Friday, Jan. 28, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
Herschel Walker used to do 3,500 sit-ups and 1,500 push-ups every day.
The 1982 Heisman Trophy winner went through long summer practices in the infamous Southern humidity while at the University of Georgia and NFL two-a-days during his 14-year professional football career. He also endured Olympic training to compete on the 1992 American two-man bobsled team.
None of those experiences, Walker says, were as tough as the last year when he's worked out and learned mixed martial arts.
"When I first started doing this training, I've never been this sore in my entire life," Walker said. "I think my body had to get adapted to it because now even though I've been training for a while, I'm still real sore. But I think I'm a much better-conditioned athlete right now than when I was playing. I'm 48 now, and I'm saying I'm in better shape that I was in my early 20s playing football."
Walker (1-0) fights Scott Carson (4-1) in his second MMA heavyweight bout Saturday in San Jose, Calif., as part of Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Cyborg, which will air on Showtime. The matchup with Carson, who has fought only once in the last 10 years, has done little to silence Walker's critics.
Many around mixed martial arts, most notably UFC President Dana White, have criticized Walker's presence in the sport as nothing but a sideshow or publicity stunt. Walker, who has trained alongside fighters like UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, is out to prove wrong everyone who doubts him. He says he's fallen in love with MMA.
"Guys that are putting me down need to come to AKA and be here for my training," Walker said. "Then, they'll see this isn't a gimmick for me. This is life."
Even Walker is surprised his career has progressed this far, though. Walker said his curiosity in MMA started without any intentions of scheduling a real fight. He was only looking to expand on his taekwondo background, a discipline he worked on for more than 30 years and held a black belt in.
But it didn't take long before Walker was discussing a potential fight with Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker. Like most people would be, Coker said he was skeptical of a 47-year old stepping into the Strikeforce octagon.
So, Coker took Walker to AKA trainer Bob Cook to see what he could do. Coker and Cook lined up a Division-I wrestler, a jiu-jitsu expert and a kickboxer to work out with Walker, not knowing what to expect.
"He did very well in all three of the disciplines," Coker said. "But the one thing that really amazed me was he wasn't tired after sparring for 15 minutes."
"He was in great shape, and you know he's been working out his entire life and never stopped."
Coker scheduled Walker's first fight for Strikeforce: Miami last January. Walker dominated Greg Nagy, who came into the bout with a 1-1 record, and won by TKO in the third round.
Like Carson, Nagy wasn't the most skilled opponent. Strikeforce: Miami remains the only major card he's ever appeared on.
"Everyone that has criticized the matchmaker has to realize I just came into this sport," Walker said. "I've been in it a little more than a year and people are wanting me to fight Randy Couture and guys like that."
Walker went on to say that if he fights a third time, it would be a significant step-up in competition. He said he knew at his age he couldn't fight for much longer, but wanted to show people he was capable of winning now.
"I'm doing it, first of all, because I wanted to," Walker said. "I'm not doing it for the money. I have a company that's doing very well. I'm doing it because I love it and I want to help the guys. I think this is a sport that can be absolutely incredible."