Taking a “leap of faith” means attempting something with an uncertain outcome. This sounds pretty basic, right? It could be as simple as buying a lottery ticket, or it could be something a little more complicated, like dropping out of Harvard to start Microsoft. Sometimes, a leap of faith happens out of blind curiosity. Sometimes, it happens because of opportunity. However, one of the most powerful drivers to taking the leap is necessity.
Two years ago, veteran kickboxer and pro MMA fighter Andrew Kapel took a big leap of faith when he uprooted his wife and young son from their home in Minnesota to join the Elevation Fight Team in Denver. His plan was to become the best mixed martial artist he could be, fight as many times as he could, and eventually join the ranks of his new teammates, many of whom were already in or on their way to contracts with the big organizations. Within nine months, he picked up two first-round submission wins and one decision. Then… crickets.
“I was actually faced with ‘shit or get off the pot,’ since I moved here,” Kapel told Combat Press. “I thought that once I moved here, the fights would be coming, and with the connections of the team, I would be active and building my win streak. But, they don’t happen. No one wants to fight me, and it’s really frustrating. I’m still getting better. I’m still working on my skills and improving. I’m just riding the vibe of the squad.”
Kapel was in one of those weird places. He was one of the highest-ranked unsigned middleweights in the country. He had flashed finishing abilities. However, he was also too big of a risk as an opponent for the guys trying to move up. The offers stopped coming in, and he ended up going from April 2018 to February 2019 without seeing the inside of the cage. He had to make ends meet by working at a bar four days per week. When he finally went out to Hoosier Fight Club in Indiana, he added another first-round submission. Yet, the phone went completely dead. Nobody wanted the challenge.
“I’m around all these great guys, and these guys are really making it, being in the spotlight,” Kapel said. “I’m in the same training room as them, bringing challenges to the table. I’m doing all that, and I don’t get a chance to show it.”
The general theme for Kapel in 2019 has been frustration. He’s been working his ass off, training as much as he can, raising a child, and being a husband. Still, there were no chips to even fall his way. That all changed a few weeks ago, though, when his manager called him with an opportunity to fight Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal at Bellator 233 in Thackerville, Okla.
“This is absolutely not how I expected to make my name on the big scene,” Kapel admitted. “It was Monte Cox, man. Monte Cox is my manager, and he called in to Bellator to set this up, and they offered it to me. Initially, I was real skeptical. I was like, ‘Jesus Christ, he’s out of my weight class, it’s a terrible style match-up, blah, blah, blah,’ but I hadn’t been following his career closely, and I didn’t know he was on a three-fight skid, and how he was retired already.
“It didn’t take a lot of convincing, but I took a little time — like a day — to let it gestate. After a couple days of thinking about it and looking him up online, I got really excited about it. I just think it’s a huge opportunity for me.”
Kapel came up in combat sports as a kickboxer. King Mo, on the other hand, is a wrestler who holds an NCAA Division II national title, a Big 12 championship, NCAA Division I All-American honors, a Pan-American title, and multiple U.S. championships. That was all before his successful run in MMA, which has included a Strikeforce light heavyweight title and tournament wins in the Bellator 2013 Summer Series and the 2015 Rizin Heavyweight Grand Prix. King Mo has a long and storied career, but he had hung up the gloves. He wanted to finish his fighting career with a win, though. Kapel is happy to spoil that, size difference or not.
“Fights are on a case-by-case basis,” Kapel explained. “There are a lot of heavyweights that I would run through, but then there’s guys like George St-Pierre or Khabib [Nurmagomedov] even, who would take my lunch money. It’s more about the level and the styles. I think that’s real important. That being said, Mo is big and strong, but, allegedly, he’s walking at 197 [pounds], and he doesn’t want to cut weight. If you look at his career, he’s been getting steadily lighter. I don’t think he’s going to want to cut weight to fight some random newcomer. Of course, he’s been bigger and stronger, and it’s a strategic disadvantage, but I’m cool with taking the risk.”
The fight will take place at a catchweight of 195 pounds. Kapel’s entire career has consisted of 185-pound battles, whereas King Mo has drifted between 205 pounds and heavyweight. However, for an opportunity like this — and a three-fight contract — Kapel is willing to make another leap of faith. There is a lot more on the line than just a chance to put King Mo’s name on his record.
“This is my chance,” Kapel said. “Every week, month, year that passes, my window grows smaller to actually make money, which is my goal. I might as well quit now if I’m going to make local money. There’s no point for me to do this. I’m trying to do this for my family.
“It’s going to be worth watching. I’m a finisher, and I’m going to bring it to Mo. I’m going to make him work for it. It’ll be exciting, and it’s a big question mark for people who don’t know who I am. I’m a dark horse. The people I train with know who I am, but I haven’t had a chance to show it.”
On Friday night, in a fight that will air live on the Paramount Network, Kapel gets his chance to make a big statement on a big stage. He faces a legend of the sport in the co-main event of Bellator 233. His back is against the wall, but this leap of faith could pay huge dividends.