It’s time to get geared up for the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix: Barnett vs. Kharitonov event will take place this weekend in Cincinnati, Ohio. It should be an interesting card to say this least and a few of these fights have some meaning in the grand scheme of things with Strikeforce probably closing shop in the coming months. Let’s take a look at the light heavyweight bout between former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion King Mo Lawal as he takes on grappling ace Roger Gracie.
Roger Gracie comes into this fight with an overall record of (4-0) with all four wins coming via submission. He was last seen in action submitting MMA veteran Trevor Prangley in just under fight minutes back in January of this year. Gracie is a still relatively new to MMA, but is well known throughout the grappling world as one of if not the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu practioner in the world. He has multiple ADCC submission grappling titles to his credit. He brings good size standing near 6’4″ and of course world class submission skills.
King Mo Lawal comes into this fight with an overall record of (7-1) with 5 wins via TKO/KO. Lawal was last seen in action losing his Strikeforce light heavyweight title against Rafael Cavalcante in August of last year. Lawal is also relatively new to MMA making his debut right at 3 years ago, but has loads of wrestling experience. Lawal brings an improving striking game, power, and that formidable wrestling pedigree into this fight.
Bet on Fighting has Lawal as the betting favorite at (-140) with Gracie as the underdog at (+110).
I’d have Lawal as a slightly bigger favorite than that with Gracie being so one dimensional at this stage in his career. Lawal is coming off a very long layoff having to recovery from knee surgery during that time, but he also used the time to train at American Kickboxing Academy. The home of the likes of UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier, Josh Koscheck, and Jon Fitch. The one thing all of those guys have in common is they all come from wrestling backgrounds. It’s Velasquez and Cormier that have shown significant improvements in their striking skills and I’m sure that was one of the goals of Lawal while there. He had improved his striking prior to the loss to Cavalcante, showing the ability to go to the body well and also throw punches in bunches off failed takedown attempts.
Gracie is coming off an injury as well having to pull out of the original fight date back in July. It’s no secret that Gracie wants to get this fight to the ground. He has shown adequate striking skills at best, but it’s a limited sample size being that all of his fights have ended relatively quickly.
I know Lawal is stated that he’s not afraid of going to the ground with Gracie in interviews leading up to this fight. However, Lawal is actually a very smart fighter if you have ever heard him breakdown fights. If he does go to the ground with Gracie, one sure way to lose is to stay in Roger’s guard which is something that he tends to do. In his championship fight with Gegard Mousasi he got 11 eleven takedowns but only passed guard three times. That’s something he can’t afford to do if he goes to the ground with Gracie and another question would be could he consistently pass Gracie’s guard? On the flipside, Gracie hasn’t faced anyone with the wrestling base that Lawal has in MMA, but I simply wouldn’t chance getting swept if I were Lawal. He also needs to be aware of Gracie potentially pulling guard if Lawal decides to keep the fight standing.
Lawal knows the easiest path to victory is to keep the fight standing and use his improving striking skills to do damage while maybe going for a takedown late in each round to avoid giving Gracie time to setup submissions on the ground. If he fights smart, I see Lawal winning this fight pretty easily via decision as he’ll be able to dictate where the fight takes place and has better striking skills.