is win and all I have to do is win.”

Already armed with a firm grasp on the entertainment side of the sport, Lawal has another opportunity to move closer to his goal of capturing Bellator gold. Even if he should fall short, expect him to put on a show along the way .

Mo would like to thank Alden and Jonah of MMA Elite, Nutrition Zone in San Diego, TNA Wrestling, Ohio Valley Wrestling and his coach Trailer Park Trash, Shannon Knapp and Invicta FC, Legacy Fighting, and everybody out there doing something positive and trying to make things better for themselves and the people around them. Follow him on Twitter: @KingMoFH

Top Photo: Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

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