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COCONUT CREEK, Fla. — Muhammed Lawal turned 38 in January, and just like his elders told him when he was coming up in the game, he’s starting to feel his age.
“I’ve been dealing with a little injuries and I’m getting older, you know what I’m saying?” the former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion told MMA Junkie. “Man, I can feel the age. You just gotta be smart, man.”
The fighter nicknamed “King Mo” comes from an old-school amateur wrestling background, which means going all-out, all the time, and not making excuses. That’s fine when you’re in college, but when the big 4-0 approaches, you start to realize the little things are adding up.
“I’ve had nagging injuries, neck injuries, more hip, more knee, now I’m getting smart, picking up the year clean,” Lawal said. “I want to be able to walk and jog and stuff when I’m done fighting. The way things were going, the way I was training, it wasn’t going to happen. The way I’m training now, it could happen.”
And that’s why Lawal (21-8 MMA, 3-1 Rizin), who can fight anywhere from middleweight to heavyweight, is choosing to pick his spots in the gym. Lawal is training for his title fight against Jiri Prochazka (23-3-1 MMA, 8-1 Rizin) at Rizin FF 15 on April 21 in Yokohama, Japan, and his approach these days is to train smarter than before.
“I always trained smart, I thought I did,” Lawal said. “But now I’m being a little smarter, not doing as many taxing things on my body. Doing more recovery, doing more mobility stuff, that’s the stuff that’s going to help me. I’m trying to be like Andrei Arlovski. Andrei has been fighting for 20 years, and he’s still at it.”
The bout with Prochazka is a part of Bellator MMA’s ongoing talent exchange with its Japanese counterpart. It’s a rematch of a bout held on Dec. 31, 2015 in Saitama, Japan. In his second match of the evening, Lawal knocked out Prochazka to claim Rizin’s heavyweight grand prix tourney championship.
The bout will crown the inaugural Rizin light heavyweight champion. Prochazka is 7-0 since the loss to Lawal, with six of those wins coming by way of finish. This has Lawal convinced Rizin wants him over in Japan to lose the fight.
“They want Jiri to beat me because they’re pushing him, that’s their man,” Lawal said. “I’m not. They want me to come in there and lose to him. But it’s not going to happen, I’m going to come in there and fight him very hard and beat him.”
Lawal’s been walking around at a touch under 200 pounds, which doesn’t seem optimum against a pure light heavyweight. But he’s been down this road before, and looks to others as his example.
“I’m undersized a little bit, but at the same time, I’m trying to be a throwback fighter,” Lawal said. “[Royce] Gracie wasn’t complaining about being undersized. I just go out there and fight, man. BJ Penn wasn’t complaining. B.J. Penn is a man. Dan Henderson wasn’t complaining. So I’m not going to go complain, I’m just going to go out there and fight.
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