LAS VEGAS -- It's beyond stunning that anyone has tried to rationalize the behavior of former Strikeforce light heavyweight contender Muhammed Lawal and his manager, Mike Kogan, in light of their actions during and after Tuesday's disciplinary hearing in front of the Nevada Athletic Commission.
Lawal's situation is so vastly different from those of Miguel Torres, Rashad Evans, Forrest Griffin and innumerable others who made, ahem, unwise public comments.
On Jan. 17, Keith Kizer, the executive director of the Nevada commission, announced that Lawal had flunked a post-fight urinalysis following a Jan. 7 victory over Lorenz Larkin at the Hard Rock. Test results indicated he'd tested positive for the anabolic steroid Drostanolone.
On Tuesday, the commission heard from Lawal and Kogan and then suspended Lawal for nine months and fined him $39,000. Afterward, Lawal went to Twitter and ripped commissioner Pat Lundvall, calling her in a now-deleted tweet, "a racist [expletive]." Lundvall is white and Lawal is black. Lawal wrote:
I honestly feel like Lundvall was a racist [expletive] asking me if I can read or speak english
Not long after Lawal's tweet, Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker announced the promotion had released Lawal.
Suddenly, it seemed, the MMA media was outraged. Specifically, many in the MMA media were apparently angered that Lawal was released by responding on Twitter to what he felt was an offensive question from Lundvall, who had asked him if he could read and understand English.
In a roundtable discussion on MMA Fighting, veteran journalist Mike Chiappetta said:
I can understand his anger for being asked such a degrading question.
Luke Thomas, who was doing the roundtable with Chiappetta, said Lundvall had been "patronizing" toward Lawal.
The very talented columnist Ben Fowlkes also took issue with Lundvall in his column on Sports Illustrated.com:
The old "Do you understand the words coming out of my mouth?" routine is not a rhetorical device one employs in respectful conversation with an equal. It's something you do only when you know the other person has to sit there and take it.
And my colleague at Cagewriter, Maggie Hendricks, attempted to compare Lawal's situation to that of Torres and Evans, among others. There were many others, but all missed the mark badly in their assessment of the situation.
Finally, Kogan railed against Lundvall's line of questioning in a piece on MMA Junkie on Wednesday. Kogan told reporter Steven Marrocco that Lundvall's manner of questioning was inappropriate.
There are ways to establish if a fighter understands what's going on or not. It was already done before the hearing even started. The very first thing they asked him was, 'Do you understand what's going on? Do you understand the charges against you? Do you understand you can be represented by [counsel]?' And he said yes. So to come back 20 minutes later and ask the man if he speaks and understands English is very offensive.
Lundvall is a very prominent litigator in Nevada, a highly respected attorney at one of the state's top firms. She's hardly the "idiot" that she was made out to be by many of my media brethren who were all too quick to try to run to Lawal's rescue without considering what happened.
First, Lundvall was doing what any legal questioner does. She was laying a foundation. She believed that Lawal had been dishonest. On a questionnaire he filled out at the weigh-in on Jan. 6, Lawal denied he had been injured or had taken any prescription or over-the-counter medications in the last two weeks. To the question that asked, "Have you had any injury to your knees, ankles, or feet that needed special evaluation/exam," Lawal checked no.
Kogan had told Christopher Eccles, the Nevada deputy attorney general who represents the athletic commission, on Jan. 18 that Lawal took no supplements. In an email to Eccles the next day, Kogan reversed course and said Lawal had taken supplements.
In his email to Eccles on Jan. 19, Kogan wrote:
I guess I misspoke on the supplements that Mo takes my bad on that, I never seen him take any so I assumed he does not. We made a list of all the supplements and meds that he has taken some of them on regular bases as supplement, some temporality or intermittently and some were administered by the doctor that was taking care of his knee.
Lundvall's reason for asking Lawal if he read and understood English is what lawyers do when they're building a case during questioning. She was boxing him in and leaving him no room. When he said yes, she asked about why he didn't disclose the knee injury on the questionnaire he filled out at the weigh-in and why he didn't mention he was taking something for it.
It had zero racist intent. She was trying to expose that Lawal hadn't been forthcoming with the commission until he was forced to do so.
It's also interesting to note that Lundvall uses the line of questioning frequently with fighters. On March 23, 2011, boxer Michael Shane Steele tested positive for an anabolic steroid. Steele, who is white, appeared before the commission on May 20, 2011, and underwent rigorous questioning from Lundvall.
According to a commission transcript, the following exchange took place between Lundvall and Steele:
Lundvall: Do you have any other information that you are willing to share with the Commission to explain why you tested positive for banned substances?
Steele: None. Only the supplements I took and what I was trying to accomplish in taking them.
Lundvall: Do you read English?
Steele: Yes, ma'am.
Lundvall: Do you understand the written word?
Steele: Yes, I believe so.
Lundvall used nearly identical language in speaking to Steele, who is white, as she did to Lawal, who is black. The point is, Lundvall wasn't talking down to Lawal or taunting him because of his race. She was trying to establish why he hadn't answered the questions truthfully.
Lawal's case is different from the others because the others, such as Torres, Evans, Griffin and, yes, UFC president Dana White, only said or wrote something stupid.
Lawal scored a hat trick of errors:
• He flunked a drug test, which Torres, Evans and Griffin did not do.
• He was untruthful on his questionnaire.
• He made an outrageous and ill-advised comment on social media, attacking a prominent regulator. The move could come back to haunt the company.
Lawal, I believe, is a good guy. He's quick with a quip and extraordinarily accessible to the media, which is why he's so beloved.
But it doesn't matter if you're a good guy or not. The facts are the facts. Lundvall was only doing her job and White and the folks at Zuffa were only doing theirs when they cut Lawal.
Hopefully, he'll be brought back at some point, like has happened to Torres, Nate Marquardt and so many others in the past.
Let's get over this Mo was mistreated nonsense, though. He got what he deserved.