When Bellator MMA signed former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal last year in a ballyhooed addition, he was expected to become one of the faces of the promotion.
Lawal, who also appeared on fellow Spike TV property "Total Nonstop Action" professional wrestling, set a goal to win Bellator's Season Eight light heavyweight tournament on his way to a second championship run.
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But the plan went awry when Emanuel Newton caught Lawal with a spinning back fist, and knocked him out in the first round of the tournament semifinal last month.
"He (Lawal) was always dropping his hands after an exchange," Newton said. "So I knew his chin was open. I was thinking I could land a spinning back fist or a spinning hook kick or a spinning elbow, something in that area of spinning and having an awkward angle because he always had his hands down. A spinning back fist came first."
Thursday night, Newton will face Mikhail Zayats in the light heavyweight tournament finale at Bellator 94 at the University of South Florida Sundome in Tampa, Fla. The event will air live on Spike TV at 10 p.m. EDT/7 p.m. PDT.
Zayats (21-6) scored an upset of his own in the opening round of the tournament in Jnuary when scored a first-round knockout of veteran Renato "Babalu" Sobral. Zayats, who has won 11 of his last 12 fights, then defeated Jacob Noe to advance to the finale.
"He's a lot faster," Newton said. "He's smaller than the average light heavyweight. He's going to be awkward and throw a lot of awkward strikes. I think his submission game is dangerous. You've got to watch out for that.
"With me, I have to make sure there are no holes. Whatever holes I can find on him, just capitalize on those and the mistakes he makes. I'm going to be the bigger, more physical fighter. I think technique-wise, when it comes down to the wrestling aspect, my Greco wrestling is really going to shine through that night."
Newton's ascension should not come as a surprise. The 10-year veteran has an 18-7-1 record and has won eight of his last nine fights. His lone loss was a split decision to current Bellator light heavyweight champion Attila Vegh in the semifinals of
Bellator's summer series tournament in July. With a victory, Newton can earn a rematch against Vegh.
"I didn't even lose that fight," said Newton, 29. "I think it was a combination of things. I outstruck 116 to 64 strikes. I had the only takedown in the fight and the cage control. There's no way ... he won the fight. He knows that. All Bellator knows that. But that's just what happens when you leave it in the hands of the judges."
Saad Awad will face David Rickels in the main event in the Season Eight lightweight tournament finale. Middleweights Trey Houston and Luis Melo will also fight on the main card.
The preliminaries can be seen live on www.spike.com at 8 p.m. EDT/5 p.m. PDT, and include: middleweights Ivan Devalle vs. Rory Shallcross; women's strawweights Heather Clark vs. Felice Herrig; lightweights Patrick Cenoble vs. Tony Fryklund; lightweights James Edson Berto vs. Bruno Carvalho; bantamweights Shah Bobonis vs. Joe Taimanglo; heavyweights Rob Horton vs. Augusto Sakai; women's strawweights Jessica Aguilar vs. Patricia Vidonic; and welterweights Kenny Moss vs. Julien Williams.