LOS ANGELES – If last month's pull-apart scuffle in the Bellator cage between Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and "King Mo" Lawal wasn't scripted, someone forgot to tell Hollywood.
The Bellator light heavyweight rivals found themselves at a Hollywood studio recently, shooting promotional features to push their pay-per-view bout in suburban Memphis on May 17.
When Bellator officials arrived, they noticed Jackson's and Lawal's green rooms were next to one another, which led to an anxious reshuffling of room assignments, lest there be any uncomfortable moments.
"I don't talk to him," Jackson snorted. "Half the reason I came to Bellator is because I want to beat his ass."
Lawal concurred. "I don't ever talk to him," he said. "We've got to do some business today so we'll be cordial, but that's it. We ain't friends."
The Jackson-Lawal bout, which is the co-feature underneath the lightweight trilogy fight between champion Eddie Alvarez and former champ Michael Chandler, is one the company has eyed since it signed Jackson, the former UFC light heavyweight champion, last spring.
Bellator is finally getting a bout it has long wanted between the two Tennessee natives. By winning their semifinal bouts in Bellator's season 10 light heavyweight tournament on Feb. 28, they assured they'd meet in the finals, with the winner getting a future shot at champion Attila Vegh/Emanuel Newton. The two punctuated their performances with a pull-apart brawl.
But about that little scuffle … Lawal, who had earlier defeated Mikhail Zayats at Connecticut's Mohegan Sun Arena, was brought into the cage to square off for photos with Jackson after Jackson beat Christian M'Pumbu. This is fairly standard practice in the company.
The two argued, then pushed and shoved, a scene which many have suggested leaned a lot more on the WWE side than on the spontaneous side.
If it was pre-planned, though, neither fighter was copping to it a few weeks later.
"I don't know whether Mo hates me or stuff like that," Jackson said. "I'll just say, it was my time to shine. I was excited after the fight, and I had no idea he was going to be in the cage. He should have let me do my little spiel like every fight after I win. He was in my spotlight."
Lawal, for his part, said he was caught off-guard.
"I didn't know it was supposed to happen," Lawal said. "I thought we was supposed to go in there, he can talk, I can talk, and then we can do a faceoff. It didn't happen because he took the microphone and it happened. It came out of the blue."
Regardless how it went down, one thing isn't in dispute: Bellator knows what it is doing in putting this in a strong support position for its PPV event. Jackson and Lawal have a history of sniping at one another over the Internet, which preceded either fighter entering the company. And they can both talk people into getting interested in their fights.
Lawal was one of Bellator's first heralded outside signings. The idea was Lawal would debut around the time the company got onto Spike TV at the start of 2013; he'd both compete in real fighting and appear in the staged version in Spike's TNA wrestling brand.
Not soon after, Jackson signed with Bellator. Plan A was for Lawal to win last year's Bellator light heavyweight tournament, then meet up with "Rampage" somewhere down the line.
Then Lawal got hit by a Newton spinning backfist and knocked cold in a February 2013 tournament fight. Then he lost the rematch to Newton in an interim title fight via unanimous decision in November.
"King Mo," though, isn't accepting of the losses, which temporarily derailed the "Rampage" fight, issuing bitter complaints.
"The people that don't like me, thought they were trying to give him rounds just because," Lawal said. "In MMA that's the thing, if people don't like you, they will give the other guy extra credit. I personally thought I won the last fight with Newton. …I watched the fight a few times, I can't really tell you what he did aside from push-kick me and he didn't land nothing. It's [expletive]."
This time around, Bellator idiot-proofed the fight-making process, making the light heavyweight tournament a four-man affair instead of the usual eight. All that was necessary for the two to meet in the finals was to take care of business at Mohegan Sun, which they did.
Lawal is doing his best to claim the fight is no big deal. When asked about fighting "Rampage," he makes a show of appearing disinterested, picking up his cell phone and answering text messages while giving a short answer.
"I just want the title shot," Lawal said. "That's what I'm fighting for and that's what I'm in this for. Beating 'Rampage' doesn't mean anything special."
"Rampage," for his part, is pretty excited: Excited to be in Bellator, excited to be going home and excited to fight in Memphis. While Jackson has long been known to live his life on an emotional roller coaster, right now, the coaster is on the way up.
"I'm happy, man," Jackson said. "The people here have been real good to me. I've found my love for fighting again. I'm going home, I wanna bring them this fight. This isn't going to be a boring-ass fight, this is going to be the type of fight the people in Memphis like to see. I'm going to whup Mo's ass in front of all my people."
Follow Dave Doyle on Twitter @DaveDoyleMMA.