Some readers may recall an interview from last month which profiled a budding MMA fighter named Cleburn "The Spartan" Walker. This marks the second installment (or "Round Two") that tracks Walker through his budding MMA career. Now sporting a professional record of 4-1, the 185lb fighter will enter the cage again this coming Saturday night (August 23) at the FireLake Grand Casino in Shawnee, Oklahoma, competing for the organization, Freestyle Cage Fighting.
"The Spartan" took some of his time to chat with me, weighing in on his last fight, an unusual training partner, his coaches, and his emotions just before a fight.
On His Last Fight and Opponent
David Mayeda (DM): Congrats on your last fight. It was less than a month ago, right? So talk me through it. How’d round one go?
Cleburn Walker: Yeah, it was on July 26. From what I heard he was a really accomplished boxer. He boxed for the navy and stuff like that, so my game plan was to come right out and work for the clinch and go for a takedown. Completely to my surprise, he clinched up with me immediately. So I was just listening to my corner, and I worked him up against the fence and took him down pretty quickly. He was doing a good job of stalling me ... holding my hands and things like that and basically preventing me from gaining anything on him. But basically he was playing defense the whole time while I was playing offense, so eventually I had my way with him.
DM: And round two?
Cleburn Walker: I won at about 2:24 of the second round with a guillotine choke. He was tough. He was a big, strong, tough guy. I mean he was a bit shorter than me, but he was really stout and really built. And at one point in the fight, he picked me up and slammed me right on my head, and I don’t remember too much after that, which means he knocked me out for just a second.
DM: So he shot in on a double-leg or something to pick you up?
Cleburn Walker: No, we were in a scramble on the ground and somehow he just stood up with me. I really can’t recall exactly how it happened. I need to see the tape to see where I made that mistake, but he completely picked me up and turned me upside down and slammed me right on my head ... He actually came up and stayed with me this past weekend and trained with me. And then this coming weekend, I’m gonna be working his corner and be a commentator at the event.
DM: That’s an interesting story right there. So you’ve befriended your last opponent and you’re basically working with him now.
Cleburn Walker: Yeah, I beat him, and then he was really sociable afterwards. I told him any time he could come up and train with me, so his manager and promoter of the event brought him up here to stay during the weekend. I took him to Travis (Lutter's gym) with me. I took him to Jeff Owens' school with me and we worked on a lot of stuff.
DM: So what do you think that says about MMA and its combatants?
Cleburn Walker: I think it says we’re professional athletes that between bells, we’ll do whatever it takes to win, but outside of that I don’t see any reason why anybody can’t be mature and understand that it’s a business.
On Emotions Just Before a Match and While Training
DM: How do you describe yourself as a fighter, what’s your style?
Cleburn Walker: I think right now I could best describe myself as a grappler with good jiu-jitsu. I think that’s where most of my training has been, but I’ve been working a lot of wrestling and a lot of striking lately. And I hope to at some point be recognized as well rounded in all areas. In the future, I’d really like to be acknowledged for my striking.
DM: Now who was cornering you?
Cleburn Walker: Jeff Owen. Yeah, he’s my man. He’s a very good personal friend. I mean he’s more than a friend. He’s family and he’s my mentor.
DM: Now with four professional bouts under your belt, what are your emotions like when you walk towards the cage to compete?
Cleburn Walker: Each time is its own unique experience. To me, walking to the cage is the culmination of whatever’s been going on in my life that’s leading up to that fight, as far as training, personal things, how I’ve felt physically, how I’ve been preparing for that specific opponent. The fight before last, I was nervous and jittery, but in a good way I was really excited. And the way I told my friends was, it was like the morning of Christmas – something good was gonna happen, but you just don’t know what it is. Like I knew something really good was gonna happen in my last fight; I just didn’t know how it was gonna happen. For this most recent fight, I was a little worried about it to be honest.
DM: What’s the best thing about being a young up and coming fighter?
Cleburn Walker: (After a pause) The older guys maybe sometimes seem kind of bitter about things. I think I have a young, fresh view of things. I’ve got plenty of wear and tear left on my mind and my body. The abuse that I physically and emotionally take doesn’t affect me the way it might someone who’s been in this a little longer.
DM: So how does that make you feel knowing that you may get to that stage sometime?
Cleburn Walker: I’ve just got to cross that bridge when I get to it. For the most part, I’m a fairly upbeat, happy go lucky type of person. I enjoy challenges. I enjoy things being put on my plate. The day I stop being challenged, then I’ll be worried.
DM: What’s the toughest thing about being a young up and comer?
Cleburn Walker: I don’t really know what to say is the toughest thing. I’m just happy that things are starting to move forward and all my efforts are going to pay off. I guess the toughest thing right now is I’m away from my kids and my ex-wife is watching them. She moved into my house (in Stephenville, Texas), and I’m still paying for everything. But it’s good that she’s able to do that and take care of the kids and everything so I can be here (Fort Worth, Texas) to train. It’s a double-edged sword because I really miss being around my kids; it was a really happy time when I was with them all the time, but at the same time, I have to be away from them so I can be up here and get better, more consistent training.
On Training at Travis Lutter's Gym
DM: Okay so you’re basically training at Travis’ gym all the time. Talk me through a typical week of training now that you’re approaching your next fight.
Cleburn Walker: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, about 11:00–1:00, I work jiu-jitsu with Travis. Sometimes I’ll do rounds, depending if there are other guys in there training for a fight, like Travis or Alex Andrade or some of the other upper-level guys up there … Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday night, I teach class with Jeff Owen, so from 6:30–7:30, there’s me, Jeff, and a couple other guys who are accomplished boxers that help me work on my hands and stuff like that. And then from 7:30–9:00 on those night, I teach BJJ. Thursday nights, I’ll usually go to Travis’ second school, and it’s an MMA class but it’s basically more of a wrestling class. And then Friday evening I’ll either go back to Travis’ or I’ll go to a boxing gym. Then Saturday, I’ll do a workout at jiu-jitsu and grappling workout at Travis’.
DM: So do you get a day off?
Cleburn Walker: Today was my 9th day in a row of training. The past few Sundays I haven’t had off, but normally I take Sundays off.
DM: Okay, so have you submitted Travis yet while rolling with him?
Cleburn Walker: No, no, not even close. It’s one of those things, if he’s having a bad day and I’m having a good day ... I might have got semi-close to working a kimura or something, but it’s unrealistic to think that I should be tapping Travis anytime soon.
DM: I thought maybe every now and then you might catch him.
Cleburn Walker: Nah, if I can survive five minutes or so with him, then I think I’m doing okay. I mean he’s really a stud. He’s really a very physically imposing person, and I don’t think he’s been given enough credit for his physical strength and dominance.
DM: I think the general MMA community knows he’s just an awesome, elite BJJ guy and he has awesome takedowns, but he gets a bad rap on some other things like his conditioning.
Cleburn Walker: Yeah, he had a couple bad showings, and in this sport, if you do that once or twice it really affects you. Even Chuck Liddell, who was the face of the sport for so long, he lost two fights in a row and a lot of people were asking if he was washed up and stuff. Travis is a really impressive person, especially to train with.
DM: Anything else you wanted to say?
Cleburn Walker: I want to thank God for watching over me. I wanted to thank Jeff Owen, thank my sponsor, Choke Combat Gear, and Carol Singletary, she was the promoter of the event for my last fight (Singletary is one of only a few women who holds a leadership role in promoting MMA in the United States).
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 that attempts to reform the sport by increasing violence prevention measures through interviews with forty mixed martial artists, including Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, Guy Mezger, Antonio McKee, Chris Leben, "Rampage" Jackson, "Mayhem" Miller, Travis Lutter, and Frank Trigg. Dr. Mayeda has also published numerous academic journal articles on youth violence prevention and discrimination in sports media.