January 30, 2011

Herschel Walker is a neophyte in the mixed martial arts game, but when he stepped into the cage Saturday night in San Jose, Calif., for his second professional fight, he did so in the knowledge that his trainer wasn't asking him to do something unfamiliar.

"One thing that Javier [Mendez] told me is be on offense," said the 48-year-old, who bowled over an overwhelmed tackling dummy named Scott Carson in 3 minutes, 13 seconds on the undercard of the Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Cyborg event.

Being on offense is something Walker knows well, of course. He didn't win the 1982 Heisman Trophy and go to two Pro Bowls by playing zone defense.

Curious sports fans unfamiliar with MMA who tuned in simply to watch the ex-football star actually caught a full night of solid fighting if they stuck with the Showtime telecast. The evening was headlined by a pair of spirited title bouts, with the champions tested but each proving his mettle with a submission victory. Welterweight Nick Diaz withstood a barrage of kicks and eventually wore down Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos, finishing him with an arm bar with 10 seconds left in the second round. And Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza got rocked by Robbie Lawler in the first round but took the fight to the mat and retained his middleweight belt with a rear-naked choke at 2:00 of the third.

But it was Walker's night, too. As exceptional as he was at running the football back in the day, he never was as dominant as he was against Carson, landing 49 strikes and taking just two.

One of the two shots that Carson got in actually was what fueled Walker's fury. Just 15 seconds into the bout, the 40-year-old with just one fight in the last nine years landed a head kick, but instead of stunning Walker it fired him up. He dropped his gloves to his side, let out a fierce yell and waded in on the attack, dropping Carson with a blistering right hand. Walker then pounced on top, rendering Carson as defenseless as those 180-pound defensive backs used to be when trying to tackle the old Herschel with a head of steam behind him.

What followed was a barrage of more than 30 punches -- not in a punch-himself-out flurry so much as a patient, steady stream -- as Carson turtled up on his stomach, hands trying to protect the sides of his head. He finally got Walker off of him and managed to climb to his feet, but Herschel immediately floored him with a left hook to the face, and the referee charitably jumped in to end it.

"I've got to be on offense," Walker said after just his second Strikeforce fight. "Being a young MMA fighter, I've got to control what I'm doing in the cage."

And the cage is where Walker plans to remain. He made that clear when asked about his offhand remarks during a Strikeforce media conference call during the week, in which he expressed a desire to once again play in the NFL. "MMA is my love," he said. "I love MMA, all my guys at [American Kickboxing Academy]. Those are my family. I love you guys."

That proclamation does not have the top MMA heavyweights shuddering any more than NFL linebackers were dreading the possibility of Walker returning to football. At 48, Herschel is beyond his time in his old sport and doesn't have time to be a real player in his new one. But make no mistake: This man is serious about fighting and, even more important than that, serious about training. His late-career venture into MMA has evolved out of nothing but respect. Herschel Walker is no sideshow.

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