Is Herschel Walker good for MMA?
We’re still a week away from Herschel Walker’s MMA debut but I can’t escape the biggest question that surrounds that card: Is Walker good for MMA?
His debut is certainly getting plenty of exposure, which is always good for the sport. He’s been in front of just about every camera and talking with anyone holding a notebook, whether they are a reporter or not. It seems like he's appeared on every show ESPN has and, just as important, he’s been saying the right things all along.
He’s not treating this as a joke, he’s bringing new eyes to the sport and he’s been a good spokesman for the sport. Common sports fans respect Walker and when he says this new thing (MMA) is legit, people will believe him. And he’s not another Kimbo Slice, as Slice was a circus act even before his MMA debut. Walker is a world-class athlete.
At the same time, it is still sort of a circus act. Age 47 is not when you make your debut in something as serious as MMA. If you want to pick up a set of golf clubs at 47, fine. But to start fighting at age 47 and fight in one of the top organizations in the U.S.? Not a great idea.
I’m not entirely sure what needs to happen in that fight for the sport to look good. If Walker wins, the casual fan will see this as a sport that any athlete well past his prime can pick up and have success right off the bat. If he loses (a likely possibility, if he follows the pattern set by other past players trying to break into the sport), it keeps MMA relegated as a sideshow.
I don’t think the sport needs fights like this, not anymore. I think it’s starting to gain acceptance among sports fans and there are a small handful of fighters who are making names for themselves for the right reasons. I can tolerate a Brock Lesnar, who is a big name from another profession but who is also young enough to compete at the highest level in the sport. Walker isn’t exactly going to be gearing up for a title run anytime soon.
I’m clearly going into this card as a skeptic. Plenty of athletes excel late in their 40s, but most don’t do it picking up a completely new sport. That being said, I’m willing to give Walker a shot.
I just hope it doesn’t set a precedent. I don’t want to see Strikeforce promoting a fight with Shaquille O’Neal in three years or trying to ride the coattails of another athlete past his prime. Walker sounds serious about his fight and he better be, because if he isn’t, all the extra eyeballs he brings to the sport will just make it look foolish.