The subtle mental games playing out between Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal and Strikeforce champion Gegard Mousasi are providing an intriguing lead-up into their light heavyweight championship clash at Strikeforce “Nashville” on April 17 in Nashville, Tenn.
Lawal, a 2005 U.S. world team member in freestyle wrestling with six MMA wins under his belt, probably understands that a battle can be won before the soldiers ever step onto the field.
The outspoken Lawal approached Mousasi at a Strikeforce open-media workout a few weeks ago in Los Angeles, and the pair volleyed quips at one another in an impromptu face-off that had reporters frantically reaching for their recording devices.
Though Lawal said the media has made a much bigger deal about the 30-second exchange than it really was, needling the reserved Mousasi could be a brilliant stroke in softening one of the fighter’s biggest strengths.
“It’s more mental (for Mousasi.),” said the 28-year-old Lawal when asked of his opponent’s greatest asset in a fight. “He’s a quick thinker, a great improviser, and he’s real smart. He finds ways to win. That’s the most interesting part about him is his brain…he’s real composed.”
During Tuesday’s conference call, the 24-year-old Mousasi admitted that he was annoyed by the brief interaction.
“I’m not good with confrontations like that, but it doesn’t matter, because what I’m good at is what I can do in the cage,” said Mousasi. “It bothered me, but now I can laugh about it. It makes me a better fighter. It’s good motivation for me to be in my best shape.”
Lawal said Tuesday that his pre-fight behavior was based in self-indulgence and that it was more about enjoying himself.
“It’s my personality. I’m just having fun…it’s not like I’m bashing his character or saying he’s a bad guy,” said Lawal. “Mousasi’s a great champ. He’s proven himself. Why can’t I just have some fun up until the fight?”
Lawal was also more than willing to oblige when a reporter asked him to do a “Kermit the Frog” impression of the Dutch-Armenian fighter.
“It didn’t even sound just like me,” Mousasi said with a chuckle. “It’s OK. Let him have his fun.”
When asked by Lawal to return his own impression, Mousasi declined.
“It’s not my personality,” he said.
When it came to talking about the fight itself, the former Dream middleweight champion was verbose, particularly with questions regarding Lawal’s richer wrestling pedigree.
“I don’t understand why people think once someone is on the ground, that they lost the fight. I can fight very well from my back,” said Mousasi, who knocked out Ronaldo “Jacare” Sousa with an upkick from his back during the Dream grand prix finals in late 2006. “Obviously, we has a better wrestling background; he’s been a couple times champion, so he has the advantage there. But this is MMA. I’m not concentrating on a wrestling fight.
“No one has ever ground-and-pounded me,” added Mousasi. “I know for sure that I have a good chin. No one has ever knocked me out. I’m not thinking of getting knocked out ever. That’s why I’m confident that he can’t hurt me.”
Mousasi said that refinements to his past weight-gain efforts have added to his physical strength. Mousasi said he topped out at 225 pounds for his New Year’s Eve fight against Gary Goodridge in Japan before dropping down a few pounds.
“I’m in my best shape ever,” he said. “I’ve never felt so good. In the ring, I’m going to be as professional as I can be. I’m not going to let emotion take control of the fight.”