With a storied career on the football field, his 49th birthday less than two months away, and a single fight in Mixed Martial Arts it might be easy to label Herschel Walker as little more than a freak-show attraction. However, talk to the former Heisman Trophy winner for awhile and his genuine passion for the sport becomes evident, as does the seriousness with which he’s treating what may be the final run of his athletic career.
Walker, who fights Scott Carson at “Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Cyborg” this Saturday night on Showtime, recently spoke to media in a conference call and addressed a number of topics including the similarities in preparing for the gridiron and the cage, his love for and future in MMA, his belief he could still play football if he wanted to, and why he thinks people shouldn’t sleep on his opponent.
Due to the plentiful nature of the football legend’s comments, Five Ounces of Pain is going to provide questions/answers verbatim as opposed to intertwining quotes in an article. Read ahead and enjoy, as Walker offers a bit of wisdom and insight relating to his world and approach to both life and MMA…
QUESTION: How long have you been involved in martial arts?
Herschel Walker: “I’ve been doing martial arts for about 33 years now. I started when I was in high school. I started in Tae Kwon Do and in college I really got heavily into it. I’ve always loved martial arts. MMA is something I’ve watched for years, even when it was somewhat of a Toughman competition. And then they started putting all the rules in it and I fell in love with it.”
Q: What did you learn from suffering your eye injury (a cut delaying his return to the ring in 2010)?
Walker: I (learned) it’s better to wait. I didn’t really have enough experience to know that when you get cut in training that you shouldn’t really jump back in there and try to fight. I think being an athlete we’re sort of naïve and stupid. When I got cut I assumed I could still fight. One of the things I said I would do when I came to this gym at American Kickboxing Academy was that I was going to leave everything in the hands of Javier Mendez, Bob Cook and Dave Camarillo and a lot of the fighters. That whatever they say I need to do I’ll do. When I went away to get my eye stitched up and I came back they were all looking at me and shaking their heads and saying you’re not going to fight. I was saying, no, I’m going to fight. But I realized they know a lot more than I do. I talked with those guys and learned how you can get that cut re-opened. They were saying how you can go into a fight and be winning the entire fight and the last 30 seconds you can do something to your eye and the referee stops it. You have to be real smart and have to go into the fight really healthy and that’s what I’ve got to do. I’m not a guy who’s going to be fighting for five, six, seven years. I’m going to be fighting for a little bit. So every fight I go into I better win so I better not have anything that’s going to make me have an opportunity to lose the fight.
Q: What have you focused on with the extra time?
Walker: A little bit of Jiu-Jitsu. That’s what I want to say to all those who want to put Carson down. When I came back to AKA in July I didn’t come back to get a fight. I came back to train. In a short amount of time I went from an OK fighter to a much better fighter because there was no pressure. And I was just learning the things that I need to know. That’s what was so different than my first time coming here. I had all the pressure and there was so much input and I didn’t have time to grasp it all. Scott has been training for a long time. He may not have had that many fights but he’s always been training which means he’s putting the time and learning a great deal. So I was able to still put some time in the gym and learn little things that I thought I knew in just a couple of weeks just watching guys like Dan Cormier. So there was no pressure on me during those couple of weeks.”
Q: What has been your most motivating factor to get ready for this?
Walker: My motivating factor was just to always compete. When I left home from little Wrigthsville , Georgia , I said I would always compete to my fullest. I knew that to get ready for this fight I had to be ready and most of all I had to be much better than I was in my first fight. Even though I won my first fight which was great I knew I had to improve. If I wanted to be considered a good MMA fighter I had to improve so my motivation was to get in that cage this coming Saturday and let people see that this guy can really fight.”
Q: How did some of your football training transfer over into MMA?
Walker: There was a lot that’s transferable. I’ve always tried to tell the players that they should be training in some kind of MMA during the off-season. It would help them a great deal. Because everything you do in MMA training is almost correlated to what you do in football; where they always talk about getting your butt down and keeping your head up. And for a running back that stiff-arm is so important, for a receiver that stiff-arm is so important. For an offensive lineman the hands are so important and the leg strength. So there are just so many things that are correlated between football and MMA and vice versa. With my experience in football my athleticism plays a big part. I try to add a lot of athleticism to my MMA fighting.”
Q: Talk about the individuality of the sport of MMA
Walker: That’s why this is an incredible sport. In football if I make a mistake I have a quarterback or a receiver or an offensive lineman to fall back on. But here, once you step into that cage it’s mano y mano and there’s a guy on the other side of the cage and if you make a mistake you’ll get knocked out or he’ll leave you hurt. You’ve got to be on your game. There are no mistakes being made here. Guys work extremely hard and I don’t know if you heard me at my last fight but I told the crowd you should never boo these guys. These guys work extremely hard and when you see a guy against the cage and you think he’s resting that’s not the truth. They are just trying to think of something else. It’s like a human chess match. That’s one reason I wanted to get involved with the sport because it’s just so amazing.”
“In football I don’t think I was as sore as when I’m training in MMA. When I first started doing this training I’ve never been this sore in my whole life. My body had to get adapted to it. Even now that I’ve been training for awhile I’m still really sore. I think I’m a better conditioned athlete right now than I was when I was playing. I’m 48 now and I’m in better shape now than I was in my early 20s playing football.”
Q: How long can you keep it going?
Walker: “It’s hard to say. My thing is I want to do be a good ambassador for the sport. But being an ambassador doesn’t mean you have to fight but one thing I had to do was prove that I could fight. I’ve always said I absolutely hate trainers who tell someone to do something when they can’t do it. I want to be able to talk about this MMA stuff but I also want to have the knowledge and be able to say I’ve done it.”
Q: Have you moved to San Jose to train at AKA?
Walker: “I did. I left not only my home in Dallas but also my company. I’ve left my company to my top guy and I’ve come out here to train. I moved into a hotel in July to begin training. And then the fight came along and I first asked my trainers and the fighters and they said yes you can do it. And that’s the only reason why I’m back doing it. How long can I do it? Who knows. I tell people I may even try out for football again and show people I can do that one more time. I’d be the George Foreman of football and come back and do that one more time.”
Q: What do you think of other fighters’ have a negative reaction to you fighting?
Walker: “That’s the way life is. Life is like that. What’s strange about it is that fighters that are putting me down need to come to AKA and train with me. Then they’ll see that this is not a gimmick for me. This is life. Everyone has a right to their own opinion. It’s what makes America beautiful. But at the same time they have to come and see what I do. I invite anyone to come and see what I do. They have a right to their opinion. Some guys have put in a lot of time and I can understand if they think I’m taking their spot. But I want them to know that I’m not here to hurt. I’m here to help, not hurt. I don’t want people to always agree with me. You shouldn’t. If you think I’m a gimmick you can come to AKA and roll with my anytime. I’m not afraid to roll with anyone. All the guys here at AKA we roll with everyone so I’m not afraid of that.”
Q: Do you feed off the attention good or bad?
Walker: “I don’t think about the negative or the positive. I’ve never read an article about myself or looked at any criticism or seen a show about myself because I don’t want to see the negative or the positive because I know who Herschel Walker is. I know what I’ve got to get done and I know what I need to do and the work I have to put in. That’s why I work so hard. The most things I hear now is that Herschel’s got to be on something. How can he look like that at his age? I say they can do anything they want to me or test me anyway they want to. They can see that this is nothing but hard work. I was taught that when I was a little boy from my parents and this is nothing but hard work. I’ve never turned down a challenge and I don’t do it now.”
“I’ve never had to prove anything to anybody. Whatever I’ve had to prove I’ve proved to myself. That first fight I really enjoyed it and I thank Strikeforce for the opportunity. I didn’t know they were going to give me another opportunity but I’m thrilled and happy they are. I’ve never really thought about fighting every three or four months. What I’ve thought about is how to help these guys. Maybe help these guys on how to get insurance. Or help them on how to make a little bit more money. I’ve gotten to where I really like these guys. The guys at AKA have really become like my family. They’re like my brothers. And I know a lot of guys not at AKA who are like my brothers in the sport of MMA. I know what they put into this sport and I know the type of work that they do.”
Q: What have you been working on?
Walker: “When I came back in July I wanted to work on my wrestling and my Jiu-Jitsu. My stand-up game has always been OK and that’s because of my Tae Kwon Do background. But I really wanted to work on my wrestling because the wrestling was really something quite foreign to me. And Jiu-Jitsu is something so complicated and so difficult. It is a very difficult art to learn and I wanted to work on those things and get better at them.”
Q: How many fights do you think you’ll have?
Walker: “I really don’t know. I don’t really look that far ahead. I don’t dream. I do reality things. I wanted to continue to train and continue to get better. And if another fight comes up then I’ll ask my trainers and the other fighters in the gym if I should do it. When I first stepped into these doors if I couldn’t compete with these guys then I wouldn’t have even fought that first fight. I’m just taking it one fight at a time. Not that I’m going to be a surfer dude now living out here in California but it’s one day at a time and make the best out of it.
“If I fight again we’re going to step it up (level of competition) a little bit more. You have to realize that’s I’ve only been in this sport a little over a year. Everyone’s already wanting me to fight Randy Couture. I just got started. If you were going to ask me to run the 100 you wouldn’t be asking me to run against Randy you’d be asking me to run against someone else. That’s what people have to realize. You have to step up the talent to make it competitive. How competitive do you make it? I don’t know. I hope the MMA world knows I’m a little bit better than a year-old fighter. I hope they know that. And this coming Saturday you’ll see that.”
Q: What do you run the 100 in these days?
Walker: “I haven’t run the 100 (recently). I ran the 40 (yard dash) back in February after my last fight in like 4.38 or a 4.39. I think if I can get back to my track work I can run it pretty fast. I know I can run it better than a 4.5.”
Q: Can you explain your diet?
Walker: “Oh, geez. Every nutritionist in the world is going to tell me that I’m crazy. I eat one meal a day. I don’t eat red meat. I eat a salad or soup. Most every nutritionists say you can’t do this or you can’t do that. My thing is that I’ve been doing this for 20-something years. I’m not just doing it because I’m an MMA fighter. I was doing it when I was playing football. And it works for me. I’m not going to say it works for everyone. The reason why my diet works for me is because I’ve been doing it a long time.
“I eat that one meal around 8:00 or 9:00 at night. My body has just adapted to it. I don’t think about food. I don’t want to say that because I want everyone to go out and buy Herschel’s chicken, the best chicken in the world. But I just don’t eat a lot.
“I know I could play football when I’m 50 if I stay in the shape I’m in. Right now people ask me if I think I could play today. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind I could play football and help out a team today. If I could fit it into my schedule I would do it. There is a 100 percent guarantee that today I could help a football team out.”
Q: Which is worse, getting hit in football or MMA?
Walker: “The hits in football that hurt are the ones you don’t see. And that’s the same in MMA. And I know how to move so I haven’t gotten my bell rung yet.
“I want to come out and put on a good show for Showtime. I think whenever you get an opportunity to do anything for Strikeforce or Showtime you want to put on a good show. I know I’m planning on putting on a good show on Saturday. I’d like to keep this fight standing. If I’m on defense I’m losing. I have to start out and keep it on offense.”
“Strikeforce is a great organization. And they didn’t have to do this. They are not going to have gimmicks or clowns on their shows. That’s why I thank them everyday for having me.”
Joining Walker at this weekend’s event are a pair of title-fights featuring Nick Diaz defending his welterweight belt against Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos and 185-pound champ Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza likely attempting to avoid the powerful striking of Robbie Lawler in favor of a ground-based attack in middleweight action. Also set to mix it up on Saturday, 3-0 Roger Gracie will look to maintain his unbeaten record against veteran competitor Trevor Prangley.
PHOTO CREDIT – ESTHER LIN / STRIKEFORCE