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
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
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”
“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.”