In 2010 his undefeated streak ended when he lost his Strikeforce Lighheavyweight title to Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante. He bounced back with wins over Roger Gracie and in January over Lorenz Larkin.
Then he tested positive for Drostanolone, a Performance Enhancing Drug. Lawal asserted that he took the drug unknowingly, that it was contained in an over the counter supplement.
Then he contracted Staph, which put him in the hospital for weeks, and nearly ended his life.
Then at a hearing on March 27, the Nevadad State Athletic Commission declared his win over Larkin a No Contest, fined him $39,000 (30% percent of his $80,000 show purse, and 100% of his $15,000 win bonus, suspended for nine months, and he is subject to further testing in order to be relicensed.
After the hearing he took offense at questions put to him by NSAC commissioner Pat Lundvall, calling her a "racist b---" on twitter.
And then he was fired.
In an interview with FightersOnly, NSAC Executive Director Keith Kizer defended Lundvall, who has been described as one of Nevada's top trial lawyers.
“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," Kizer explained.
“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.”
In his first post release interview, Stephie "Crooklyn" Daniels, Lawal reflected.
"It is what it is," said Lawal. "Of course, I want to fight for Strikeforce and fight for Zuffa, but if they want to cut me for what I said, then I can't take it back because it already happened. I have never been asked in such a condescending way if I could read or speak English like that. I did something wrong, so I can't really say I'm being treated unfairly. I don't know if it was excessive to cut me."
"I went in there respectfully," Lawal continued. "I'm not playing the race card. I'm too old to play the race card ... The woman's comments reminded me of times when I experienced racial insensitivity from other people ... I just felt disrespected by that one person that asked if I could speak or read English.
"To me, that was a blatant insult. Just listen to the audio. You'll see."
This is a transcript of that audio.
Pat Lundvall: You took it some time before Christmas I assume, is that correct?
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 -
MK, 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?
MK: 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-fight 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…
MK, 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?
In 1903, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote with foresight that “The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color-line.” It has been over 100 years, and we still do not live in a post-race world. An African-American man facing the loss of his livelihood being asked if he can read by a caucasian Attorney is not necessarily going to have the same resonance it would to say Keith Kizer.
This would justify Lawal making similar remarks, in privacy, to a friend. However, through twitter and other social networks, the whole world is watching, and remarks like Lawal's serve no one.
We live in the dawn of a new era in which the lines between personal and private are increasingly becoming blurred. Social networks and above all Twitter are invaluable tools for building a personal brand and with it professional gain.
But they are also windows into all the quirkiness that is being a human being - the rages and the gaffes and the stupidity that at times are a part of each of us. Human beings wear clothes for more than warmth. We wear clothes because if everyone walked around naked, it wouldn't be pretty.
So too with Twitter. Not everything a human being feels under stress should be shared with the world, archived for all time. Lawal deleted the tweet in short order, but like all things digital and public, it is around now for ever, tattoed on his career - the fighter that got fired for calling a commissioner a racist b----.
Lawal will undoubtedly grow from the experience, and will hopefully in short order fight his way back into the highest levels of the sport. But professionals in this sport need to cover up more. But only a little bit.
There is a great danger that MMA becomes like other mainstream sports, where the public face of the athletes is a complete contrivance, with the authenticity of Ronald McDonald. Mixed Martial Arts is literally as real as it gets, and not coincidentally the athletes are too. So too for that matter UFC President Dana White, who is himself not above telling a belligerent fan to "go f--- yourself."
There is a great beauty in the honest and raw nature of mixed martial arts and the people in it, but it needs a little bit of tempering. Each prominent athlete in the sport needs the social networking equivalent of 4 oz. gloves and no attacks the groin, but not more than that or we lose the heart of the sport which is reality and truth.
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