After last weekend’s MMA debut of former NFL superstar, Herschel Walker, I began to think if MMA could be a legitimate answer for athletes who still thrive to compete but have outstayed their welcome in the NFL either by way of retiring or through being cut. At 47, Walker is still in phenomenal shape and has the kind of passion and drive that you see in people half his age, but can he fight? Turns out he isn’t half bad, winning a TKO decision against Greg Nagy at Strikeforce: Miami. Walker looked in control even though he admittedly “did nothing he was supposed to do.” Over the last few years, more and more ex-NFL players have looked to MMA as their next shot at glory, but so far no one has truly stood out. The last season of the UFC reality show, The Ultimate Fighter hosted 4 former NFL players including former Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1st round pick Marcus Jones, Matt Mitrione, Brendan Schaub and Wes Shivers who all achieved marginal success in the ring, but weren’t overly impressive. Do ex-football players have an advantage in the ring? On paper it may seem like they are conditioned, strong, explosive athletes, but just like in football, technique and intelligence are more than half of the battle.
If I was an NFL agent and represented a player who was maybe on a practice squad or in danger of being cut, would I suggest MMA to him as a career alternative? I would have to say no. If the player was genuinely interested in pursuing MMA, I would help him make the most educated decisions possible and support his decision, but as a fan of MMA, I don’t think that being good at football predispositions you to being good at fighting.
Another concern I have about former athletes throwing their hat into the Octagon is that, for the more famous ones, it could end up becoming a side show, something I believe would be bad for the sports credibility. After Herschel Walker’s success on Saturday, Jose Canseco has come out to essentially challenge him to a fight. Obviously looking for some publicity and a potential pay-day, Canseco represents everything that is wrong with athletes wanting to participate in MMA. I have great respect for what Herschel Walker has accomplished, especially at his age. Training with the American Kickboxing Academy and putting in the hard work necessary to go out and earn a win is admirable, and if others can come to the sport, be humble and take the time to learn, then I will support them as well.
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