Tom Lawlor learning pro-wrestling ropes after long MMA career

On Friday night at Venue 578, Tom Lawlor will compete in a pro wrestling match for only the fifth time in the last 15 years. But he’s not worried about how he’ll fare physically.

After all, he’s got more than a dozen years of mixed martial arts training to back him up.

Lawlor, a longtime MMA competitor, has returned to pro wrestling after being hit with a 2-year drug suspension by UFC. He’s got the physicality; he showed in an interview with the Sentinel this week that he has the personality. Now what he needs to refine is the performance.

“I’ve been taking bumps every day for 10 years, doing rolls, back bumps and taking throws, just not in the ring,” Lawlor said of the transition. “The mental side, the psychology of the match, is harder. I come from a world that’s go, go, go, go, go. To find success in MMA you want to go as quick as possible. Here, I have to learn to slow it down. You realize you have to show the crowd every step that you’re taking, to see the agony of your opponent.”

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Lawlor is not a total stranger to wrestling. For a short time during 10 years living in Central Florida from 2001 to 2011, he worked for small area independent promotions such as Southern Championship Wrestling and NWA Florida. But during that time, he discovered mixed martial arts and followed that path instead.

On Friday, Lawlor is scheduled to face Kyle O’Reilly, one of the most respected wrestlers on the independent circuit today. It’s a steep learning curve for the 33-year-old, and he said that hasn’t gone unnoticed by some of his colleagues.

“A lot of guys are jealous of me,” Lawlor said. “I’m already getting bookings they can’t get. I can’t help it if I’m 200 pounds, I can’t help it if I’m 6 feet tall. I’ve been busting my a– for years; so what if it’s not in the squared circle?”

Lawlor became popular in MMA in part for his prefight antics, imitating everyone from Dan Severn to Hulk Hogan, so when he moved into pro wrestling, he naturally became a good guy. But in his last match April 15, when he faced Davey Richards in Richards’ native Pacific Northwest, he changed his tune a little bit.

“In my last match with Davey, I had to work as a heel – and it was much easier and more fun to get a reaction,” Lawlor said. “Now I have to figure out how to get booed in my former hometown.”

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Lawlor said many people have linked him with Matt Riddle, another former UFC fighter who has become a popular star on the independent circuit. He plans to play up that comparison in his wrestling character.

“I’m going to be the anti-Matt Riddle,” Lawlor said. “[My character] is in it for the easy money, not the love of the sport.”

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