Despite the obvious criticisms, you have to admit that Strikeforce’s signing of 47-year-old former football star Herschel Walker has been a ringing success for the up-and-coming organization.
Walker has been all over the mainstream media since announcing he would fight at Strikeforce’s Jan. 30 show in Miami. He went on ESPN to publicly challenge UFC President Dana White – and the entire cast of "The Ultimate Fighter" season 10 – to fight for charity. He went on the Howard Stern radio show to say he only sleeps four hours per night and eats one meal per day. He worked out for the Associate Press, rolling with American Kickboxing Academy heavyweight Cain Velasquez and hitting mitts while MMA fighter/broadcaster Frank Shamrock looked on.
The detractors are many and sometimes Walker’s mouth runneth over. But so far, he’s been nothing but a media boon to a company that has to fight and claw for every bit of attention it can steal away from the UFC.
Walker said most of the right things on Wednesday, when he made his first public appearance in front of the niche MMA media during a press conference in New York City.
During the event and afterward in a one-on-one interview with MMA Fanhouse’ Ariel Helwani, Walker discussed the many obstacles in his way to a successful fighting career, including his age.
"I know I’m not going to be a world’s champion," Walker said of his longevity. "But I do have the opportunity to fight and I have the opportunity to perform and really do something that I love doing."
What Walker really loves doing has been uncertain at times during his long time in the spotlight. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1982, but eschewed the NFL to play his first two seasons of professional football in the ultimately doomed USFL. After football, he nearly made the Olympics as a sprinter, then did make it as a member of the 1992 U.S. bobsled team. He’s been a ballerina, appeared on "Celebrity Apprentice" with Donald Trump and published a 2008 autobiography where he admitted to having multiple personality disorder.
So, when Walker announced last year that he intended to become a pro MMA fighter, you couldn’t blame commentators and analysts for being a bit skeptical.
But so far, Walker seems to be doing it right. He’s been working out with top pros at AKA and has been careful to distance himself from other pro athletes like Jose Canseco and Jonnie Morton, whose attempts at MMA were disastrous.
"They’ve been insulting to the sport," Walker told Helwani of those two guys. "You can’t walk off a football field or basketball court or baseball diamond and walk into a cage and think you can fight. You have to go to a training camp, you have to have some experience, you have to work at it."
On Jan. 30, he’ll fight relatively unknown fighter Greg Nagy, a guy who is 1-1 as a professional with both fights coming in the Arizona-based Rage in the Cage promotion. Typing Nagy’s name into Google comes up a blank on the fighter. He has no Wikipedia page. He’s not on YouTube. The Rage in the Cage Web site claims to offer his fights via download, but the links didn’t work on Wednesday.
Care to place a bet on who Strikeforce thinks (hopes) will win?
"He’s brawler," Walker says of Nagy. "I’ve seen him on film and he’s a tough kid. He’s going to come and try to take control of the ring, from what I’ve seen. It’s going to be interesting, because that’s what I do. In football, I’ve always been a offensive player and I’m an offensive fighter."
It begs mention that Walker plans to donate the entire purse of this fight to charity and is quick to fall back on the old cliché that he’s taking it "one fight at a time." Can’t blame him for that.
Even if he goes down to defeat in his pro debut, that one fight has already been more than worth it for Strikeforce.
Chad Dundas is the Lead MMA Editor for The Sporting News and writes weekly column for CraveOnline. He lives in Missoula, Montana.