This weekend Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal will take to the Strikeforce cage and fight for what very well may be the last time he competes under the promotion’s banner. A free agent in February, Lawal has spoken candidly before about his desire to jettison what he feels is a sinking ship in hopes of joining the UFC. While the outcome of Lawal’s bout against Lorenz Larkin at Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Jardine could certainly change his outlook, specifically if Larkin picks up the upset win, chances are the 8-1 grappler will come away with his hand raised against the exciting but raw Larkin.
Though the decision to sign elsewhere will ultimately be up to Lawal his ability to ink a UFC deal in favor of another Strikeforce contract is out of his control with Zuffa owning both organizations. And, with that being the case, my hope is that they opt to keep him on the Strikeforce roster rather than throw him in the deep end with guys like Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Dan Henderson, Rashad Evans, or Jon Jones. Could the demand cause Lawal to walk, thus relegating himself to a life in Bellator/DREAM? Sure, but it’s highly unlikely, as Lawal is one to follow the money and Zuffa is not a company you willfully snub.
Similarly to lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez, Lawal is the type of fighter Strikeforce needs to hold on to for 2012 while they play out their eight-card agreement with Showtime. He’s one of the few stars in the promotion and is talented enough to pick up three straight wins over the next twelve months including one involving a championship. With only nine total bouts the experience would certainly help him but more importantly the victories would position Lawal as an immediate threat in the UFC when Strikeforce inevitably folds. Right now he’s only on the cusp of stardom whereas another year of wins, a belt, and some additional push from the UFC and “King Mo” would be an instant contender as his former roster-mates Henderson, Nick Diaz, Alistair Overeem, and Jake Shields were.
If Zuffa goes the opposite route, signing Lawal to the UFC, he’s likely to lose a fight or two given the promotion’s level of 205-pound talent. That would kill any momentum he had built up from Larkin and Roger Gracie and make him a less believable challenger in other high-profile fights.
Regardless of what happens, Lawal is an intelligent, ever-improving competitor with some of MMA’s best pure wrestling. He is also entertaining in interviews and the “it” factor necessary for building stars. The only question is how big will be blow up, and for my money another 2-3 fights in Strikeforce will give the PR team much more firepower to work with than a 50-50 UFC debut in April would.
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