Mo Lawal (Photo/Bellator)
Muhammed Lawal -- better known as "King Mo" -- has retired from a nearly 11-year professional mixed martial arts career.
The news about Lawal -- who made a name for himself in amateur wrestling before racking up honors in MMA as former Strikeforce light-heavyweight (205-pound) champ, 2013 Bellator light-heavyweight tournament winner, and 2015 RIZIN heavyweight Grand Prix champion -- was revealed in a statement by American Top Team on Instagram:
"I just wanted to give @kingmofh a shout out and congrats for all he's accomplished in this sport. For those that aren't aware, he's decided to 'hang em up' and dedicate the next chapter of his life to coaching our pro fighters. I have to note, I've seen countless fighters train and walk through our doors and King Mo is hands down one of the best teammates I have ever seen. Beyond selfless. Proud to call him a teammate and even more excited to have him working and coaching full time with the squad. All the best Mo!! Congrats on a hell of a career!! Let's keep it positive and show this man some love!"
In an interview with MMAfighting.com, the 38-year-old Lawal cited having undergone dozens of surgeries -- "probably 30 or 40 surgeries" according to the fighter -- as a prime reason for retiring from MMA.
"It's been on my mind for a while," Lawal told MMAFighting about his decision to retire. "I just put it in the back of my head. It was the pain from the injuries that was messing me up and my lack of range of motion from my hip and my knee. I've been fighting most of my career with no legs, a messed-up knee or a messed-up hip and after I had that hip surgery where they put titanium metal in my hip, it kind of made me think -- I'm going to need a knee replacement, I'm going to need an elbow replacement, I'm going to need a hip replacement.
"I was like I'm getting old, I'm 38, I've got kids. I can't even run right now. I can't even jog really. I'm that bad. It's to the point where if I can't jog or sprint or be explosive, then I've got to stop."
Lawal built a 21-9 record (with one no contest) in a pro MMA career going back to Sept. 2008. The native of Murfeesboro, Tenn. got off to a great start. Within two years after making his pro debut, Lawal had scored seven straight victories ... and defeated Gegard Mousasi to capture the Strikeforce light heavyweight championship.
Later, Lawal had joined the Bellator organization, where he won their light-heavyweight tournament in 2013, where he compiled a 10-6 overall record. He also competed in the Japan-based RIZIN promotion, starting by winning their Heavyweight World Grand Prix in 2015. However, in recent years, Lawal had struggled, losing his last three bouts, including his most recent in April, where he suffered a third-round TKO loss at the hands of Jiri Prochazka.
Prior to entering MMA, Lawal had crafted a successful amateur wrestling career. He was a Texas state champ for Plano East High School near Dallas. Lawal then headed north to the University of Central Oklahoma, where he earned the national title at the 2002 NCAA Division II championships. As a senior, Lawal transferred to Oklahoma State, where he was crowned the Big 12 conference champ at 197 pounds in 2003 and placed third in the same weight class at the 2003 NCAA Division I championships, earning All-American honors. After college, Lawal found success in men's freestyle competition. Among his career highlights: three Senior National titles (2005, 2006, 2008), and member of the 2005 U.S. men's freestyle team competing at the 2005 World Championships at 84 kilograms/185 pounds.
What's next for "King Mo"?
He's not leaving MMA completely. While his fighting career may be finished, Lawal has already made the move into coaching at the American Top Team academy in Florida, where he's already working with a number of top coaches, many who are retired fighters.
"I'm going to be around the sport," Lawal stated. "I'm going to be in MMA, maybe dip into boxing and help some fighters out in boxing ... "
"Coaching, giving back the information I've received from coaches in the past. It's a great option."