Muhammad ‘King Mo’ Lawal finds himself at the centre of controversy after being suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for a positive drug test following his January fight with Lorenz Larkin under the Strikeforce banner.
Lawal tested positive for a banned steroid but maintains that it must have been unintentionally ingested via one of the many over-the-counter supplements he uses. While this does happen sometimes, NSAC was not buying it. At yesterday’s meeting, the body suspended him for nine months and fined him an enormous $39,000.
So far so bad, but things were about to get worse for Lawal. He took great exception to an exchange with the NSAC chairwoman Pat Lundvall, who asked him if he was able to speak and read English fluently. Lawal took this as a racist remark and posted some angry Twitter messages in which he referred to undvall as “a bitch” and said her questions were “bullsh-t”.
“I honestly feel like Lundvall was a racist (expletive) asking me if I can read or speak English. Go on somewhere with that bull (expletive),” he wrote.
In a second post, he said “It’s funny how people are trying to say that I’m calling the commission racist. No! They aren’t. But there was one person on the panel that was out of line with the question she asked me. I found it insulting, prejudice, and a lil’ racist. I say racist from past experiences,” Lawal stated.
A few hours later, Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker put out a terse statement. “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.”
The entire affair has caused controversy. Some fans are accusing Zuffa of treating him harshly while others are divided on whether the questions from Lundvall were racist or not. Some fans are accusing Lawal of ‘playing the race card’ while others think he is being actively discriminated against on race grounds. It is a divisive issue to say the least.
Fighters Only spoke to NSAC executive Keith Kizer to get some clarification on the remarks and on the punishment handed down to Lawal, which towers over that handed to Cris ‘Cyborg’ Santos by the California State Athletic Commission. The facts of her case closely mirror those of Lawal’s.
“CSAC cannot fine more than $2500. NSAC can fine up to $250,000,” he said. “His suspension and fine is similar to other such cases in Nevada history such as Nick Rossborough, Maurice Jackson and Thiago Silva,” he said of the disparity in fines inflicted on the two Strikeforce fighters.
Regarding Lawal’s accusations of racism against Lundvall he said, “It is very common to ask respondents/defendants if they read/speak English and understood the questions on a form that contains untruthful answers, so they do not later claim they did not understand the form.
“If Mr. Lawal thought the questioning unfair, he could have asked for clarification. Again, it is quite common to ask a defendant those questions so he cannot plead ignorance as to understanding the written questions of the form.”
The questions came up in an exchange regarding the information Lawal provided on a pre-fight questionnaire issued by NSAC. Taken out of context, it seems like an unusual and offensive thing to ask someone and Lawal’s conclusion - that it was a racial slight based on his colour or his African first name - seems to have some basic in logic.
But if one follows the transcript of the conversation between Lundvall and Lawal, it seems the questions were not racist at all, but a cross between sarcastic and exhaustively precise. Consider this: Lundvall is a partner in a very highly-regarded law firm in Nevada and is described as one of the state’s top trial lawyers. See what you think of this exchange - is she being racist or is she very deliberately and carefully shutting off all Lawal’s routes of avoiding blame for the failed test?
PL: You took it some time before Christmas I assume, is that correct?
ML: Yeah, I took it before I came back from Austin Texas
PL: When did you come back from Austin Texas?
ML: The first week of December I believe
PL: So its the first week of December, you’re still taking it into December then. Did you take it after Christmas?
ML: No I didn’t take it after Christmas.
PL: So when was the last time, when did you stop taking it?
ML: I only took it for like a week… I stopped taking it as soon as the doctor said hey-
Mike Kogan, Lawal’s manager, interjecting: - he came up from Austin on the 10th -
ML - yeah so as soon as the doctor -
Kogan, interjecting: - no we came up from Austin on the 11th - we went to see the doctor… the MRI was done on the 23rd and it was done three days.. Two to three days before we went to see the doctor.. I mean after we went to see the doctor. So the 20th is when we went to see the doctor.
PL: What period of time in December did you actually take this supplement?
Kogan: Between the 11th and the 19th in that week
PL: Did you take it again after the MRI?
ML: No I didn’t take it again.
PL: What were you taking after you had seen the doctor?
ML: Orthovisc, which is some injections the doctor gave me, some anti-inflammatories…
PL: You filled out a pre-fight medical questionnaire before your fight in January did you not?
ML: Yes I did
PL: There are a couple of questions on that pre-fught questionnaire that ask you what kind of prescribed medications you were taking, do you recall that?
ML: Yes I do.
PL: You ticked ‘nothing’
ML: Well... I ticked nothing because I was there by myself, my manager wasn’t there. My manager had the whole list of everything [I was using] and he came late. So I didn’t know everything that was actually injected into my knee by my doctor.
PL: But you knew you were taking something though, right?
ML: Er.. Yes, correct.
PL: Alright. You also said you were taking some stuff over the counter at that point in time, correct?
ML: Uh, I don’t know… I only know what I put on the questionnaire…
Kogan, interjecting: - we didn’t put anything on the questionnaire - I was the one who filled out the questionnaire, I apologise. Orthovisc that he was taking was a lubricant that was administered into his knee, er…
PL: There’s no apologising for falsifying required information on the medical questionnaire. Mr Lawal, my question to you is that you signed this medical questionnaire after it was filled out did you not?
ML: I did, I did
PL: Can you understand English?
PL: Can you read English?
PL: Then you knew that by signing it that the information on this medical questionnaire is supposed to be true and correct, right?
ML: Er, yes.
I don’t know about you, but to me that reads like nothing more than a comprehensive cross-examination and a carefully calculated backing of the answerer into a corner by way of forcing them to give precise answers to a number of questions, each of which forms one panel in the fence that encircles the facts.
Lundvall was not racially insulting Lawal, she was merely making it clear that unless he was illiterate or professed to be incapable of understanding English, he would have no defense to the suggestion that he had lied on the pre-fight questionnaire. Because Lawal testified that he both speaks and reads English, he cannot claim to have misunderstood the rules of the form. He can claim not to have read them, but that would be negligence on his part and would not form a valid defense.
Listen to the audio of the meeting below, read the transcript above. Lundvall pulls Lawal and Kogan to pieces - they do not make for a convincing defense team. Whichever way you cut it, Lawal or his manager have either wilfully or negligently misrepresented the facts on the pre-fight medical questionnaire. Lundvall established that beyond doubt with her careful cross-examination.
In light of that then, Lawal has not only been guilty of deliberate or negligent misinformation, he has compounded that - and the failed drug test - by going on Twitter to accuse a respected Nevada State public figure of racism. Could she have grounds for a defamation lawsuit there? I don’t know, but I do know that a company like Zuffa won’t want to be associated with anything like that. Far easier to let Lawal go.
Of course, Lawal was also tied into a big-money Strikeforce contract and with Strikeforce haemorrhaging money with every live event, purses like Lawal’s, Gegard Mousasi’s and others are burdens that Zuffa would probably love to rid themselves of.
So Zuffa’s decision to cut Lawal yesterday probably wasn’t without some financial self-interest. But the fact remains that Lawal made a grievous error of judgement in accusing Lundwall of racism. He should take some time to review the tape and transcript - preferably in the company of someone who has at least a passing experience of court and the legal environment, then he might change his viewpoint on the issue.
This article is the personal opinion of JJ O’Regan and does not necessarily represent the views of Fighters Only Magazine Ltd.
O'Regan holds a law degree and LPC qualification from the Manchester Metropolitan University in England, UK.