Note: This interview was completed just prior to Walker pulling out of his December 4 fight against Scott Carson.
On September 21, 2009, Strikeforce caught the mixed martial arts community flat-footed when they announced the signing of 47-year-old former football star Herschel Walker.
At the time Walker had no formal MMA training but possessed an extensive Tae Kwon Do background.
He somehow even found time to compete in martial arts tournaments in between attending classes and performing on the gridiron at the University of Georgia.
It had been a long while since he competed in organized sports—Sunday, December 21, 1997 was the last time, to be exact.
That was the date his Dallas Cowboys were defeated 20-7 on the green astroturf inside old Texas Stadium.
Walker, a kick returner and backup running back, finished the game with two catches for 16 yards receiving and two kick returns for 36 yards on special teams.
The Cowboys concluded their season with a 6-10 record and subsequently missed the playoffs.
It was the end of a long and fruitful chapter for the two-time NFL Pro Bowler and eventual College Football Hall of Fame inductee.
MMA would be an opportunity for a new athletic challenge for this certified “freak of nature,” regardless of age.
It would require him to become a rookie again, with plenty of dues to pay, knowledge to soak up and skills to acquire and hone.
With his competitive juices flowing, this neophyte embarked on his first ever MMA training camp in October 2009.
He walked in the front door at 1830 Hillsdale Ave. #2 in San Jose, California and began his assimilation into both a new sport and the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) team that awaited him inside.
“I am at a great gym here at AKA. I think I have some great trainers with Javier Mendez, Bob Cook and Dave Camarillo. There are a lot of great fighters here—Cain Velasquez, Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck, Mike Swick, Josh Thomson, Luke Rockhold, Daniel Cormier. I’ve got some of the best trainers and fighters you can ask for. There’s no doubt they spend a lot of time with me and help me learn this sport. I think that has made my transition over to MMA a little easier,” said Walker.
A three-month camp would be completed leading up to his professional fighting debut, which would be held on January 30, 2010 at the Strikeforce: Miami event across the country in Sunrise, Florida.
His opponent was tabbed to be 1-1 Arizona native Greg Nagy, who was coming off a loss to Francisco Navarro just three months prior under the Rage in the Cage banner.
With the event being broadcast on Showtime, hundreds of thousands of television viewers and the 7,010 paying attendees at the BankAtlantic Center would all bear witness to his inaugural trek inside the cage.
Whatever pressure or nerves he may have felt did not appear to hamper his performance that particular evening.
In the third round of the fight Walker was able to progress to mount and rain down punches until the referee was forced to stop the bout to save Nagy from unnecessary punishment.
It was a perfect fusion of hard work in the gym coupled with his God-given athletic gifts that produced his success.
In retrospect, it was a pretty good performance for a novice under the microscope.
“I was happy with the win. You always have to be not happy with everything. There are some things I could improve on and make myself better in,” said Walker.
After the Nagy fight, even Walker was not 100 percent sure what his future entailed despite his multi-fight contract with Strikeforce.
He hoped he would be able to fight again but did not feel it was appropriate for him to be the one calling the shots regarding his newfound career path.
After all, he’s still a green fighter better suited for the Strikeforce Challengers circuit but fast-tracked to main card mainstay due to name value and mainstream appeal.
“I always have left it up to my trainers Javier Mendes, Bob Cook, Dave Camarillo and also the guys in the gym. I train with them every day. I step in the ring and I spar with them. I am on the mat doing jiu-jitsu with them. And I’ve said, ‘If y’all don’t think I can do this I’m not going to do it.’ I represent AKA. I don’t want to step in there if I am not ready, if they don’t think I’m ready.”
The consensus between stakeholders was that Walker could and should continue fighting.
“I said if they think I can do it then I’ll do it again, but it is really left up to them. It’s not really up to me. I go into the gym and just train. I love to train. If anyone knew anything about me, training is my life.”
He singled out the aforementioned UFC welterweight No. 1 contender (and glorified Zuffa heel) Josh Koscheck as a training partner who has helped him out tremendously in the gym.
“Josh is in the gym every day. He has showed me some things. We’ve been going over some things to do to your opponent while you are down on the ground.”
He also employed the “don’t judge a book by its cover” mantra in reference to Koscheck’s stint on the current season of The Ultimate Fighter.
“Josh is a good man. He makes it good for television. You have got to have a good and bad. He helps everyone in the gym. When you see Josh with the young people you see that he has a kind heart. On the show, he’s doing the show. People don’t really know Josh. The guys in the gym, we know him. He is our brother.”
After Walker received the blessing of his contemporaries in the gym like Koscheck and his coaching staff, Strikeforce officials pushed forward and penciled him in for a return trip to the cage. This time he would face a much more experienced adversary in WEC veteran Scott Carson.
The bout was scheduled for the Strikeforce: Henderson vs. Babalu II card that is set to take place this weekend on December 4 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri.
Unfortunately, the fight has since been removed from the card.
According to a November 24 press release from Strikeforce:
"Herschel Walker sustained a deep cut under his left eye that required multiple stitches while training Monday at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., and will not be able to fight on Saturday, Dec. 4, at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
"'I feel terrible about this,' said Walker, who was cut from a knee strike while training with AKA teammate and two-time United States Olympic wrestling team member Daniel Cormier. 'I know things like this happen in all sports, but I had trained very hard and was excited to be returning to the cage again. I hope to fight again as soon as the cut heals.'"
Strikeforce’s Mike Afromowitz has confirmed to BleacherReport.com that Herschel is expected to compete again during first quarter 2011 against a yet-to-be named opponent.
The logical step would be to green-light the matchup with Scott Carson again, as he was not given a replacement opponent for the December 4 card.
Once Walker’s second fight has come and gone, win or lose, his future will continue to remain uncertain. He appears content letting those close to him be on call for a periodic and honest assessment.
“What I want to do is continue to train mixed martial arts. I think training is competing. When you come into AKA you’re competing. You have a heck of a lot of good fighters in that gym, and there is no doubt you are going to get better. I want to continue to train MMA. Whether I fight again is left up to my trainers and the fighters there,” said Walker.
Regardless of whether or not he will continue to fight beyond first quarter 2011, his ambassadorship position on behalf of the sport of MMA will extend so long as he desires.
“I love this sport. I want to help this sport grow. I want to bring credibility to it. I want to show people this is a great, great sport. Everyone thinks it is such a brutal sport. I think that word is insulting. Football and boxing are a lot more brutal than this.
“People see the blood and they get scared. I try to tell them a guy may get cut from an elbow and he bleeds because the body is warm. Here we have rules. If that guy gets knocked down the referee is almost jumping in to stop it or he can tap out. That is why I think this sport needs to have more recognition. People need to give it its just due.“
Derek Bolender is a freelance MMA writer who has contributed to CBSSports.com, MMAmania.com and FIGHT! Magazine (in addition to BleacherReport.com). Follow him on Twitter at @DerekBolender.