It’s been over six years since Heisman-trophy-winning Georgia-native, Herschel Walker, stepped into the cage for the very first time. Back in January of 2010, at the age of 47 years old, the UGA Heisman Trophy winner, fought Greg Nagy on the main card of a Strikeforce event. Walker went on to win this fight and one more bout the following January.
His ascension into MMA popularity reminds me a little bit of what is happening with CM Punk. Although, you really can’t compare the athleticism of a high-level professional football player to a professional wrestler, but both of them are elite in their respective professions. And the two have little or no need to get punched in the face, as they are doing quite well financially. Instead, both Walker and Punk had an interest in MMA and desire to compete in the sport from more of a hobbyist’s perspective. I don’t take exception to either fighter attempting to follow their dreams, especially if they have the notoriety and resources to make it happen. And of course their names attract a significant amount of attention and hype; good and bad.
Back in 2010, there were a fair share of MMA fans and pundits that questioned Walker’s intentions and the fairness in putting an 0-0 fighter on the main card above career-MMA professionals. I totally get that side of the argument, but what I’ve learned over the years in following mixed martial arts, is that fairness does not always come first. More often than not, it’s hype that drives the matchmaking.
You can argue back and forth whether Conor McGregor deserves his place at the top of the rankings, but early on, it was his hype that brought him to the forefront, not his record. Hype is a big deal in this sport, and Dana White (UFC President) is a BIG fan of going where the hype takes him.
Brock Lesnar and Kimbo Slice are two good examples of MMA fighters, that previously had little or no MMA experience before they were introduced to the biggest promotions in the world. Heck you could even throw, former boxer, James Toney’s one-time appearance in the UFC against Randy Couture into the equation as well. The majority of the most watched MMA fights were not for a championship belt or for contender status. To this day a fight between Kimbo Slice & James Thompson (a non-title bout) ranks as the most viewed MMA fight in history (with over 7.2 million viewers). People don’t always wan’t to see the two “best” fighters. At the end of the day, promoting MMA is about providing the fans with unique and intriguing experiences, not just a fight between the two top contenders.
That’s why I liked having Herschel Walker jumping into the cage back in 2010. At the time, it was big news. All the media outlets reported on his debut. A Heisman trophy-winning Dallas Cowboy in a cage fight is a bid deal. An in my opinion, every bit of the coverage was good for the sport. At the time, I wasn’t necessarily thrilled that Walker was so far up the fight card, but I’ve warmed up to the strategy these days.
As you observe CM Punk making his debut (on the main card) on Saturday at UFC 203, don’t think of Punk as jumping in front of the line or disrespecting the sport. Think of him has providing the fans with a unique opportunity to see if “anybody” can be an MMA professional. Is he all hype? Or does he have what it takes? And hopefully, the CM Punk experiment, brings a few more fans into the sport.
Oh by the way, Herschel Walker (who’s now 54) hinted that he would like to make a return to MMA this year. He’s a beast!
Here’s some previous coverage I did on Herschel Walker via ESPN back in the day.