It was recently announced that UFC Octagon girl Brittney Palmer will be appearing in the March 2012 issue of Playboy, joining Rachel Leah and Arianny Celeste as the third figure from the Zuffa operations to be featured in the magazine.
“I’m a different kind of MMA guy,” Walker says matter-of-factly. “My life is different.”
“People think I’m doing this for the money. but I say, ‘Guys, I don’t need the money. The businesses I’ve built since I got out of football provide a bigger payday than any fight can bring me.’ ” (Walker donated the purse from the Carson bout to his Dallas church, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship.)
“One night I was watching The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV, and someone said, ‘We’re the best athletes in the world.’ I thought, That’s a bold statement. I thought, I’m not trying to be arrogant, but I’ve always thought of myself as being one of the best athletes in the world. I’ve always wanted people to say, ‘Herschel Walker wasn’t just a great running back but a great athlete.’ So I said, ‘I’ll give it a shot.’ ”
“I don’t see in between. see only the white and the black. You win or you lose. There’s no such thing as just playing well. You do the job or you don’t do the job. I don’t want to be just a fighter. I want to be a great fighter.”
Walker launched Renaissance Man Food Services 12 years ago as “a little family concern” with just one offering—home-style chicken tenders prepared from his mother’s recipe. In the following decade he appeared at thousands of culinary trade shows across the country. “I always say to ex-athletes, ‘Guys, your name will get the door open, but unless you’ve got some substance you can’t get a seat.’ ”
Today Walker’s company employs 300 people. From three plants in Arkansas he distributes chicken sliders, chicken wings, chicken breast fajita strips and a host of other food items to clients that include the MGM Grand, Caesars Palace, the Hard Rock Cafe and McDonald’s. Last year his sales topped $80 million. “Somebody told me we’re the largest minority-owned chicken company in the United States,” he says, adding after a deadpan pause, “I don’t know if that means anything, as we may be the only minority-owned chicken company in the United States.”
“I think what people don’t realize is that we all have to get up and fight it every day. Life isn’t easy. Life is not easy. People think things ought to be given to you, but nothing is given to you. You gotta go out and earn it. Sometimes you gotta take it. Every day I get up and fight. Every day I’ve got to fight.”
Nor, he adds, is he mentally unbalanced.
In 2008 Walker made news by revealing that he suffered from dissociative identity disorder—what would once have been called multiple personality disorder. But after years of therapy, he says the problem is now under control. “The story people want to hear is that I’m out of whack. But that’s not me. I have not become an MMA fighter because I have an anger issue.”
The source of his disorder could be traced to childhood. He had been a frightened boy who was dealt two of youth’s cruelest cards. “I was chubby, what my parents called big boned to keep from having to call me fat,” he says, “and I had a terrible speech impediment. I’d have to slap myself repeatedly on the arm just to get a word out.”
Walker was, in his words, “a doofus." Schoolmates called him Herschel the Girlshul. “By eighth grade I’d been beaten up 15 times,” he says. “On the last day of eighth grade I got beat up again. I went home and watched Gilligan’s Island and said, ‘That won’t happen to Herschel again.’ I was tired of it. I said, ‘Let’s do something about it.’ ”
In 1975, which he calls his “year of independence,” the 13-year-old Walker inaugurated his exercise program. Not only did he begin doing the thousands of sit-ups and push-ups that still sustain him, he started running barefoot along a lonely country railroad right-of-way and over a course his father plowed for him with a tractor in a field near their home.
He also invented a piece of brutal but effective training equipment. From an old harness, an oversize tire and a number of 10-pound shots, he built a weighted sled. After school, while his classmates wiled away their afternoons, he hitched himself to the sled and pulled it around the school track at top speed. “In eighth grade,” he says, “if anyone had asked if I’d be a good athlete, it would have been a big fat no with a laugh. By ninth grade I’d gone from a joke to one of the fastest kids in Georgia.”
In 1998, after returning to the Dallas Cowboys for his last two seasons, Walker retired. It was then that his dissociative disorder revealed its dark side. His psychologist Jerry Mungadze, explains, “He began acting in ways inconsistent with who he thought he was, and it was devastating. He had personalities that had minds of their own. They felt differently, acted differently and used language differently.”
For Mungadze, Walker’s condition was anything but academic. “Once, he, his wife and I were in the office,” says the therapist, “and he threatened to kill her, myself and himself. I called 911, and the police came. That incident ended with him hitting the door and breaking his fist.”
Slowly, however, Walker made progress. “By resolving the traumas his alters resulted from,” says Mungadze, “the alters started listening to him and following his directions. I think he has now integrated his personalities and is a healthy guy.” The odds of Walker exploding in anger today, declares the psychologist, are “practically zero.”
Mungadze believes Walker’s entrance into MMA is the greatest evidence of his emotional well-being. Although the therapist says his patient’s warrior alter—“the one that supports him in his fighting”—is still active, he contends that Walker’s more troubling personalities have been silenced. If he were still hearing voices, Walker could not survive in the cage, where the very real threat presented by the fists, feet and knees of opponents would make such distractions deadly.
Walker’s love of MMA is unequivocal. The companionship of his fellow fighters at the American Kickboxing Academy and the attention he has received (his first two bouts aired live on Showtime and drew huge ratings) are gratifying. Even the money, whether he keeps it or not, is a form of respect. Promoters are dangling a $1 million payday for his third fight. “They’re making me an offer I can’t refuse,” Walker says. Most of all he relishes the competition. Since his teens, that is what has kept him sane. For Walker to thrive in the world, he must keep pushing himself to do things others regard as on the edge.
Those who care about Walker are now urging him to walk away from MMA. “We all feel scared,” says Blanchard. “His family does not approve. He’s done it. He’s proved it.” Walker hears them but says he will finish on his own terms. After this last fight, he says, “I can guarantee you there will be no more. It really won’t make sense for me to continue to fight after this year.”