The Great Herschel Walker and MMA Debate

“It’s better to regret something you did than something you didn’t do.” –Deep Kick by Red Hot Chili Peppers

Remember the early days of the UFC? They would air these promotional videos before each fighter entered the Octagon educating the audience about each fighter’s background. Part of the promos had each fighter explain why they were competing, which was invariably answered in one of two ways: to win the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or to test themselves. The latter has been Herschel Walker’s driving force behind his decision to not just compete in Mixed Martial Arts, but to compete for arguably the number two MMA promotion, Strikeforce.

It’s a shame that Walker could not have made his MMA debut back in the early days of the UFC, where his sixth degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do would have put him slightly ahead of many of the early competitors, while his superlative accomplishments as both a college and professional running back would have fit right in with early UFC color analyst and NFL Hall of Fame running back, Jim Brown. Unfortunately for the combat sports world, Walker was still several years away from retiring from the NFL, delaying Walker’s MMA debut until January 30th, 2010. At 47-years old, Walker will finally step into the cage at the Strikeforce: Miami event.

It is very easy to criticize Strikeforce’s decision to promote Walker. While it’s inarguable that promoting Walker is a savvy business decision, putting a 47-year old neophyte fighter (neophyter?) in the cage for an organization purported to be second only to the UFC is difficult to swallow. Comparisons can be drawn to fellow 47-year old fighter Randy Couture, who is both a 12-year veteran in MMA and a five-time UFC Champion. Walker is only just making his debut in the sport, being thrust into the spotlight based solely on the notoriety he earned as a collegiate, and to a lesser extent, professional athlete. As if that weren’t enough, Walker has long since been diagnosed with Disassociate Identity Disorder, otherwise known as Multiple Personality Disorder. In short, Strikeforce has made the decision to promote a running back whose martial arts background is that of tens of thousands of kids across the country and has a serious psychological disorder.

Clearly, both the Florida State Boxing Commission, who cleared Walker to fight, and Strikeforce are focused on advancing the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.

While all of that is very damning to Strikeforce, Walker, to his credit, has been a model of discipline and hard work during his time training with the American Kickboxing Academy, one of the very best MMA training camps. Among Walker’s training partners is UFC Welterweight contender Mike Swick, who has the utmost respect for Walker and his foray into MMA.

“It’s very inspirational,” explains Swick, “to see someone who’s such a fan of the sport come in at his age and say they’re going to fight and actually do what it takes, day in and day out, for 10 weeks to get prepared for it and then get in there, step in there and fight.”

Swick also explained that despite Walker being well past his athletic prime, he’s been able to attack the AKA training regimen with gusto. “10 weeks and [Walker’s] done every workout from our hardest to our most technical. He’s done everything, even our Aerodyne circuits. He’s done things continuously with us that top fighters have come in and not been able to hack.”

While a 10-week training camp is the typical prep time for a fighter, Walker’s 10-week training camp is the sum total of his Mixed Martial Arts training. To Swick, it shouldn’t be a problem when Walker faces Greg Nagy, 1-1 in MMA. “You can only learn as much as you can learn in 10 weeks,” said Swick, “but I’ve never seen someone so dedicated and learn as much in that 10-week period as he has…the amount of stuff he’s learned just in the 10 weeks he’s been training with us is phenomenal.”

Though a far cry from his Heisman trophy winning campaign, Walker is still a physical specimen. That he has been cleared to fight by the Florida State Boxing Commission is a testament to his superb athleticism. Though he is the oldest fighter to debut on a major MMA card, his athletic accomplishments make him the greatest athlete to debut on a major MMA card. That athleticism has come through in training, as Swick explained that Walker’s “sparring looks great, his conditioning is great, his strength is through the roof, and I think it’s more than enough to get him a win in this fight.”

Swick, naturally, is firmly behind his training partner. “I think [Walker’s] just going to go out there and go after [Nagy]. I think at the beginning, at least, he’s going to go straight for boxing and just try to knock the guy out, and then if the fight goes anywhere else he’s just going to be game and take it wherever. If he fights like he’s been sparring and training, he’s just going to go after this dude and try to knock his head off and unless this guy has a rock chin or some way to stop him or lands a big shot to knock him out, it’s going to be hard to stop Herschel because he’s like a train.”

A win for Walker will likely put Strikeforce officials over the moon. Not only will their decision to promote Walker be vindicated, but they’ll be able to reap the benefits of Walker’s stardom on a later event. While Swick feels Walker has the opportunity to succeed in the sport, he isn’t sure that Walker is in MMA for the long haul. “I don’t even know if he’s going to continue to fight after this fight. I don’t know if it’s a one-time deal…but if he continues to train how he trains now, he can have some successful fights and do really well. It’s going to be completely up to him.”

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