–Kenny Rice

Drama. Mo Lawal has had enough of the real thing. This weekend he will move to Louisville, KY for a few weeks to jump into more of it, but at his own choosing.

The former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion begins a boot camp style workshop for the professional wrestling organization TNA. There he will learn about the often taken for granted craft, of how to be really convincing at pulling punches and faking pain. Consider it an acting seminar more intense than anything offered on the Sunset Strip.

After the most tumultuous months of his life: a period where “a staph infection almost killed me”, and “there was a time where I thought I would never fight again”. A foray into pro wrestling where the drama is manufactured is the diversion Lawal needs before getting back to his real occupation in the Bellator light heavyweight tournament in January.

“I’m having fun. In pro wrestling they (fans) want a reaction good or bad. Right now that’s what I want. In MMA they want positive reaction, the exact opposite. Even if you win you can get booed. I never understand that, you won. But it’s how you perform even if you win and it’s (the fight) boring. At least with pro wrestling I know what I’m getting into,” Lawal says.

Before his two national championships in NCAA Division II with Central Oklahoma and his All-American season with Division I Oklahoma State, Lawal was fascinated by the WWF that became the WWE.

That he is working with boyhood idol Hulk Hogan is “a bonus” as he shows a picture standing beside the Hulkster, looking rather tiny. “I can’t believe how big he is, the man’s huge and very cool,” Lawal describes with the excitement of a kid meeting his first star.

Lawal’s star fell rapidly in January. The Nevada State Athletic Commission overturned his knockout victory over Lorenz Larkin to a No Contest after Lawal tested positive for a steroid. He admitted he had taken it, but offered the defense it was in an over the counter powdered supplement that he found out about only later.

It was to no avail. The NSAC fined and suspended him, Strikeforce released him, and then the worst happened–surgery on his left knee to repair an ACL. From the operation there was a staph infection that wouldn’t subside, requiring another surgery on the knee to replace a graft and numerous procedures to drain the infection. Dr. House might even cringe at all Lawal had to deal with for five months.

“I lost thirty pounds. I had to find ways to get my appetite back. I drank a gallon of water a day and went through cases of Ensure each week. If I ate too much I felt nauseous. My temperature would stay around 103, 104 and I was sweating all the time, taking medicine twice a day. It was the roughest period ever for me.”

“The fine, the suspension I can live with that. The supplement I took had a bad substance. I know what happened so I’m good with that. But the staph infections, over and over, that was almost too much.”

The man known in his career as “King” Mo was feeling more a pauper in terms of his future, until Bellator came in recognizing his talent, and his flair for drawing attention. He was the perfect “name” fighter for the organization, and on top of that they had no problem with his pursuit of a hobby on the side with TNA.

His attitude started a comeback, along with a gradual weight gain that has him back around 215, only three pounds shy of his usual walking around weight. As he leaned comfortably back in a chair, talking with confidence and knowledge about the college football scene and flashing a smile anticipating the upcoming Big 12 showdown between Texas and West Virginia, the gregarious Lawal seems far removed from the toughest bout of his life.

But all is not well, at least yet. He still has to use a special wash three times a week to guard against bacteria that might spark another staph setback. He recently bumped his knee and the swelling of a small knot stayed a little longer than usual. Something that wouldn’t have garnered attention a year ago is now a concern.

“It’s good, but I had to go back to the doctor, take blood samples to make sure there was no infection,” Lawal shrugs, “That’s part of it after what I went through.”

He is going through extensive training now to get ring ready in three months. He’ll be returning to Holland along with Tyrone Spong and Rashad Evans to work with Mike Passenier of the famous Mike’s Gym. He’s brought in Fareed Samad to hone his boxing. “What I learned is that a jab is a jab, boxing or MMA it makes no difference. Yes there are other parts of it all so I am working on everything.”

He always has devoted his camp to being an all around fighter. This is one reason he isn’t like many others, whose flamboyant walks to the ring dissipate into rather formulated wrestling matches when the bell rings. Lawal is an exception of being an outstanding wrestler who can also deliver a punch.

Six of his eight wins are by way of knockout. The unanimous decision over Gegard Mousasi that put the Srikeforce belt around his waist over two years ago stays in his mind, as does losing it to Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante in his first defense.

“I want to be champ again, my plan is to win the Bellator tournament. Then I want to move up to heavyweight and win that tournament.” he speaks with calmness, more assuring than bragging.

Perhaps the health scares have changed Lawal to a degree, these matters usually affect anyone that way. What is not lost is the charm and savvy that helped grow a considerable following. In a Brock Lesnar sort of way he’s calculating the few appearances with TNA will add to his fandom.

“I know the difference (between the pro stuff and the real thing) and I know at this time it is right for me. It’s a long way from being in that hospital and having some doubts.”

If it was good to be the king before, he can’t help but think about the next time.

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