Hershel Walker's Debut Proved Little

Darren WongSenior Analyst IFebruary 5, 2010

7 Sep 1997:  Kick returner Herschel Walker of the Dallas Cowboys runs down the field during a game against the Arizona Cardinals at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona.  The Cardinals won the game 25-22. Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr  /Allsport
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

By the time Herschel Walker was announced as the winner of his fight with Greg Nagy, just about every MMA writer had already weighed in on the significance of Walker's win.

The two most common statements I've heard are that Walker:

A) proved that age is just a number,


B) proved that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

Despite the exaggerated claims of such writers, the fact is that Walker's win proved very little.

It seems like whenever there is a stark contrast in an athletic competition, people always want to say that something profound was proven.

When Minowaman won the Superhulk tournament, Maggie Hendricks was quick to say that the win proved "that size does not matter."

Georges St. Pierre's crushing victory over BJ Penn was apparently enough to convince other writers that size really does matter.

Whenever there is a clash of styles, somebody tries to make some overarching statement that brains are better than brawn, speed kills, defense wins championships, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is better than boxing in MMA, etc.

While there is a certain amount of truth to these statements, an Oscar Wilde quote comes to mind: "The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple."

It is worthwhile to more thoroughly examine the truth behind any overgeneralized statements about Walker's win, specifically those statements saying how Walker proved anything about the importance of age or the power of the human mind.

Before I do so, it is necessary to preface my remarks with a limiting statement.

Herschel Walker isn't necessarily bad for MMA and has been very respectful with his involvement in the sport.

If he wants to continue fighting, he has every right to do so, but if he does continue, we should keep the fights in their correct context rather than making overarching statements about their relevance.


Is age really nothing but a number?

From the statements people have been making, you would think that people lose all motor function at the age of 40.

While Herschel Walker may have made himself a prime candidate to become the next endorser of Bowflex, anybody with a motivated and athletic dad should know that there really is athletic life after 40.

The fact that Walker is still a physical specimen at the age of 47 certainly is impressive, but it certainly isn't completely unique, even at the highest levels of sport.

Jimmy Connors made it to the US Open Semifinals at age 39.

Gordie Howe played all 80 games of the 1979-80 NHL season at the age of 51.

George Foreman won a heavyweight boxing championship at 45.

Each and every one of these three achievements were far more impressive than Walker's latest win, yet not a single one of them proved that ages is just a number.

If age was really just a number, then maybe Jimmy Connors should try to return to the ATP tour now and see how that turns out.


Can we really achieve anything if we set our mind to it?

Normally, the power of the human mind should not be underestimated.

At the higher levels of sport, there is clearly a mental toughness that can make the difference between a winner and a loser.

But while there is a mental aspect to sports, people still do have physical limitations.

Sorry to burst everybody's bubble, but it takes some serious physical gifts to be able to compete at the highest levels of all but the most obscure sports.


So what did Hershel Walker really prove by beating Greg Nagy?

Walker and Nagy actually had relatively similar fight experience, so it was not like Walker needed to overcome a large gap in training.

In fact, the only really large advantage that Nagy had was his youth.

For all his youth, Nagy brought little athletic ability, experience, or skill to the table.  If Nagy was a highly athletic person, it might have been a different story.

Walker had an incredible athletic advantage.

Anybody who has ever been involved in competitive sports should understand something about the gigantic athletic gap between an average person and even a college-level athlete.

In his prime, Walker was probably closer to being a one in 100,000 athlete, maybe even one in a million.

Considering that other such high-level athletes like Jimmy Connors were still able to beat younger world-class athletes in their own professional sports, Walker's victory over an inexperienced and relatively mediocre athlete like Nagy should have been completely unsurprising.


The pure and simple truth?

A 47-year-old formerly world-class athlete can win a fight against an average 26-year-old guy with a similar level of martial arts experience.


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