Herschel Walker – yes, that Herschel Walker – signed a contract on Monday to fight as a professional mixed martial artist for Strikeforce.
Walker is 47 now and not likely to be anything more than a blip on the screen when it comes to making his mark as a fighter. But Walker may turn out to be a key player in helping MMA's march toward mainstream status.
Walker is a 1982 Heisman Trophy winner, College Football Hall of Fame member and a two-time Pro Bowl running back in the NFL. When he makes his MMA debut, sometime likely early next year, he'll bring with him hordes of attention.
Media that probably would never give MMA a second thought will write about Walker and talk about his motivations. His fight will get unprecedented media attention, much like one-time street fighter Kimbo Slice did before debut on CBS in 2008.
Walker is an articulate man who has a great passion for MMA. I sat next to him at an Ultimate Fighting Championship card at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas in 2006 and talked about the sport for hours. He loved it, knew it intimately and was able to discuss it with ease.
There are many such athletes in MMA already, but non-MMA media pays them little mind. Walker can be one of the guys who helps to bring an extra level attention to the sport, which will subsequently help attract new fans to the game.
Had he gotten into MMA when he was in his athletic prime, he would have been a serious threat to become a heavyweight championship. He's an elite athlete with a rare combination of size, speed and power.
His contribution to the growth of the sport will likely not be measured by wins and losses and titles won, but rather by the impact he makes in attracting positive attention for the sport.
With that, I'm ready to answer your questions and comments, but I'd like to remind you to follow me on Twitter. You can submit a question for the mailbag there or simply say hi and talk a little MMA.
Hey Kevin, if Vitor Belfort gets the next middleweight title shot against Anderson Silva, why not let Dan Henderson fight the winner of the UFC 104 fight between Shogun Rua/Lyoto Machida? I thought Henderson's fight against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson was razor close, and he beat Rich Franklin at 205. He's also had two victories at middleweight since then, as well. Right now, there is no clearer contender at 205, with the postponed Rampage/Rashad Evans fight. If Silva beats Belfort, then he can come up and challenge for the 205-pound title.
It's not a bad idea, Josh, except that there are far more quality fights to be made at light heavyweight than there are at middleweight for the UFC. As a result, Henderson would help the middleweight division more. I like the idea of having the Belfort-Silva winner face the Nate Marquardt-Henderson winner. That would create three interesting middleweight fights and either solidify Silva's status as the top fighter in the sport or help create a new rivalry.
The middleweight situation is a perplexing one. Can you straighten it all out for us? What are the fighters supposed to do, and what is UFC president Dana White supposed to do? Personally, I think Henderson should move up to light heavyweight and fight Evans for the No. 1 contender spot since Rampage has gone Hollywood. This way, he can let things happen at middleweight and drop back down when the smoke clears or fight for championship if he wins.
It's not fair to men who have won fights at middleweight to deny them a shot at the title simply because a man in another division put aside a fight he agreed to in order to make a movie. There's no reason I see to put the middleweight title on ice. What if Henderson were to go to 205 and lose badly? It would take a lot of luster off any fight he'd have coming up at middleweight. He's been campaigning as a middleweight and he is a win away from a championship shot, a shot he's been clamoring for loudly. Silva is at least considering a move to 205 ful- time, though I don't expect that to occur. But if the unexpected happened and it did, then the Henderson-Marquardt bout would be for the vacant belt.
I know the UFC will never disclose exact PPV buy numbers, but do we have any numbers on Saturday's boxing PPV vs. the UFC yet?
Sioux Falls, S.D.
The UFC is a privately owned company and does not have to release its pay-per-view sales, which it chooses not to do. Occasionally, we're able to find out what a particular fight sold, but it's not often. From what I'm hearing, though, the Mayweather fight had a convincing victory. I'm hearing the Mayweather-Marquez pay-per-view is going to come in at or near 1 million sales. I don't have a verifiable figure for the UFC, but I believe it will be far lower than 1 million. The boxing number should be released by Thursday at the latest and perhaps on Wednesday.
Kevin, Did you see Associated Press sports columnist Tim Dahlberg's article about the Floyd Mayweather win? I noticed this little backhand swipe at the UFC: "If this were the UFC, no one would have cared or screamed rip-off at their flat screen TV. Fights there can be total mismatches or end in bizarre fashion in the first round and fans still cheer drunkenly and start saving their money for the next big card." I think the bit that irks me the most is the bit about "cheering drunkenly." Now granted, I'm usually cheering during UFC PPVs and I'm usually drinking, too, but I resent his implication that MMA fans are just a bunch of drunk, slack-jawed, violence-loving idiots. This sentiment from the boxing media no longer surprises me, but it still disappoints me.
I did see it, Darrin, and I disagreed with it completely. Tim is a very close friend of mine and is one of the top sports columnists in the country. But he's so far wrong on this, it's not even funny. The thing that bothers me about it is that he hasn't been to one MMA fight yet. I'm not sure how he knows how UFC fans act, given he's never been to a show. He's usually right on the money but in this case, he completely blew it. We've all written a few in our careers we wish we could have back. Knowing Tim as I do, I'm sure if he thinks about it carefully, he'd wish he could have that one back.
Hi Kevin, I just wondered what your thoughts are on the future of Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic. I know even UFC president Dana White has come out and said that age may have finally caught up to him, and I am sure it has to some extent. Saturday night's performance looked like there was more to it then just that. Cro Cop seemed disinterested from the get-go, looking lethargic and totally unmotivated. I can understand as you get older you lose a step, but he seemed reluctant to engage or even exert himself to any extent. I keep hoping to see the Cro Cop of old, and I know that is a definite uncertainty now, but what gives?
I think the Cro Cop of old, one of the most exciting fighters in the first stage of MMA's modern evolution, is gone forever. His hands have slowed and he lacks the killer instinct. He seems that he doesn't want to use his once-feared kicks for fear of getting taken down. There are only so many fights inside a man and it seems like Cro Cop has reached that stage, I'm afraid.
I love free MMA as much as the next guy, but I'm a little concerned that it's Strikeforce, this time, that has gotten the network TV and not the UFC. Gary Shaw ran Elite XC into the ground and he almost took the sport with him. I'm concerned about what might happen with Strikeforce, even with the great Fedor Emelianenko in the main event. Why can these second-rate promoters get on network TV but not the UFC?
Ford City, Pa.
Strikeforce is a quality promoion and I think it will do well with the programming on CBS. The UFC has become a major success without network TV, so its executives are going to be picky before they make the leap. The networks make promoters jump through a lot of hoops, but given that the UFC has been successful without network TV to this point, I don't think Dana White or owner Lorenzo Fertitta are inclined to jump. Strikeforce is becoming a national promotion now, but for most of its existence has been a regional promotion. This will help Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker get exposure for his brand and generate badly needed income. I trust Coker to do the right thing.