Monday, Sept. 21, 2009 | 3:30 p.m.
Former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL star Herschel Walker is back on the playing field, err, make that the fighting cage.
The 47-year-old Walker, a longtime mixed martial artist, has signed a multi-fight deal with Strikeforce, the San Jose, Calif.-based MMA promotion.
“I've been training for several years. I would play college football games on Saturday and then compete in martial arts tournaments on Sunday after church. I'm now looking forward to opening up another chapter in my life and to competing in MMA," said the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Walker, a 12-year NFL veteran who played with the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants.
While the 1982 Heisman winner from the University of Georgia has never competed professionally in MMA, he holds a six-degree black belt in taekwondo and also trained in Muay Thai and Kenpo karate.
Strikeforce director of communications Mike Afromowitz told AOL Fanhouse’s Ariel Helwani that Walker’s leap into MMA is not a publicity stunt.
"Herschel Walker has tremendous athleticism, and he has always shown that off the gridiron. He's accomplished a lot in his life and in the world of sports. His accomplishments speak for themselves, and we hope that his athleticism can transition into a successful MMA career,” said Afromowitz, who speculated Walker’s debut would likely come sometime in 2010.
Walker said he would begin a 12-week training camp with California's American Kickboxing Academy next month under trainer Bob Cook.
“I will go in there and test myself against any 20-year-old," said Walker, a 1999 College Hall of Fame inductee who recently participated in the second season of Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice" reality show on NBC.
"I know there will be naysayers and I'm fine with that. I want to prove to people who sit on a couch and don't do anything but criticize other people that, if you're a true athlete or martial artist, you're not old until you can't get up and walk around anymore. MMA fighters are said to be some of the best athletes in the world. My plan at the age of 47 is to show the world I am still one of the best athletes as well."
Walker’s transition to MMA won’t be the first for a former NFL player.
Four former players, Marcus Jones, Matt Mitrione, Brendan Schaub and Wes Shivers, are currently participating on the 10th season of the UFC’s "The Ultimate Fighter” reality series.
The signing could be another big move for Strikeforce, which in August made waves by signing Russian heavyweight star Fedor Emelianenko, who spurned the UFC.
Strikeforce chief executive officer Scott Coker said Walker would be more than a surprising storyline.
“I flew to L.A. last month to watch Herschel train and was surprised to see his advanced wrestling and striking abilities," Coker said. "He's got work ahead of him, but he's committed to training at one of the most notable gyms in the sport of MMA so it will be very interesting to watch him progress."
Andy Samuelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-948-7837.