When former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal signed a multi-fight deal with Bellator Fighting Championships, many wondered if he would be willing to go through one of the company's tournaments to earn a shot at the title or if he would be handed the fight on day one.
See, Lawal is one of the biggest free agent signings Bellator has made, so with his star power and charisma it would be easy to put him in against the champion or make him a part of super fights as soon as he joined the company.
The danger of the Bellator tournament is that a fighter truly has to earn their way to a title shot, and as shown in evidence in the past with another high profile free agent signing, just because someone has a bigger name doesn't mean they will win.
Former UFC fighter and Sports Illustrated poster boy Roger Huerta signed with Bellator a few years back and was immediately seen as a big land for the fledgling MMA promotion. Huerta didn't get any gifted fights however, entered the tournament and lost in the 2nd round to Pat Curran in a closely contested lightweight contest.
Like Huerta, Lawal wanted no special treatment just because his name was more recognizable than an opponent's might be. The former college wrestler knows what it means to earn it, and that's exactly what he plans to do as he enters his second round matchup against Emanuel Newton.
"I had no problem with that. Just because I'm known more than the other fighters doesn't mean I deserve an immediate title shot right away," Lawal told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview. "It's not easy. A lot of people can't do that."
Since he started fighting MMA, Lawal has seen the politics of fighting first hand and how sometimes it's more about selling a fight than actually deserving it.
He says that's the cardinal difference between what Bellator is doing with their tournament format than say the UFC where there is no prime directive in how title matches are put together.
"It makes it a true sport. I think the difference between Bellator and the UFC is that the UFC's more about the spectacle and more about flare. Where as Bellator it really is a true sport. Every true sport has a title format. The Olympics have a title format. The NBA playoffs, the NFL playoffs, hockey, baseball, all that," Lawal stated.
"They all have a tournament format of some sort. I think that's better cause when you win you know where you're going."
As MMA strives to be put in the same sentence as other major sports like football and basketball, Lawal believes it really has to come down to the two best fighters that earned their opportunities.
In a perfect world, Major League Baseball would put the New York Yankees, the largest draw in the sport, in the World Series every year, but it doesn't always work that way. Sometimes they get beat and another team earns their shot and yes, ratings on television may fluctuate, but it's only about putting the best two teams head-to-head for the championship.
Lawal believes it should be no different in MMA.
"The thing is the UFC is doing it that way, Bellator's going to do it the other way. I think when you win the belt, you win the tournament, you win the championship in Bellator, you know you're the best. You know you won the tournament, you won the field that you're in and you beat the champ or defended the belt. You're the best," said Lawal. "That's one thing that I respect, I enjoy that."
Lawal will look to move to 2-0 in Bellator on Thursday night as part of the Bellator 90 card that airs on Spike TV Thursday night at 10pm ET from the Maverick Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. With a win, Lawal would move into the finals of the light heavyweight tournament and take one more step towards his ultimate goal of becoming Bellator champion.
Damon Martin is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained first hand unless otherwise noted.
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