SAN JOSE – Herschel Walker
made two things very clear at Thursday afternoon's pre-fight press conference at the HP Pavilion: 1) he is totally, fully invested in his MMA training, no matter what skeptics might think, and 2) he owns a "chicken company" that somehow doesn't get any press even with all the media attention on his second pro fight this Saturday night at Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Cyborg
"I have a food company. I don't know if you all know that but you need to write that up," said Walker. "I have a chicken company that sells to Sysco. It's the largest minority-owned chicken company in the United States. I have over 600 employees. I'm serious, you need to write that down."
The point is, the reason the 48-year-old waited so long to get involved in MMA wasn't because he wasn't interested, Walker said. It's just that he was busy with his company, Renaissance Man Food Services, and he doesn't believe in doing anything just a little bit. That's why he told his employees that if they called him while he was training at AKA that they would be summarily fired, and also why he's spent the better part of the last year living in a hotel just to be near the gym.
"I live in a hotel," Walker said. "A great hotel, the Fairmont, so maybe they'll give me a cheaper rate, but I live in a hotel. And I have a beautiful home in Dallas, and I live in a hotel, with little bitty rooms, no Showtime."
But while Walker – who was described several times by Strikeforce officials as one of the world's greatest athletes – gets all the attention, it's not as if he'll be alone in the cage on Saturday.
Instead he'll be facing 4-1 fighter Scott Carson
, who appeared every bit as recalcitrant as Walker was gregarious during the brief presser, and who, at times, seemed barely capable of raising his voice to an audible volume. He answered questions quietly and briefly, and seemed less like a fighter eager to jump in the cage than one who was slightly embarrassed by the attention.
"Herschel's a big name because of his legacy," the soft-spoken Carson said. "I know I've just got to go out and prove myself, because although I have a lot more fights, I'm definitely the lesser-known guy. It's a big opportunity and I put myself through a pretty strenuous training camp."
Carson called the initial postponement of the bout "a blessing," because he said it gave him an opportunity to get more training time in before returning to the cage for only the second time since 2001. After reeling off four straight wins in the first three years of his career, Carson said a "serious back injury" forced him to take some time off and led to him focusing on business rather than fighting.
"I just came back to train and then the guys at the gym kept pushing me to fight," he said. "That's how it happened."
It's not exactly the all-or-nothing attitude exemplified by Walker, but Carson said that as soon as he got offered the fight against the former NFL star he changed gyms, heading off to train with UFC fighter Mark Munoz
at Reign Training Center in Lake Forest, Calif.
"I'm pretty fortunate to get this fight," said Carson. "I know that. If I don't make the most of it, it's all for naught. I don't know what my role is, but I'm going to do my best. I came prepared."
As for Walker's role, that seems fairly clear. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker
described this as just another part of Walker's "martial arts journey" – one which extends all the way back to his playing days at the University of Georgia, according to Coker.
"He said that on Saturdays he would run for the school, and on Sundays he would go to a traditional karate tournament and compete," Coker said, relaying a story told to him by Walker. "So in traditional karate tournaments, he'd walk back into the dorm with a trophy. The coaches would say, 'Hey Herschel, you've to stop that stuff. That karate stuff is bad for you and you need to stop it. You're going to get hurt, and you'll be drafted next year.' You can imagine what the conversation was like. So finally they gave Herschel an ultimatum, and he said to the coach, 'Well, if that's the case, maybe I'll just stop playing football.' That's how much he loved martial arts. And I'm sure the coach said, 'No, no, that's okay. We'll see you next [Saturday].'"
You could argue that Walker is similarly as valuable to Strikeforce as he was to his college coaches, if only for his PR appeal. He may not have a title run in him, but he does attract a lot of media attention, even if that doesn't always lead to more attention for Strikeforce.
For instance, the conversation that sprang up about whether he could still play in the NFL
was taken out of context, he insisted, but it did manage to overshadow the news of the fight itself in many media sources.
"Like I've always said, people are going to have something to write no matter what. It has nothing to do with fighting. They just want media to get attention. What was said about football wasn't even what I spoke about. And the attention, I've been getting the attention since I was about 15, a long time ago, probably before you were even born. I don't even think about it."
Still, the fact that the former Heisman Trophy winner who is, by his own admission, "a little bit weird," is devoting himself to MMA? That should be newsworthy enough, and at least so far it has been. Even if it means his chicken company gets sadly ignored for the time being.