CBS AND STRIKEFORCE will present a World Championship Tripleheader that features five fighters ranked among the best in their respective weight classes and an undefeated star (Lawal) hoping to join their ranks on Saturday, April 17, live on The CBS Television Network (9 p.m. ET/PT), from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
One of the elite mixed martial artists at 205 pounds, Gegard Mousasi (27-2-1), of Armenia, will put a 15-fight winning streak and his STRIKEFORCE World Light Heavyweight crown on the line against one of the most confident, fastest-rising, charismatic fighters in the world, “King Mo” Lawal (6-0), of Murfreesboro, Tenn.
An aggressive, Dutch-Armenian fighter, Mousasi captured the STRIKEFORCE light heavyweight title by impressively stopping Renato “Babalu” Sobral one minute into the first round of their meeting on Aug. 15, 2009. Unbeaten since his MMA debut, the 28-year-old King Mo (6-0) is a two-time NCAA Division I All-American and Big 12 wrestling champion for Oklahoma State University.
The card is highlighted by legendary MMA champion and two-time Olympic wrestler Dan Henderson (25-7), of Temecula, Calif., who’ll make his STRIKEFORCE debut when he challenges Jake Shields, the STRIKEFORCE World Middleweight Champion (24-4-1) of San Francisco, who has won 13 in-a-row and is unbeaten since December 2004.
In the third world title fight, Gilbert “El Nino” Melendez (17-2), of San Francisco, Calif., will risk his STRIKEFORCE World Lightweight belt against DREAM champion Shinya Aoki (23-4) of Japan.
What the fighters and Coker had to say on Tuesday’s call: [audio available]
“When we had the opportunity to sign Gegard Mousasi I was really excited. He’s a fighter that I followed in Japan for about two years. He’s proved himself. I’m very proud for him to be our champion.
“For King Mo, he’s one of the most dynamic, talented, up-and-coming fighters in the light heavyweight division. A lot of fighters get offered fights and say they don’t want to take them. Here are two guys who are really in the prime of their careers and they were not afraid to fight each other. They didn’t want to duck anyone, so they said ‘let’s get it on.’
“From a fan perspective, I think you’re going to get everything that mixed martial arts has to offer. You’re going to see some great striking, grappling, wrestling, ground and pound, throws. You’ll see mixed martial arts at its finest.”
MOUSASI: “I’m in the best shape ever. I feel very confident and I’m going to do everything I can to win this fight.”
MO: “I feel good, but the number of fights I’ve had really don’t matter.”
Gegard, is any of the trash talk getting to you?
MOUSASI: “I think it’s just more motivation to train better than ever. I’m in my best shape ever. I’ve never felt this good. When I get in the cage I’m going to be as professional as I can be. I’m not going to let the promotion take control of the fight. I’m motivated to win this fight against any opponent that I have. I think the fans will like the matchup, so it’s only good.”
Mo, do you have something against Gegard?
LAWAL: “That’s my personality. I’m just having fun. People look too deep into the whole thing. Mousasi is having fun doing what he’s doing and I’m having fun doing what I’m doing. I don’t think he’s a bad guy, he’s cool, he’s a great champ. Why can’t I just have fun up until the fight? I’m having fun training, I’m having fun talking, I have fun fighting. It’s all for fun. People make a big deal about this, but it’s a sport and its fun for me. Why can’t we just have fun and do what we want to do and prove ourselves in the cage?”
Does that help sell the fight?
LAWAL: “Yes and no. I don’t really think about selling the fight. If people want to see a fight they’re going to watch me or Mousasi fight because we both put on good fights. Mousasi’s name, people know who he is. I’m not known just yet. I think that will change on April 17. I’m not worried about selling the fight. We just need to go out there and fight and the fight will sell itself.”
Do you guys both agree that wrestling is one of the most important aspects of this fight?
MOUSASI: “No, I don’t see why people think that once I’m on the ground that I lost the fight. I can fight very well on my back. Obviously, he has a better wrestling background than me, he has been a champion, so he has an advantage there. But, this is MMA and every time I hear people say wrestling, wrestling, this is not a wrestling fight. I’m not concentrating on a wrestling fight.”
LAWAL: “I agree, 100 percent, on what Mousasi said. This ain’t wrestling, this is MMA. I’m not worried about wrestling at all. I’m coming to fight. He can fight on his back, I can fight on my back. He can fight you on top, I can fight you on top. He can fight better standing? I can bang when I’m standing. So, it’s going to be a great fight, man. This fight can go anywhere. So, I’m not worried about the wrestling stuff.”
Mousasi, are you doing something differently in your training?
MOUSASI: “I gained a few pounds, my conditioning is better, everything is better. I’ve improved a lot of aspects, so I feel in this fight I will be at my strongest. My stamina is the best ever. Those are a couple of things I’ve worked on, so, hopefully I can show it in the fight.
“I feel very strong. I feel stronger than my last few fights, I’ve improved. One of the things is strength that I’ve worked on in my conditioning.”
Scott, have you formalized any plans on the recently added Jason “Mayhem” Miller fight airing on CBS?
COKER: “Yes, that fight will air in some form, whether it’s a highlight package or in its entirety, based upon the timing of the other fights. So, I believe the idea is to come out and maybe do a fight or two and see how much time is left. If time permits, we will air the entire fight. If it doesn’t, we will air the highlight package. But, it will air in some form.”
Mo, what most concerns you about Gegard’s game?
LAWAL: “As far as Gegard’s concerned, I think he’s well rounded. People don’t really know, I think he’s the smartest fighter in the game. He’s not physical, he’s more mental. He’s a quick thinker, a great improviser and he’s real smart. He finds ways to win. That’s the most dangerous part about him is his brain. He can think and he’s real composed.”
Gegard, where do you think Mo is most dangerous?
MOUSASI: “He has good punching power, good wrestling. He’s athletic, physically, he’s probably very strong. Those are the things that he has from wrestling that will help him in the fight. He’s confident, so that’s also something that is going to help him in the fight. I look at what advantages I have also, so I’m OK. “
Gegard, Mo mentioned that experience won’t be a factor. Do you think that will come into play in this fight?
MOUSASI: “I don’t look at the records of win or loss in MMA. You can lose to a beginner because of the different disciplines. A record doesn’t mean a lot, but, in experience, I think I have a little bit of an advantage. Basically, I’m not looking at records.”
Mo, what part of your game do you believe is over looked?
LAWAL: “I think all of it. I haven’t shown too much in my fights because there isn’t much to watch. I’ve pretty much gone in there and just beat people off of just pure will to win. I think either people don’t like me or they like Mousasi more, or they don’t know me. So, they’re going to know me on April 17.”
Both of you guys have been finishing fights early. Do either of you believe this fight will end early? If not, who does it favor?
MOUSASI: “I don’t think this fight will go to a decision. I will finish him. He’s looking for the finish. I think the most important thing is who has more will power and better stamina. I think that’s going to decide this fight.”
LAWAL: “I don’t know where it’s going to go. I know that I’m going to win. I got this thing out there called a Cuban Style. You can ask anybody in my training camp about it. The Cuban Style’s going to win. You know what I’m saying. You’ll see the Cuban Style come fight time. It’s a new thing I just put together, it’s pretty damn raw. If you watch the Cubans in boxing and wrestling and judo, they have a certain style of fight that I’m going to implement in this fight.”
Mo, where did you pick up that style of fighting from?
LAWAL: Just from Cuban competitors. From wrestling, to watching boxing, I’ve been a fan of the Cuban style. I see their styles and I put it all together in one package. It’s tight.”
Gegard, how much longer do you see yourself staying at 205 pounds?
MOUSASI: “Well, basically, I have to perform well and win all my fights to make the move to heavyweight. Basically, I’m planning on maybe after two years. But, it’s not something that I have now in my plans. I’m just focused on doing well at light heavyweight.”
Scott, I’m curious to see who’s the front-runner for the winner of this fight?
COKER: “Every fight has a different outcome. It depends on who wins and how they win. We’ll definitely have some guys to fight them, but it all depends on who wins and how they win.”
Gegard, what are your advantages over him in this fight?
MOUSASI: “No one has ever ground-and-pound me. I know for sure that I have a good chin because no one has ever knocked me out. So, I’m not even thinking about getting knocked out, ever. That’s why I’m confident that he cannot hurt me. He’s not a submission artist, so I’m very confident in this fight.
“I feel very comfortable fighting from my back, but I’m not planning on fighting on my back. I’m planning on standing up or reversing over, anything I can do to get top position.”
Mo, what are your advantages in this fight?
LAWAL: “I’m going to go out there and win this fight. It’s not super-secret what he’s good at and what I’m good at. The thing is, I’m going to bring the Cuban Style. I’m going to show it to you all, and you’re going to like it.”
Scott, how important is it for STRIKEFORCE to be back on network TV and what does it mean for the sport of mixed martial arts?
COKER: “When a network like CBS says we want to put mixed martial arts back on television and we want to have STRIKEFORCE host these shows, it’s good for the industry. It really sends a statement, because of who CBS is, as to where this industry is at. It says that it’s a healthy industry, it’s a growing sport. It has the right demographic, there’s a lot of upside. And, it has great action. We’re very honored to be hosting the fight on CBS.”
Gegard, I know you don’t see this fight going the distance. But, if it does, do you think you’ll have a distinct advantage because Mo doesn’t have a lot of experience?
MOUSASI: “My fights always end quickly, so I don’t see it going to the later rounds.”
Mo, I know you said you wouldn’t take this fight if you didn’t think you could win. What makes you think you’re ready for this and that you can win?
LAWAL: “I’m a competitor. The thing about experience doesn’t matter. Experience? You make experience by winning.”
Worst case scenario, if you do end up losing this fight would you regret taking it this early in your career?
LAWAL: “Regret? That question is hard to answer because I didn’t think about losing it as an option. So I can’t answer that. I’m not going to have any regrets and I’m not going to lose this fight. That’s a hard question to ask because I don’t think about losing.”
Scott, I’m curious what the decision was on making this fight so early in Mo’s career.
COKER: “It’s a fight that we’ve thought about internally, and I think one thing we’ve been really good at is putting on big fights and wild fights. This is a fight that everyone in my office says ‘wow, that would be a good fight.’ So, to me in mixed martial arts, it’s not like boxing where you have a blemish on you’re record and you’re done. In MMA, there’s going to be a lot of fights that people will win or lose. It’s the spirit of the competition more than your record. I really believe that’s what people want. They want big fights in the prime of the fighter’s careers, and that’s what we’re going to offer and that’s why we put it together.”
How do you deal with an outspoken opponent?
MOUSASI: “He’s outspoken, but it’s OK. It’s good for the fight. It gives me motivation to train and do the best I can. It bothered me before, but now I can laugh about it. It makes me a better fighter, so it’s good for me actually. It’s good motivation to be in the best shape I can be.”
Mo, you grew up in Murfreesboro so this is going to be like a home game for you. What’s it like fighting in Nashville and on CBS?
LAWAL: “I was born in Murfreesboro, which is outside Nashville, but my home is Texas. But, I rep the South, so it’s going to be lovely to fight in the South, in Tennessee. I’ll have to do my thing and have fun and win.”
Are there any distractions fighting in your home state that you’re concerned about?
LAWAL: “There are no distractions for me. Me being distracted, it’s kind of hard. When you’re focused, distractions are nothing. They’re like little flies that you swat away.”
COKER: “I’d just like to say thank you to Gegard and King Mo, thank you for taking the fight. We look forward to a great fight of epic proportions. For all the fans out there, tune into CBS. It’s going to be an amazing show.”
MOUSASI: “No (this won’t be an easy fight). It’s a fight. You never know. I’ve had tough opponents in the past and somehow the fight ended very quickly. You cannot predict if it will be tough or not. I’m just going out there and I’m going to do everything I can to win the fight. All I know is it’s definitely going to be an exciting fight. Thanks a lot to Scott and CBS for giving me the opportunity to fight on CBS. I’m going to take the opportunity to do the best I can.”’
LAWAL: “Every fight is fun. If it wasn’t a fun job I wouldn’t do it. I hated school, I hated reading. I don’t like reading, so I don’t read. I love training because it’s fun, so I train. I like to have fun. Anything that is fun to me, I do. Fighting fun, so you can see me having fun on April 17.”
Doors at Bridgestone Arena will open at 6:30 CT. The first preliminary bout will begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are on sale at the Bridgestone Arena ticket office, all Ticketmaster locations (800) 745-3000, Ticketmaster online (www.ticketmaster.com) and STRIKEFORCE’S official website (www.strikeforce.com).
You can follow CBS and Strikeforce on Twitter at @CBS_MMA and @StrikeforceMMA