Leave it to MMA to kick a man while he's down. After all, it is legal in this sport, as long as it's not to the head. Muhammed Lawal must now know what that feels like, to have the offense piled on against him with no hope of stopping it.
That’s been Lawal’s reality for the recent past, and right now, there’s no sign it’s letting up. His kingdom has effectively come crashing down around him. The former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion, who goes by "King Mo," has had a life-altering series of events transpire over the last few weeks, costing him his job, and nearly his life.
Going in reverse chronological order, Lawal was released by Strikeforce on Wednesday afternoon, ending his five-fight run with the promotion. That came just hours after he had been suspended nine months by the Nevada state athletic commission due to a positive steroids test for Drostanolone.
But Lawal wasn't released solely for that transgression. In the past, Strikeforce parent company Zuffa has given its athletes second chances after a positive drug test. Instead, his firing came after a series of tweets expressing his frustration with the hearing to determine his punishment.
Lawal had effectively taken responsibility for the steroid in his system, but said he had traced the source to a once-legal supplement called "S-Mass Lean Gainer," that he had purchased at a health store. According to Lawal's defense, he bought the supplement in April 2010, but it was later removed from store shelves after the illegal ingredient was found, a fact which he had not been aware of.
The commission did not accept that as a viable defense, and Lawal said he walked out of the meeting feeling as though his time was wasted. In addition to the lengthy suspension, he was fined $39,000, or 41 percent of his nightly earnings stemming from a January 7 win over Lorenz Larkin. That victory was changed to a no contest.
In a series of tweets that came shortly after the decision, Lawal voiced his frustration, noting particular anger at NSAC commission member Pat Lundvall.
At one point, the commission asked Lawal why he hadn't listed the S-Mass Lean Gainer on a pre-fight questionnaire which asks fighters to name all medications and supplements they are taking. Lawal's manager Mike Kogan explained that it was he who had filled out the sheet and he had been unaware Lawal was taking it, though Lawal ultimately signed it.
That led to a quick exchange with Lundvall that Lawal took exception to.
"Do you understand English?" she asked him.
"Yes," he responded.
"Can you read English?" she asked.
"Mmm-hmm," he mumbled.
"And you knew that as far as by signing it, the information on this medical questionnaire was supposed to be true and correct, right?" she asked.
"Yes," Lawal said.
Shortly after that, Lawal voiced anger at the tone of the exchange, which he saw as demeaning given his background as graduate of Oklahama State University. By the time of the questions, he had already been speaking to the commission members for several minutes. Upon hearing his fate, he tweeted, "I honestly feel like Lundvall was a racist b---- asking me if I can read or speak English." He later deleted the tweet, but there's no question it played a role in his firing.
“Following the outcome of today’s hearing with the Nevada State Athletic Commission and his subsequent reaction, Strikeforce has released Muhammed Lawal from his contract,” Strikeforce president Scott Coker said in a statement released on Tuesday night.
The move came on the heels of a health problem that has wracked his body for the last two months. Lawal has battled a severe and recurring staph infection since a January knee surgery. The infection, which has returned at least four times, caused him to lose 30 pounds. In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, Lawal admitted that he had been so frustrated by the problem that he nearly decided to stop taking medication.
"I just felt like, hey, I'm going to quit taking this medicine, and if I die, then I die," he said. "I'm tired of this stuff."
For now, the nine-month suspension is hardly a concern for Lawal, as he likely would not have been able to fight during that stretch of time while his body continues to recover. He attended Tuesday's hearing on crutches. But there will be no job waiting for him at Zuffa, either.
Lawal was at various times one of the best amateur wrestlers in the world while competing on the international scene, and one of MMA’s best light-heavyweights. Now, he has nowhere to hang his crown, if he even has the strength to lift it.
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