Thursday, January 14, 2010

Is Herschel Walker's Upcoming "Strikeforce" Debut Good or Bad for MMA?

Set to air on Showtime Sports Jan. 30th, Strikeforce Miami is stacked with talent. It even includes two title matches featuring welterweights Nick Diaz (20-7) vs. Marius Zaromskis (13-3) and, for the women's 145lb. title, Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos (8-1) vs. Marloes Coenen (17-3). Still, one fighter sporting an 0-0 pro MMA record is garnering the lion's share of media attention. Perhaps you've heard of 1982 Heisman Trophy winner and 12-year NFL veteran, Herschel Walker?

If not, here are some of his impressive stats courtesy of
In 12 NFL seasons, Walker gained 8,225 rushing yards, 4,859 receiving yards, and 5,084 kickoff-return yards.[11] This gave him 18,168 total combined net yards, ranking him second among the NFL's all-time leaders in total yardage at the time of his retirement; as of the start of the 2007 NFL season, ten years after his retirement, he still ranks eighth.[12] He also scored 84 touchdowns: 61 rushing, 21 receiving and two kick off returns for touchdowns.[11] ...Walker is currently ranked eighth all time in all-purpose NFL yards with 18,168, despite spending his first three seasons in the USFL.
Even if you are not personally interested in football, understand that Herschel Walker is extremely well-known and widely beloved among NFL fans-- who are universally considered the largest single group of sports fans in North America. Is that the type of athlete you might promote in order to compete with the industry-leading UFC for attention? Well, Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker certainly thinks so.

Of course, not everyone is supportive of a long-since retired football player competing in such a high-profile MMA debut. In fact, numerous MMA commentators have accused this fight of being little more than an ill-conceived publicity stunt. They argue that Walker's involvement in Strikeforce Miami will draw attention away from the card's credible stars, and that it will not significantly increase the public's acceptance of MMA. They question why a man with zero experience, former NFL superstar or not, deserves a spot on the main card of arguably the biggest Fedor-less Strikeforce card to date.

Certainly, these questions carry some weight. As do the sincere concerns some have expressed for Walker's personal safety. After all, at almost forty-eight years old, Walker is nearly three full years the senior of longtime UFC and PRIDE FC stand-out Mark "The Hammer" Coleman (16-9). Their thirty-three-month age difference is significant because some have already expressed concern about"The Hammer" competing at his age, and that is being voiced despite Mark's numerous years of big-fight experience.

As you might expect, Herschel Walker has his own cadre of supporters in the MMA community and beyond. Simply put, they say, Herschel Walker is not built like the rest of us-- he is a cut above. He is, indisputably, a supreme natural athlete who consistently impressed even his former NFL colleagues with his insane workout regimen. It is said to have included literally thousands of push-ups and sit-ups daily. Not only that, but Walker is also a sixth-degree black belt in the Korean striking art of Tae Kwon Do.

On top of his natural ability and longstanding study of the martial arts, Walker has dedicated nearly every day of the last several months to training at one of the world's best MMA gyms, American Kickboxing Academy. Though commonly noted for its famous trio of UFC welterweights, A.K.A. is also the permanent home to several high-quality light heavyweights and heavyweights [Walker will fight at a 220lb. catchweight]. That group even includes a current UFC heavyweight contender, Cain Velasquez (7-0), who provided Walker with some excellent sparring sessions. The expert coaching and instruction that Walker received there, from the likes of A.K.A's Javier Mendez and Dave Camarilo, could not have hurt either.

With two such committed camps of opinion, what middle ground can be found?

While, media interest in Walker could certainly distract attention from more established MMA stars at Strikeforce Miami, there is also a commonly ascribed to notion that there is no such thing as bad publicity. While that cliche statement is not entirely true (just ask Tiger Woods) it is instructive in this case.

By bringing the sports-world's attention to the card, Herschel Walker will almost certainly boost Strikeforce's television ratings. If he wins, which he should considering his opponent, Greg Nagy (1-1), is not an athlete of Walker's caliber, Strikeforce will score a mass-media touchdown of sorts. There is even the obvious possibility of setting up a second fight with one of several viable MMA luminaries from years-gone-by. For example, perhaps the great Don Frye (20-8-1) could be persuaded to step up? A fight like that would sell through the roof.

Marketability aside, some would argue that Herschel Walker deserves a passing grade on this move because he is clearly doing it for the love of the game. Don't kid yourself, the man does not need any more money. In fact, Walker has already committed his entire purse to Project Turnaround-- a charity dedicated to helping urban youth and rebuilding communities in Dallas, TX. In addition, Walker is arguably a great ambassador for the sport because he truly believes in MMA's intrinsic beauty and limitless potential:

“I’ve followed MMA for a long, long time. I love it, and I want to help promote it. This is a wonderful sport. It’s a human chess game. How can a sport that combines all that -- jiu-jitsu, judo, boxing, kickboxing, wrestling -- not be one of the best sports out there?” (Props:
Herschel Walker is nobody's fool. He knew from the start that there would be legions of naysayers. He must also have realized that many among them would make very valid points as to why he should not compete at MMA. Nonetheless, after objectively assessing Walker's incredible athletic talents, his infectiously positive attitude, and his vast potential marketability, only a very stubborn few could conceivably blame Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker for giving him a shot. Will it be good or bad for MMA? Only time will tell.

Video Interviews with both Walker and Coker can be found below:

Props: The Fight

Props: MMA

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