Herschel Walker isn’t here to be an MMA champion. He’s not taking part in any typical pre-fight trash talk that others in the sport make their routine in the weeks leading up to their fights.
The one-time Heisman trophy winner is preparing for his Jan. 29 Strikeforce bout against Scott Carson with a different approach than you’re run-of-the-mill, ‘I’ve been training hard’ attitude. No, he’s coming at this fight with a mindset of a different caliber. One that exudes a calm, almost school boyish curiosity you rarely see in a man that turns 48 years old in just over a month from now.
Regardless of how many years he’s been on this earth, Herschel Walker is a young buck in the world of MMA – dare I say ‘diaper dandy,’ if Dick Vitale is willing to let us use his description of freshman competitors.
This fight on Saturday night will be Walker’s second adventure in the mixed martial arts cage, a year after he made his professional MMA debut at Strikeforce: Miami against Greg Nagy. The initial outing for Walker was one of success, as he collected a TKO victory over Nagy in the third round of their affair.
Perhaps the most surprising part of that fight was the fact that Walker, a middle-aged man by all definitions, had the physique of a young collegiate athlete right out of school. His frame looked as though it hadn’t aged a day since leaving the University of Georgia’s campus way back in 1982. Once the fight started, Walker showed that he, indeed, still had a great deal of athleticism and agility. Mind you, it wasn’t the same as when he played in the NFL or competed in the Olympics, but the physical ability of the former all-pro was enough to impress many a fan and media member alike.
Now it’s 2011 and Walker is back to produce another performance on the Strikeforce stage. In the time between his last fight and the present day, Walker feels his all-around arsenal has improved to a level where he doesn’t have to just depend on his remarkable athleticism.
In an interview with Damon Martin on MMAWeekly Radio, Walker said, “I think the biggest difference you’re going to see is a very, very well-rounded MMA fighter. Not just a great athlete.”
A year is a long time to prepare for a fight. In that time, one can evaluate where they feel they need the most improvement and determine what they need to do in order to become a better fighter and all-around improved contender. The typical preparation for a fighter has an end goal of one day making it to the top of any given division in hopes of becoming that weight class’ champion.
By his own admittance, this is not the case for Herschel Walker.
The former NFL standout looks at his journey through MMA as one of a learning experience, and not a road to a title. It’s difficult to claim a linear route to gold when you’re just one fight deep in your career, and Walker knows this. Even more, it’s not about gaining popularity for himself as much as it is gaining popularity for the entire sport of mixed martial arts.
“I know I’ll never be a champion,” he said. “But I want to get a chance to get this sport up there.”
When he says “up there,” Walker means he intends on bringing a limelight to MMA that shines bright enough to catch the buzz from mainstream media. Selflessly, a man who played in the National Football League, who has earned several million dollars over a lifetime, and attracted attention from all types of media outlets, is doing this for the love of it all.
In MMA, there are no paychecks like the ones you see today in the NFL. While there is some form of payout, there is no ‘NFL-type’ multi-million dollar deal in Strikeforce for Walker. His training is all part of learning about the sport and appreciating the respect he has for it and all its participants. Before even being offered his second professional fight, Walker was hitting the gym simply because of his affection for it.
“I was just going to train because I love the sport,” he said.
It’s his love for it that will help in bringing the sport of mixed martial arts to more of a mainstream light. Ask anyone who is passionate about what they do and they will tell you that all the effort they put into it is the driving factor behind the exposure their work gets. This can happen for MMA because of the passion existing in Herschel Walker.
As many MMA followers know, there are legions of doubters who currently criticize the sport to no end. Those detractors sometimes go to the extent of saying that MMA isn’t even a sport. Perhaps the ‘old school journalist’ doesn’t appreciate mixed martial arts as much as Herschel Walker, and is too hung up on holding on to boxing as the world’s elite combat sport. While boxing is still a wonderful sport in its own right, MMA has made its mark.
“Most of them are the old journalists that were in the boxing world,” said the former Olympian. “I’m not taking anything away from boxing. Boxing is a great sport. It will always be a great sport. I think this sport here is a sport that’s exciting. It’s exciting because it’s a human chess match. At the same time, you have about five different sports rolled up into one. So I don’t know who wouldn’t want to watch this here.”
Simple and plain, what Walker has seen since beginning his MMA training has opened up his eyes to what he feels is the world’s elite gladiator.
“I think an MMA fighter is the number one athlete when it comes to stepping into the cage or in the ring,” he said. “I don’t think there is anyone out there that can match him.”
It’s that kind of recognition that makes mixed martial arts the sport it is. Excitement, versatility, and the knowledge that anything can happen are all components that make MMA an outstanding competition. For Herschel Walker, his opportunity to advertise all those characteristics will come on Jan. 29 when he fights Scott Carson for Strikeforce.