Hershel Walker, one of the greatest college running backs ever, is probably largely unknown to the newest generation of sports fans. At 47, his best days on the football field happened over 20 years ago. Walker has never shied away from athletic challenge, though. You may remember his foray into Olympic bobsledding (that was a long time ago too). Saturday night on Showtime, Hershel will up the stakes by making his MMA debut with the Strikeforce promotion. Walker’s physical conditioning has been the stuff of legend for years. 2,500 sit-ups and 1,500 push-ups a morning. Or vice-versa? Either way it’s mind-boggling. He has also some martial arts background, but the jump to MMA seems risky, especially when he’ll be facing a fighter half his age.
It seems that MMA has become a popular thing to try for some athletes. You can’t deny that it satisfies a need for competition, but the results have been mixed at best. Putting aside the embarrassing performances of people like Jose Canseco, a few ex-athletes have taken serious runs at boxing and MMA. Kendall Gill comes to mind, and of course Johnnie Morton’s MMA debut lasted all of 40 seconds until he was brutally knocked out. You can check youtube for the video. I think the “competitive juices” that Morton felt after football were extinguished in the ring that night. So, this is going to be serious business for Walker who takes on Greg Nagy Saturday night.
Walker should be better prepared than Morton, and I’m sure Strikeforce went out of their way to set a fight that Hershel had a good chance to win, but you can’t always script the outcome you want in this sport. Look at the career of Kimbo Slice. As much as the promotions want him to be a phenomenon, he just hasn’t showed the goods in the ring. I’m not sure how much star power Walker has left, but he certainly will bring in some new fans, something that MMA seems to excel at, and while watching Hershel make his debut they get to see a decent card as well.
The devastating queen of women’s MMA, Chris Cyborg, will fight for the first time since knocking out Gina Carano. Also on the card is former professional wrestler Bobby Lashley, and a match-up between Robbie Lawler and Melvin Manhoef promises to bring fireworks. Manhoef is said to possess Anderson Silva like striking ability, and anyone who has seen one of Anderson’s fights knows that can make for good television.
Overall, it’s a nice card for Strikeforce in a down period for MMA and specifically the UFC. The extended absence of Brock Lesner, and the lack of marquee championship fight has left the last few UFC cards lacking. This event, which is free if you have Showtime, could be worth a look on Saturday night.
I don’t know enough about Hershel or his opponent to make any kind of prediction, but let’s hope the Heisman trophy winner knows what he was getting into. Win or lose, I don’t see much of a career in MMA for Hershel. I think he’s just doing it as a new challenge, but if he continues to pursue it, he’s eventually going to run into someone he can’t handle.