Kermit the Frog interrupted a Strikeforce conference call Tuesday or, rather, Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal’s impression of the famous frog puppet-as-Gegard Mousasi. Mousasi and Lawal will fight for the Strikeforce light heavyweight championship April 17 on CBS. Also on the card: Dan Henderson and Jake Shields will fight for the middleweight belt and Shinya Aoki will take on Gilbert Melendez for the lightweight championship.
But Lawal and Mousasi were the lone fighters on the call Tuesday and the virtual press conference had a surreal resemblance to Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago’s in “Rocky IV.”
Mousasi, the champion, is cerebral to the point of appearing dispassionate. Lawal, the challenger from Tennessee, is brash, loud and says he refuses to read.
Lawal mocked the Dutch-Armenian’s voice while attempting to engage Mousasi in trash talk. Lawal raised his voice an octave and repeated the champion’s mantra’s, “Maybe I might win by decision, but I don’t know. All my fights end quickly” then dropped back to his own range for emphasis.
“That’s how Mousasi sounds,” Lawal said “Just like Kermit the Frog.”
Lawal sounded neither like Mousasi nor Jim Henson’s creation, but the effect was not lost.
“That doesn’t even sound like me,” Mousasi replied. “Let him have his fun. I will have my fun in the fight.”
Lawal continued, “Gegard, do an impression of me. Have fun. Let loose.”
“I can’t,” Mousasi said coldly. “It’s not my personality.”
“All right, Gegard, I feel you.”
When Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker tried to build the fight by saying his office was split 50/50 on who would win, Lawal interjected, “Mr. Coker, half of your office is wrong. The half that is going for me is right. The half that thinks Mousasi is going to win is wrong.”
The following are the condensed thoughts of the fighters.
(Mousasi finishes Gary Goodridge on New Year’s Eve.)
Easily the best fighter most MMA fans have never heard of, Mousasi (28-2-1) rose to prominence by winning the Dream middleweight tournament in September 2008. He then reached the semifinals of the Dream “Super Hulk” tournament before withdrawing due to injury. In August 2009, he won the Strikeforce title. Mousasi is on a 15-fight win streak and has finished 12 during that streak in the first round.
On Lawal’s skills: “He has good punching power, good wrestling. He’s athletic. Physically, he is probably very strong. He is undefeated. He’s confident. That will help him. (To me) it’s just another fight. No one has ever ground-and-pound me. I know for sure I have a good chin. No one has ever knocked me out. That is why I am confident. He is not a submission artist. I’m very comfortable fighting from my back, but I am not planning to fight from my back. I plan on reversing and getting top position.”
On Lawal’s trash talk: “It gives me more reason to train harder. In the ring, I will be as professional as I can be. I will not let emotion influence the fight. I think the fans like the matchup. (The trash talk) is good for the fight. It bothered me before, but now I can laugh about it. It makes me a better fighter.”
On Lawal’s wrestling advantage: “I can fight very well from my back. Obviously, he has a better wrestling background. He is a (multiple) champion and he has the advantage there but this is MMA.
On quick finishes: “I don’t see this fight going to decision. I’m a finisher. The most important thing will be who has more willpower and better stamina. That will decide this fight. I’ve had tough opponents in the past and somehow the fight ended quickly. All I know is it will definitely be an exciting fight.”
On other challengers in Strikeforce: “Basically I’m not looking beyond this fight. After this I have the Dream tournament. Strikeforce is working with Dream and building up a lot of talent. Fighters need just one or two wins to be a contender for the title. I’m pretty sure Strikeforce will come up with opponents.”
Lawal is one of the premier wrestlers in MMA. “King Mo” is a three-time U.S. Senior national champion and former NCAA Division-II champion. Undefeated in MMA (6-0), Lawal has finished five opponents.
On his secret weapon: “I have something new. It’s Cuban style. It’s a new thing I just put together. Cubans have a certain type of style and I will implement in this fight. It’s tight. The thing is, (Mousasi) is not ready for the Cuban style. He’s never seen anything like it. I can’t tell you my secrets. You should make it the headline, ‘Mo will unveil the Cuban style April 17.’”
On his advantages against Mousasi: “My advantage is that he signed the contract.”
On trash talk: “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. He’s cool. He’s a great champ. I have fun training. I have fun talking. I have fun fighting. Why can’t we just have fun and do what we want to do? I’m not worried about selling the fight. This fight will sell itself.”
On his wrestling advantage: “I agree 100 percent with what Mousasi said. This is MMA. I’m not worried about wrestling. This fight can go anywhere. I’m not worried about wrestling (or) takedown-stuff. I just want to win.”
On Mousasi: “He’s well-rounded. People don’t really know. He’s probably the smartest fighter in the game. It’s not physical. It’s more mental. He is a quick thinker, a great improviser. That’s the most dangerous thing about him is his brain.”
On the perception he may not be ready for this fight: “That question is hard to answer. I’m not going to lose this fight. I don’t think about losing. People don’t know a lot of my fights because there hasn’t been much to watch. People may not like me or they like Mousasi more because they don’t know me.”