Herschel Walker (top) | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Herschel Walker has only been a professional mixed martial artist for one year, but he seems to have entered the game equipped with a fighter’s mentality.
On Nov. 22, less than two weeks before his scheduled sophomore MMA outing, the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner was sparring with fellow Strikeforce heavyweight Daniel Cormier at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., when a knee strike from Cormier caused a deep cut under Walker’s left eye.
Walker left the gym to get the laceration sutured. Then, he came back to resume training for his fight.
“When I went away to get my eye stitched up that day and I came back, they were looking at me, almost shaking their heads, saying, ‘You’re not gonna fight,’” Walker said during a media conference call on Monday. “I was thinking, ‘No, I’m gonna fight!’ But then, I realized that they know a lot more than I do.”
When Walker began training for his MMA debut, he joined AKA at the urging of Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker. Once there, Walker decided to implicitly trust the advice imparted to him by Javier Mendez, Bob Cook and Dave Camarillo. Under the counsel of the trainers and other fighters at AKA, Walker withdrew from his match.
“Talking with those guys, I learned about how you could get that eye reopened [or] you could go into a fight and win the whole fight, and the last 30 seconds, you could do something to your eye and the referee stops it,” Walker said.
Fast-forward two months and Walker is slated to face the same opponent, Scott Carson, on the Showtime-televised portion of Saturday’s Strikeforce “Diaz vs. Cyborg” card. Walker said that the extra time, along with all of his work at AKA since his debut, has shaped him into a higher-quality competitor.
“I went from an OK fighter to a much better fighter with a little pressure. I was learning the things that I needed to know,” said Walker, who noted that MMA training has whipped his 48-year-old frame into better shape than in his college and NFL days. “I think my body had to get adapted to it... but I think I’m a much better conditioned athlete right now than when I was playing [football].”
Coker added that, after some initial apprehension regarding Walker entering the cage, he had been stunned by the former running back’s endurance during a tryout at AKA.
“I said, ‘OK, well, Herschel, let’s have you go with a Division I wrestler and roll with a jiu-jitsu guy and spar with a kickboxer,” Coker said on Monday. “He did very well in all three disciplines, but the one thing that amazed me was that he wasn’t tired. After sparring for 15 minutes -- five minutes straight with a one-minute rest against all these guys -- he just wasn’t tired.”
According to Walker, shortly after his successful MMA debut against Greg Nagy, he ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash -- faster than all but a handful of players at last year’s NFL scouting combine.