Bellator 96 kicks off the 2013 Summer Series this Wednesday night, live from Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla. Headlining the card will be Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal facing off against UFC veteran Seth Petruzelli. Both fighters are coming into the cage off of TKO losses in the Bellator Season-Eight Light Heavyweight Tournament earlier this year.

Lawal is a larger-than-life television personality who has had a career in pro wrestling dating back to the mid-2000’s. He is a decorated amateur wrestler, even though in MMA he’s considered a striker. King Mo was all the hype going into the semifinals of the tournament before being stopped in the first round by Emanuel Newton, ending his hopes and adding another chapter of relative unknowns advancing to the finals of Bellator’s tournament format.

Petruzelli is a lifelong martial artist who has been training in MMA since graduating high school. He holds black belts in two different arts and has fought in the UFC, EliteXC, King of the Cage and, most recently, Bellator. Petruzelli has been a MMA fighter for his entire adult life, with a career dating back to August 2000, when King Mo was still in college.

Both men are entering the four-man summer tournament with a lot to prove and everything to lose. Whoever loses this match is going to be hard-pressed to find a job with a reputable organization, making this a fight that is not to be missed.

Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Wrestling: Lawal – 10, Petruzelli – 9

Whereas pro wrestling is not the type of wrestling that translates to MMA, amateur wrestling—meaning from the young children’s competitions all the way up to the Olympics—is a very important skill to have, and both fighters can boast that skill set. However, although Petruzelli did get offered a wrestling scholarship right out of high school, he went right into MMA as a teenager and skipped college altogether. This was not the case for King Mo.

Lawal was a NCAA Division II wrestling champion out of the University of Central Oklahoma as a junior, before transferring to Oklahoma State University. As a Division I wrestler at OSU, he became a Big-12 Conference champion and earned All-American status. After college, he continued to compete in amateur wrestling, earning three gold medals in freestyle wrestling at the 2005, 2006 and 2008 U.S. National Championships and one gold at the 2007 Pan-American Championships. It was also after college that Lawal began his career as a pro wrestler, before eventually turning to MMA after missing a spot on the 2008 Olympic team.

Needless to say, Lawal’s wrestling skills and pedigree are light years beyond anything Petruzelli brings to the table. However, even though they are in the same weight class and same height, Petruzelli is a big, powerful fighter who has experience at the heavyweight level, as does Lawal. Petruzelli utilizes his wrestling skills more in the clinch than on the ground, but King Mo capitalizes on his technique in the ground-and-pound department.

Although Petruzelli has locked horns with bigger guys in the past, King Mo will definitely overcome in the wrestling department.

Striking: Lawal – 10, Petruzelli – 10

Lawal might be the superior wrestler, but his opponent is no joke on his feet. Not only does Petruzelli bring a third-degree black belt in karate and pro kickboxing experience to the table, the 33-year-old also has 12 knockout wins in his 21-fight pro career. Petruzelli is also a kickboxing instructor at his Orlando, Fla., gym, The Jungle MMA & Fitness. His most recent knockout was a first-round stoppage of Ricco Rodriguez, and his most notable was his 14-second finish of Kimbo Slice on short notice. It was the first loss of Slice’s MMA career. However, King Mo is no Kimbo Slice.

Lawal, even with his decorated background in wrestling, is also somewhat of a knockout artist. Training out of American Kickboxing Academy with guys like UFC heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez, Phil Baroni and Mike Kyle, King Mo is working out with some world-class strikers. He also has some experience training at Mayweather Boxing Club and has finished seven of his nine pro MMA wins by knockout.

Both of these men are power strikers, but Petruzelli’s striking game is more well-rounded with better speed, while King Mo is more of a straight puncher. They are each coming off of recent TKO losses, but King Mo’s was a knockout that a typical kickboxer like Petruzelli would be slightly more prepared for. Mo was a favorite to win the Bellator Season-Eight Light Heavyweight Tournament until Emanuel Newton caught him cold with a spinning backfist, something not typically taught at a boxing gym.

If this fight stays standing, the nod could go either way. Both men are first-round finishers in the striking department. The biggest difference will be Petruzelli’s better use of kickboxing versus Lawal’s more boxing-oriented style.

Submission Grappling: Lawal – 9, Petruzelli – 10

Wrestling and striking are an easy comparison between these two pros, but the comparison of submission grappling skills gets a little fuzzy.

King Mo has zero submission experience, outside of his pro wrestling act. He has never submitted anyone, nor has he been submitted. When the fight hits the mat, it’s all about using his wrestling to hold his opponent down to grind out a TKO. He has no formal training in BJJ, judo or any other submission grappling belt system.

Petruzelli does hold a black belt in BJJ, but he doesn’t utilize these skills very often. As alluded to, he is more of a striking-oriented fighter. However, Petruzelli does have a submission win and four submission losses, so he’s not afraid to fight on the ground. Luckily for him, if he can utilize his BJJ to overcome King Mo’s wrestling, Mo won’t have much to offer him in the way of submission attacks.

For nothing other than formal training and experience in the submission game, Petruzelli takes the nod in submission grappling.

X-factor

The X-factor here is King Mo’s last loss. When Newton caught him with that spinning backfist, it had to light a fire in his belly. Mo was the favorite to win the Bellator tournament and that loss was a crushing blow to his plans for glory. One can be sure he will not let that happen again. Pro wrestling might be a spectacle that doesn’t really apply to MMA, but King Mo’s background in real wrestling competition is not to be overlooked. He is a tough competitor with a big gas tank who has held wrestling gold, Strikeforce gold, and is on the quest for Bellator gold.

Total: Lawal – 29, Petruzelli – 29

Verdict: The marquee fight for Bellator 96 is a tough nut to crack. For both Lawal and Petruzelli, this is a must-win. Lawal definitely holds the upper hand, because both men are striking-oriented fighters, but Lawal’s wrestling is extremely handy in the clinch and on the mat. That wrestling background will also provide him with more stamina to overcome Petruzelli. Petruzelli utilizes his wrestling background in the clinch almost exclusively, but Lawal could prove troublesome should they go to the cage. With King Mo having a lot more on the line, he will come in prepared to take this one in the first with a nasty TKO.

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

About The Author

Dan Kuhl
Interview Coordinator