September 21, 2009
Herschel Walker, the Heisman Trophy-winning running back and former NFL player with the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys, has found a new career: mixed martial arts. The 47-year-old Walker has signed a contract with Strikeforce to fight at an unspecified date. He will begin training with American Kickboxing Academy, the high-profile camp in San Jose, Calif., that trains UFC standouts Josh Koscheck, Mike Swick, Jon Fitch, Cain Velasquez and Strikeforce lightweight champion Josh Thomson.
"I've been training for several years. I would play college football games on Saturday and then compete in martial arts tournaments on Sunday after church. I'm now looking forward to opening up another chapter in my life and to competing in MMA," said Walker in a news release.
Walker is not the first high-profile athlete to make the jump to MMA. In the current season of "The Ultimate Fighter," four former NFL players are trying for a chance at a contract with the UFC, most notably Marcus Jones, who played with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for seven years. Cleveland Cavaliers star Shaquille O'Neal has trained in mixed martial arts for years, and made jokes about challenging former UFC champ Chuck Liddell.
That doesn't mean that the road to MMA success will be easy for Walker, who retired from football in 1997. During last week's episode of "The Ultimate Fighter," Jones became sick from the intense workouts that MMA requires. Afterwards, he noted that he never had to work that hard in the NFL.
Walker will also have the obstacle of age in front of him. Though there are fighters who compete well into their forties -- most notably Randy Couture, who is 46 -- but those fighters did not spend much of their lives being tackled by 265 pound linebackers. The wear and tear on a running back should not be dismissed when looking at Walker's chances.
At the same time, it will be hard not to root for him. He's been an MMA fan for years, and was even at UFC 103 this past weekend in Dallas. Walker is a modern-day Jim Thorpe, having competed in the Olympic bobsled, professional football and now MMA. Now, he will test the bounds of his age and health again in MMA. Seeing a 47-year-old man walk the walk in this manner is downright inspirational.
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