Ex-NFL star Walker confident ahead of MMA debut

Ex-NFL star Walker confident ahead of MMA debut

Published Jan. 13, 2010 12:00 a.m. ET

Even Herschel Walker's mother apparently isn't too keen on her son's latest competitive venture.

"She's been praying that they wouldn't find an opponent for me," the former Heisman Trophy winner and mixed martial arts novice said with a broad smile. "Even though she wants me to do it, she's been praying that they don't find me an opponent."

So much for divine intervention.

Walker's MMA debut was finalized Tuesday when Greg Nagy was announced as his opponent for the Strikeforce card to be contested Jan. 30 at the Florida Panthers' arena in Sunrise, Fla.

At an age -- 47 -- when most NFL players have long walked away from that violent sport, Walker is 2 1/2 weeks away from entering a realm defined by armbars, neck cranks, choke holds and tapouts.

"MMA is the No. 1 sport out there for me," said Walker, whose self-challenges previously have found him doing Olympic bobsled and even ballet. "I love competition; I don't want to lose at anything. I'm a little bit older, but I love competition."

Walker was the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner while at Georgia and played professionally for Dallas, Philadelphia, Minnesota, the New York Giants and the New Jersey Generals.

In his football days, Walker dropped jaws with a workout regimen that included upwards of 3,000 situps and pushups everyday. He also holds a fifth-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. But even that, he said, could only begin to prepare him for what he's learning about MMA.

"This is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life," Walker said. "When a guy gets me in an armbar within two minutes (during training), I'd better be learning something if I'm going to get in the cage."

Trainer Javier Mendez, whose American Kickboxing Academy is renowned for producing MMA champions, acknowledged he was initially skeptical about the idea of training Walker.

"I thought someone like him shouldn't be fighting at this stage," Mendez said Tuesday. "But once I saw him, I was amazed. His explosiveness, his cardio, his willingness to learn I don't think anybody could have done it other than him."

Nagy, 26, sports a 1-1 record in MMA, both coming at Rage in the Cage events in Arizona.

Allan Fields, chief physician for the Florida Boxing Commission that also oversees MMA sanctioning, said Walker passed the "most strenuous tests that possibly you can impose on an athlete."

A stress test on Walker's heart given by a "major cardiac institution," Fields said, produced the highest score of anyone ever tested by facility.

"He's in as fine a shape as Muhammad Ali or any of these people we've had the care of," said Fields, a former U.S. Olympic team physician. "This guy is 47 going on 22, as far as his physical fitness goes."

Even so, Walker acknowledged there will be skeptics. Nor does it help that former baseball slugger Jose Canseco lasted just 78 seconds in his foray into MMA last July.

"There have been some athletes that have been totally an embarrassment," Walker said. "Jose Canseco, it's insulting, the guy never trained. I'm a guy that's serious about this. This is fighting, you get hurt.

"People that talk about (this as a publicity stunt) don't even know me. That's why I always tell people to come and join me or come and work out with me. Then you'll see who I really am."