Herschel Walker: The 46-Year-Old Rookie

Over the last year, Strikeforce has done a masterful job of signing an impressive list of free agent fighters.

In addition to acquiring Fedor Emelianenko and Gegard Mousasi, the San Jose-based organization has brought in talents like Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, prospects like Tyron Woodley, and big names with upside like Bobby Lashley.

They also signed Herschel Walker, the former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL star who is expected to make his debut on the Main Card of the Strikeforce: Miami show scheduled for late January.

Before we get too far into this and people line up to ask “Who am I to say who should or should not fight?” and the usual assortment of questions that come along with a piece like this, offering up opinions on signings, fighters and all things related to the sport of Mixed Martial Arts is kind of part of the job.

Walker is a tremendous athlete; a college football Hall of Fame inductee, a two-time Pro Bowler with the Dallas Cowboys and a sixth-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. That said he’s a 47-year-old with the same amount of in-ring experience as I have – none.

Everyone starts out as a rookie with no professional experience. Once upon a time, Fedor Emelianenko, and Georges St-Pierre were rookies, and Travis Fulton stepped into the cage for the first of his 191 career bouts.

However, it’s not every day that a guy three years shy of “The Big 5-0” decides that he’d like to try his hand as a professional cagefighter, yet alone beginning in one of the biggest organizations in the business.

When the first wave of scepticism came, supporters of the decision quickly pointed to numerous time UFC champion Randy Couture, a man who has spent his entire career defying Father Time inside the Octagon.

The close proximity in their ages is where that comparison ends though, as Walker and Couture have little in common when it comes to Mixed Martial Arts besides their date of birth.

While Herschel Walker was wrapping up his NFL career in 1997 at the age of 35, Randy Couture was walking into the cage for his first professional fight.

Since then, Walker has done everything from appearing as a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice with Donald Trump to writing his autobiography. Couture, on the other hand, has accumulated six UFC titles and 17 victories. Simply put – the similarities are few.

On the positive side of things, Walker’s move to Mixed Martial Arts is far from the freak show that was Jose Canseco’s inclusion in the DREAM Super Hulk tournament earlier this year. Unlike Canseco, Walker knows a thing or two about Martial Arts and is doing this for the challenge, and not the money.

While that aspect of this decision deserves a round of applause, the remaining elements certainly are open for criticism.

Last I checked a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and 12-weeks of training does not a Mixed Martial Artist make. Bob Cook and the team at American Kickboxing Academy will certainly do all they can to have Walker prepared for his much-anticipated debut, but how much can we reasonably expect from a 46-year-old rookie with three month of training?

Former collegiate wrestling champions like Bobby Lashley and Daniel Cormier, both of whom will share space in the Strikeforce heavyweight division with Walker, each made their MMA debuts in the last calendar year. Despite their previous training and obvious athletic talents, each struggled in their initial trips inside the cage and showed a need to improve before they can be considered contenders.

Of the two, Lashley is the oldest at 33, 13 years the junior of Walker.

Becoming a contender may not be the end goal for Walker; it’s entirely possible that his foray into the cage is simply to prove to himself that he can indeed compete in MMA.

While I can certainly accept that and appreciate the desire to test one’s self, this then becomes more about publicity for the organization and Walker than anything else and begs asking whether using a 46-year-old novice who wants to prove something to himself is really a sound decision?

We don’t see many 46-year-old veterans competing on the highest levels of professional sports, yet alone players with no experience being given the chance. That is what makes Randy Couture’s continued success at his age all the more impressive and stand out as the exception, not the rule.

I do not wish Herschel Walker harm or failure, nor do I begrudge Strikeforce for capitalizing on his name in return for a chance to get into the cage.

I just wonder if people would be as quick to accept a 46-year-old Tae Kwon Do black belt with zero experience stepping into the cage if his name wasn’t Herschel Walker.


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