Former UFC fighter and Major League Wrestling star “Filthy” Tom Lawlor, 36, makes time for some Q&A ahead of the promotion’s 2019 Opera Cup television taping for beIN Sports at Melrose Ballroom in Queens on Dec. 5 (bell time: 7 p.m.) The night will feature Lawlor taking on “a member of the Von Erich family” along with the start of a multi-day, eight-wrestler Opera Cup tournament being revived for the first time in 71 years — the victor earns the cup last won by Stu Hart in 1948. Opera Cup will also be broadcast as part of MLW’s weekly “Fusion” series, which airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on beIN Sports.
(This interview has been edited for brevity)
Q: Does the Opera Cup show how MLW likes to promote the past and connect with wrestling history, especially when you have Brian Pillman Jr., the Harts and the Von Erichs in your company?
A: I’m disappointed in a way that I’m not in the Opera Cup itself. It’s such a cool idea, such a cool concept to bring back that idea, that style, the promotion of the opera, wrestling in a smaller venue. It’s a more intimate setting, and I think it lends itself to the action that you’re gonna see in the Opera Cup with guys like Davey Boy Smith [Jr.], [Shinjiro] Ohtani, Timothy Thatcher, Richard Holliday. [Holliday] may not be the catch wrestler or shooter type kind of guy, but he’s a big guy. You have the other side, and it’s Pillman and [Alex] Hammerstone and those guys.
It’s a tournament that I would love. … I was the first [MLW] Battle Riot winner. I wish I could say I’d be the first Opera Cup winner [in MLW], but I didn’t get put in the tournament. I’m very excited to watch that and how that plays out.
Q: Do you have a favorite to win the tournament?
A: Davey Boy Smith Jr. That would be my pick. If you look at the bracket, everybody in it is virtually a hard-hitting-style wrestler, and that’s playing right into Davey Boy’s game.
Q: You turned on Ross Von Erich during his title match with Jacob Fatu on the Thanksgiving episode of “MLW Fusion.” Why did you do it and why was this the right way and time to bring a drastic change to you character?
A: I didn’t turn on the Von Erichs at all. They are the ones that turned on me. If you watch over the past few months, ever since I brought them into MLW, the focus, the shift kind of changed from them being my backup to them making themselves the root of the story, them making themselves the focal point.
Go back and watch the War Games [in September]. Did Ross claim he was injured and sick so he can come in at the very end of the match? I wanted to be the first one to go out there, but of course Marshall just had to have his way and be the first one out there. We’re celebrating at the end of the match. Well, they’re celebrating while I’m done on the mat misted after I just got kicked, moonsaulted onto, beat up. Everyone else is having a fun time except for me. Nobody seemed to give a damn then, so why should I in turn give a damn now?
Q: You’re scheduled to wrestle “a member of the Von Erich family” at the Opera Cup show.
A: We’ll see which one of these Von Erich boys shows up. We’ll see which member of the Von Erich family wants to come get a beatdown. Maybe it will be Lance Von Erich. Maybe one of these Von Erich fans on Twitter, maybe fan Von Erich will take his time and come after me. I put the challenge out there. I’m gonna beat up a Von Erich at Opera Cup.
Q: Why was re-signing with MLW the right decision for you?
A: At some points, I thought that maybe the better option for me would be to move on, and at some points, I thought the best option for me would be to stay. At the end of the day, we came to an agreement that made the best sense for me, and not only can I continue to wrestle in the MLW ring, but management was very willing to allow my MMA career [to resume]. I wanted to pick that back up. I’m still not handicapped by the shackles of MLW. Perhaps I’ll be back in a cage, maybe a ring, maybe a different combat sport, and MLW’s really the only professional wrestling organization on a large scale that’s willing to let me do that.
Q: How important is getting back into combat sports after your two-year doping suspension from USADA in 2016 and being let go by the UFC this past August?
A: There’s always like these ebbs and flows with it. It’s very tough, Both of them [wrestling and MMA] are very tough mentally and emotionally, and I really don’t have a good answer. I might be done. I could be done fighting. I don’t know. I get offers thrown my way. Sometimes they’re worth it. Sometimes the timing doesn’t work out. Sometimes there’s other stuff on the table I have going on.
I don’t like to confirm wrestling dates for people and be offered a fight and take that off even though that is something that monetarily I should do. So that always becomes an issue, too. But I don’t think I’m retired.
Q: Do you feel you were treated fairly by USADA and the UFC, especially now that a change in the rule has seen multiple fighters receive six-month bans for a similar offense?
A: F–k no, I got screwed. I got screwed. I got cheated. Now luckily it’s getting to the point where some people are starting to realize that USADA isn’t what it claims to be and there are a lot of issues with the entire process.
And it’s tough. I look at it in one of two ways. I had a fight [a loss to Deron Winn for Golden Boy in 2018] after my suspension. I was not happy with the outcome, and I don’t think it was representative of what I can still do in the cage.
Part of me wants to prove USADA wrong, prove the fans that think I was taking a shortcut wrong, but at the same time I got screwed so badly to the point that it also makes me wonder if it’s worth it. Is it worth going back into something that you put all your heart and effort and love into and it f—ing screws you in the end? Do I want to go through that again? I don’t know.
Q: Why has it become so appealing for athletes to go from MMA to wrestling?
A: As you get older as a fighter, it becomes harder to take damage. Your reflexes will slow a little bit, and these are things that don’t necessarily hinder you in the professional wrestling environment. I think as time goes on you are gonna see more and more guys kind of make that transition.
I get questions all the time from [MMA fighters], that’s what people want to talk about. They don’t want to talk about MMA. They want to talk to me about pro wrestling.
Q: Talking about one guy who has done it, what does it mean for MLW to land King Mo?
A: Seeing the focus on bringing in guys of that caliber, that style is one of the reasons I’m still with MLW, quite frankly. Being able to have the opportunity or future chance to wrestle a guy like King Mo appeals to me.
Q: Do you have a Conor McGregor-Donald Cerrone prediction?
A: (Sigh.) That’s a tough one. I’m honestly surprised they’re even doing the fight with all the legal issues that Conor is kind of finding himself in. And I wonder how much of a distraction that is. This is one of those things, either this is a huge distraction to Conor and this fight is what he’s trying to use to get his mind off it or he views this as his last hurrah. I don’t know. I can’t get into the mind of either one of these guys.
I think that’s where the fight is gonna play out. I think it’s already won or lost, I just don’t know who’s won or lost. If I had to pick, I guess I’m gonna take McGregor. Honestly it’s because he’s been less active. Cerrone’s taken … he goes on these strikes, but there’s always a chance he gets clipped and he starts taking damage at a greater rate, and I think that’s gonna be the issue.
Q: As someone who was with the company when it restarted in 2017, how gratifying has it been to see what MLW has grown to?
A: When I think back to the small venue in Orlando that these shows started running at to being live on pay-per-view in Chicago with thousands of people in the seats, it’s pretty awesome to think about how far it’s come in a short way. The goal is to keep it going in that direction.