by Dann Stupp on Jan 31, 2010 at 3:30 am ET
SUNRISE, Fla. – Herschel Walker's victory in his pro mixed-martial-arts debut wasn't flawless, and his lack of experience sometimes showed at Saturday's "Strikeforce: Miami" event at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla.
But despite just a few months of real MMA training, the 47-year-old former NFL great and 1982 Heisman Trophy winner picked up a dominating third-round TKO win and proved yet again why he's one of the sports world's most versatile athletes.
However, even with the success – which included what Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) was a "six-figure payday" that the fighter donated to charity – the fight executive isn't sure if Walker will make a second trip to the cage.
"I keep pinching myself thinking, 'That's Herschel Walker in the Strikeforce cage, right?'" a satisfied Coker told MMAjunkie.com after the event. "It's like it wasn't real."
Coker, of course, took plenty of flack prior to the Jan. 30 event for putting an MMA newcomer – one in his late-40s – on a major Showtime-televised card. The decision was criticized even more when a fight between Jay Hieron and Joe Riggs, two veteran stars who previously fought in the UFC, was stuck on the preliminary card. Some fans called Walker's main-card billing a gimmick or a marketing ploy or even a joke.
Coker, though, said he told Walker from the get-go he'd only agree to the fight and offer a Strikeforce contract if the aspiring fighter went through a legitimate training camp. Coker wasn't looking for a mere spectacle when he booked Walker (1-0 MMA, 1-0 SF) against Rage in the Cage vet Greg Nagy (1-2 MMA, 0-1 SF) for a televised bout.
"That was part of the deal," said Coker, who helped Walker hook up with the famed American Kickboxing Academy prior to the heavyweight bout. "I said, 'Herschel, if you really want to do this, you need to move to San Jose. You've got to put your life on hold for the nine weeks.' ... And he did it. He did everything that was asked of him, and I think you saw that it paid off."
Walker, in fact, arguably went beyond the call of duty. In addition to an intense training camp, he made the media rounds and garnered numerous spots on ESPN. He even convinced "Pardon the Interruption" hosts Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon, who previously have been bearish on MMA, to tune into the bout. Walker also granted interviews to outlets ranging from mainstream media publications to niche MMA news sites. And with Walker a proven commodity thanks to a successful career as an NFL and USFL running back (and 1992 U.S. Olympic bob-sledder), the longtime tae kwon do student exposed MMA and the Strikeforce brand to all kinds of new viewers.
So, have Walker and Coker discussed a possible second bout to capitalize on the first-fight success?
"No, not yet," Coker said. "We didn't look that far ahead. We just said, 'Let's go through the first fight and take it from there.'"
But in light of the win, would Coker greenlight a second bout?
"Sure, why not?" he said.
Walker, though, was a no-show for the night's post-fight press conference. Following his win, which was heavy on ground and pound, it's hard to know exactly what the fighter has planned. But word is that he hasn't really decided if there will be a second fight and will soon meet with Coker to make a decision.
But even if Walker never fights again, Coker said the experiment was a success.
"The thing I really want people to know is that Herschel donated his entire purse to charity," said Coker, referring to the Dallas-based Project Turnaround, a faith-based charity that works to improve the lives of urban youths and families. "He's fighting for a nonprofit organization, and he really came through for them."