June 20, 2013

Muhammed Lawal knocked Seth Petruzelli out cold in just 1:35 in the main event of Bellator 96.  (Jim Rinaldi/Icon SMI ) Muhammed Lawal knocked Seth Petruzelli out cold in just 1:35 in the main event of Bellator 96. (Jim Rinaldi/Icon SMI )

Another Muhammed Lawal fight. Another one-punch knockout.

This time, though, “King Mo” was awake to enjoy it.

Lawal, the prized Bellator signee who shockingly had been back-fisted into slumber in February, was the one doing the crowning Wednesday night in the main event of Bellator 96 in Thackerville, Okla. He needed just 1:35 to knock Seth Petruzelli out cold with a big right hand and earn his spot in the final of the promotion’s four-man Summer Series light heavyweight tournament, which kicked off under a bigger spotlight than usual with the UFC on hiatus for three weeks.

Just as he’d been crumbled by Emanuel Newton four months ago with a maneuver often attempted but seldom pulled off to such effect -- a spinning back fist -- Lawal (10-2, 1 NC) scored a rare knockout of a fighter defending from his back against a standing opponent. It came after Petruzelli (14-8), a former UFC fighter best known as the man who burst the bubble of Kimbo Slice hype back in 2008, landed a few kicks early but tried one too many. Lawal, a former NCAA wrestling national champion, timed a kick, caught it, and powered his way to a takedown. He tried a few strikes from full guard, then pulled back and stood up, and in one motion he pushed aside Petruzelli’s extended legs and pounced on him with a nasty right hand that ended it.

That “King Mo” advanced didn’t come as a surprise. That the other slot in the final was not filled by Renato “Babalu” Sobral might have … until you saw how slow and listless the Brazilian veteran was in a third-round TKO loss to Jacob Noe. Sobral was beaten to the punch throughout and was unable to get the bigger, stronger, fresher Noe to the mat in order to bring his black-belt jiu-jitsu into play.

The one thing “Babalu” (37-11) did quickly: He retired. Within minutes after leaving the cage, the 37-year-old announced that he was ending a professional MMA career that began in 1997 and included two stints in the UFC and a Strikeforce championship.

So it will be Noe (12-2, 1 NC), a 32-year-old who is 3-1 in Bellator, against Lawal on July 31 in Albuquerque for the right to try to end the 10-fight unbeaten streak of champion Attila Vegh. That Bellator 97 card also will feature the heavyweight tournament final, set up by Wednesday night’s first-round KO wins by four-time sambo world champion Vitaly Minakov (over Ron Sparks in 32 seconds) and Ryan Martinez (over Richard Hale in 2:19).

Neither of those fights will be the main event or even co-main. Those slots will be taken by a couple of championship fights, as Ben Askren will put his welterweight belt on the line against Season 7 tournament winner Andrey Koreshkov and Michael Chandler will defend his lightweight title against Season 8 winner David Rickels. This promises to be the biggest event in Bellator history.

--Jeff Wagenheim

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