Too bad we'll never know just how good Herschel Walker could have been. At 48 years old, even the seemingly ageless Walker admits that he doesn't see much of a lifespan for himself in mixed martial arts. He focuses more on the training than the fighting, leaving his Strikeforce career to his team at the American Kickboxing Academy.
That's a shame, really, because Walker could have been good. Very good. Sure, it's hard to tell just where he is right now. Even at 2-0, wins over Scott Carson and Greg Nagy aren't measuring sticks we can easily read. Beginner vs. beginner fights are understandable, but for the fan, they're not very helpful in evaluating talent. In Walker's case though, you can see he has it. For a young fighter -- figuratively speaking, of course -- he has good instincts, power and poise. And even at his advanced age, his athleticism is still quite obvious.
Walker has critics, of course, but most of them are more focused on why he has a job in the first place, rather than what he is when he steps in the cage. And aren't we supposed to care more about what happens in the cage?
It's a funny thing that most of the criticism of Walker comes from people in our sport, as if a guy who put aside his day-to-day job as the multi-millionaire owner of a multi-million dollar business to train for a payday he's going to donate to charity has something to apologize for.
Actually, it's just the opposite. We should be thanking him. Walker's involvement gets MMA out into the mainstream, where regular sports fans don't see him as a joke, even though he's 48 years old. He's not James Toney coming into the sport overweight and from an anonymous training camp. And he's not Kimbo Slice who never actually accomplished much in the sports world. This is Herschel Walker: Heisman Trophy Winner, NFL star, Olympic bobsledder. Athletically, he's as legitimate as they come.
This notion that he's being fed "tomato cans" is absurd. He's two fights into his career. Take a look at the records of most fighters around today, and 90 percent of them will also have similar no-name opponents in their first two fights. And to suggest he only belongs on the untelevised undercard is equally as ridiculous. Would you buy an expensive piece of jewelry and only wear it in the house? He's simply a unique case being treated in a unique manner.
Hopefully, his participation in the sport will cause more football players to give MMA a try. In many ways, football should be a great talent pool for the sport. It's full of guys who aren't afraid of physical contact, who are willing to work hard, and who have spent years working on explosive power. It's also full of guys who have no athletic outlet after their careers are cut short due to injury or not being quite good enough, or simply because the typical NFL career is startlingly short.
In Strikeforce, look no further than Ovince St. Preux, who played football in the talent-heavy SEC conference at the University of Tennessee, transitioned to MMA after his career came to an end, and has become one of the promotion's top light-heavyweight prospects. St. Preux was a slow starter in MMA, going 3-4 in his first seven fights before things started clicking for him, and he's improved and grown along with his opponent level, winning seven straight fights.
Think about how many guys out there play football at big time universities that never make it to the NFL, guys that are still great athletes but may be just a hair too slow for scouts, or who have an injury that scares off teams from drafting them. File UFC heavyweight star Shane Carwin under that category. He was a hot prospect that was supposed to be picked in the 1998 NFL draft before a back injury sunk his chances. Now he's among the UFC's marquee big men.
No one's saying football players would come in and dominate MMA. Most of the skills you learn in football don't have a practical application in MMA. But the athleticism translates, the physicality does as well, and MMA would certainly benefit from an increased talent pool. There would certainly be a learning curve for someone who never participated in wrestling or jiu-jitsu, but trained athletes who spend their life doing drills are generally much better at picking up technique than a random person off the street.
That's why Walker's been able to learn so quickly. He goes into a camp like AKA, the home of UFC champion Cain Velasquez, the home of stars like Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck, and he's just going to progress at a faster pace than most. It's our misfortune that he started so late in life, and we'll always be left to wonder what might have been.
As it is, what he will accomplish in a short time is nothing short of remarkable; 48 years old and 2-0 in a sport made for youth. Walker will never win a championship, and he doesn't try to pretend he will, but if his legacy is opening the door for more athletes to try their hands at MMA, or simply to bring more attention to it, his time in the sport will have been as important to us as it was to him.
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