Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The mental chess match between Muhammed Lawal and Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi hit another gear on Thursday, a little more than 48 hours before their scheduled showdown.

Mousasi will defend his title against the charismatic Lawal in a featured bout at Strikeforce “Nashville” this Saturday at the Bridgestone Arena. Their personalities clash almost as much as their styles, the champion reserved and soft-spoken, the challenger brash and forthcoming.

In an attempt to liven up the pre-fight press conference, Lawal left his seat, approached the podium and tried to bait Mousasi into imitating him. Seated at the opposite end of the table, the Armenian titleholder refused, leading to an uncomfortable silence between the two. When asked if he could mimic Mousasi, Lawal pointed to YouTube and his “Kermit the Frog impersonation” -- an open dig at his opponent’s throaty voice. Mousasi, though he seemed visibly uncomfortable with the pre-fight bluster, did his best to shrug it off.

“In the beginning, it bothered me, but now I’m OK,” he said. “It’s not my personality. Now, I can laugh about it. It’s not affecting my performance in the cage. It’s better for the sport. People are getting excited about the matchup. It’s the first time I’ve had somebody talk so much [before a fight]. It’s something I had to get used to.”

Still only 24, Mousasi will carry a 15-fight winning streak into his title defense. He has impressed in two appearances for Strikeforce, finishing UFC veterans Renato “Babalu” Sobral and Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. The former Dream middleweight champion has not competed since he blasted through Gary Goodridge in 94 seconds on New Year’s Eve in Japan.

Lawal, meanwhile, has gone the distance only once in six professional appearances and has finished four opponents inside one round. A one-time All-American wrestler and conference champion at Oklahoma State University, he last competed in December, when he blitzed Mike Whitehead in 3:08 in his Strikeforce debut. It marked the first time in nearly five years that Whitehead had been stopped inside the distance. Mousasi characterized the undefeated Lawal as “cocky” and “arrogant.”

“Whatever, man,” Lawal said. “He’s trying to find something to say. If I was cocky, I wouldn’t be training hard. I wouldn’t be studying him. I wouldn’t know what he does. I wouldn’t be a student of the game. I’m just having fun.”

Mousasi has no love loss for Lawal, one of the sport’s top prospects and one of its best showmen. However, he believes fighters like the Murfreesboro, Tenn., native bring a fresh dimension to the sport.

“Maybe if I knew him personally, I’d like him,” he said. “I have to fight him, so it’s different for me. He seems like a nice guy, but everybody’s different. Every fighter has a certain style. If every fighter was like me, it’d be pretty boring.”

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