Walker's return no gimmick but Strikeforce needs the attention
And while the 48-year-old isn't sure how long his MMA career will last, he's positive he'll devote himself fully to the sport for as long as it holds is attention. To some people Walker's MMA venture might look like a publicity stunt but Walker insists he's as serious about fighting now as he was about football in the 1980s and 1990s.
"This isn't a gimmick for me. This is life," said Walker, who won his MMA debut by lopsided stoppage last January. "This is nothing but hard work. I've never turned down a challenge and i don't do it now.
Still, you have to forgive anyone who concludes that Walker's return to the cage is a desperate play for attention from a faded football star and a sanctioning body that's struggling to remain relevant.
The last time a Strikeforce event received this much attention was the last time Walker competed. Since then the UFC gobbled up an even larger share of the MMA market by absorbing the WEC, while Strikeforce has increasing become a minor league for fighters the UFC no longer wants (see Diaz, Nick; Daley, Paul).
Last summer Strikeforce relentlessly hyped a network TV appearance by its marquee fighter, uncrowned heavyweight king Fedor Emilanenko, and he repaid that investment of time and effort by crumbling quickly beneath the fists of Fabricio Werdum.
With Emilianenko scrubbed clean of the lustre his decade-long unbeaten streak imparted, and with the rest of Strikeforce's roster populated with fighters unknown outside MMA's community of hardcore fans, Walker stands out as the only fighter in the organization capable of attracting the attention of mainstream media and fans.
Nevertheless, Strikeforce president Scott Coker swears the company's not using Walker that way.
The truth, Coker says, is that if Walker wasn't a real fighter he wouldn't be fighting, period, and that Walker's football fame skews the public's expectations.
"The MMA media at times is too hard o n Herschel," Coker said in Monday's conference call. "I feel that's just because of who he is."
For his second trip to the cage Walker will square off against Scott Carson, a light-heavyweight by trade who will gain a little weight to face the 225-pound Walker. He's a little more accomplished than Walker's first opponent, but a look at his record tells you he's spent most of the last decade outside formal competition. Between the two men you could argue that Walker, a lifelong martial artist, actually has less "ring" rust.
The bout was originally scheduled to take place in late 2010, but Walker suffered a cut over his eye in training, forcing Strikeforce to move the bout this weekend.
But Walker says he didn't even have a return to Strikeforce in mind when he re-entered serious training last June.
Instead he says he re-immersed himself in MMA training strictly because he wanted to improve as a martial artist, and that the opportunity to face Carson simply arose.
But he also trains because in a few years he hopes to become the George Foreman of football, returning to the NFL at age 50. And he says training in MMA is the best way to prepare his body for that challenge.
"(MMA) is human chess and that's why I want to be involve with it," he said. "I think I'm a better conditioned athlete (now) than I was when I was playing."
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