In March 2007 while conducting research in Travis Lutter’s gym over in Fort Worth, TX, I had the privilege of interviewing a young man named Cleburn Walker. At the time, Walker was a true MMA novice if ever there was one.
Then 23 years old, Walker had just finished time with the Marine Corps and was forging a possible career in MMA. Despite looking as muscled as any other fighter I’d met, I’m not going to lie, I had my doubts about this young aspiring fighter.
In our first interview, Walker shed light onto his pathway towards MMA, entering his first professional competition with only his military training behind him and literally no formal MMA instruction. Said Walker:
No, no MMA training whatsoever. I had just got out of the Marine Corps, and one of the things we did was wrestled, submitted each other a lot as way of establishing somewhat of a pecking order outside of our rank structure, to fight each other without actually fighting, so I thought I could fight on the ground, and from past experiences, I thought I could fight standing up well enough to defend myself, and I knew I was in shape. So I thought, what the hell let’s just jump in head first and see how it goes.
Although the rookie from Stephenville, TX didn’t come out victorious in his first contest, Walker pushed on.
A year later, “The Spartan” has erased my doubts and proven to be a warrior in and out of competition. This coming Saturday night, July 26, at the Reliant Arena in Houston, TX, Walker will enter full MMA competition again. However, since our interview about a year ago, Walker has gone on to win a string of matches without any losses.
Recently, Walker spoke with me again to talk about how he’s grown as a fighter, balancing life as a single father and pursing his dream of making it big in the MMA world.
After going through some personal issues, Walker moved into his own place with his two young children. He mentioned some of the challenges young fighters can deal with, which we don’t hear about from established superstars who have greater financial resources.
It’s kinda crazy because it’s just me raising them right now, and I can’t afford child care, so I just take them with me everywhere I go. To train, to get groceries, to eat, everything. I am arranging it so that their mom and her parents can watch them on the weekends so I can be more consistent with coming to Travis’ (Lutter) gym to train.
In addition to training under the tutelage of others, Walker is now earning income as an instructor. His combination of teaching and continuing to learn from experts in the industry have given him confidence as he approaches Saturday night.
I teach eight BJJ classes a week (five of which he teaches on his own), in addition to lifting and running...As far as success, I have accrued one sponsor, Choke Combat Gear. I’ve earned the privilege of getting to train with the big dogs at Travis’ like Jeff Owen and Justin Wren. I have won every fight since going to Travis’ with ease thanks completely to the training of Jeff Owen, and I see no reason why I should lose my next fight...
His confidence notwithstanding, Walker keeps a humble attitude. It’s a quality many MMA fighters possess. Unfortunately, the mainstream media rarely showcases this side of those in the fight game, choosing instead to spotlight trash talking and other behaviors that will sell pay-per-views.
But “The Spartan” keeps things in good perspective, knowing that building his name as a fighter means finding financial support through minor sponsors and staying grounded.
As far as the pros and cons of the stress, it only makes me happy because I love to be tested. I get to find out all the time just what I’m made of and how able I am to rise to the occasion. And at the times where I fall short, I get to find out what I need to work on. So it only makes me a better fighter and a better person to be taxed so much.
Walker’s diligent work and steady attitude are paying off. For his first fight over a year ago, he made $300. For his fight this coming Saturday, he stands to make a purse of $1,200 along with per diem and lodging money. While his earnings have been rising with each fight, these are numbers far off from what we are used to seeing from those in the UFC, Affliction, and other bigger MMA organizations.
However, Walker’s circumstances are much more typical of most MMA fighters out there, those who struggle with everyday problems, triumphs, and financial concerns far more than the stars we crave to read about. And what Walker currently lacks for in national stardom, he makes up for in attitude.
In his journey, Walker has learned a great deal about the MMA business and himself and offers the following advice for other young fighters like him trying to make it in a sometimes ruthless business.
I’ve learned that I will always have a lot to learn, so I am always keeping my eyes and ears open. I always consider the source of any advice I get, and if it’s someone I respect I take their advice to heart.
I would say the main thing I’ve learned is that it is a business. Not some surreal dream that you live, but a real life that you live. And just like anything else, diligence, respect, work ethic, people skills, and all that stuff play a huge roll. It’s not just about being showy, but about being someone other people want to be around and work with, in addition to being able to win fights.
Offer your support to this young warrior by dropping him a line or two HERE! He’s a great guy, moving on to big things!
David Mayeda, PhD, is lead author of Fighting for Acceptance: Mixed Martial Artists and Violence in American Society, the first political book on mixed martial arts, based on in-depth interviews with 40 mixed martial artists, including Randy Couture, “Rampage” Jackson, Dan Henderson, Guy Mezger, Chris Leben, Antonio McKee, Frank Trigg, Travis Lutter, and Cleburn "The Spartan" Walker. The book’s Forward is written by Jason “MayheM” Miller.