Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
When talking to fighters I meet for the first time, I often like to ask the question, “How did you get into MMA?” before I get into anything else. After all, as every story has its own ending, every fighter has their own beginning. With that in mind, I found one of the most unique stories thus far in my latest conversation with a fighter named Cleburn Walker – a twenty-seven year-old former Marine who dove quite literally head-first into fighting professionally in MMA with little more than Spartan mentality and no mixed martial arts training to speak of. Debuting in 2007 and fighting an experienced opponent with a total of 11 fights (and only one loss) to speak of, Walker fought courageously that night, battling as hard as he could before succumbing to defeat at the hands of a well-equipped and battle-tested adversary.
Well as they say, “fortune favors the brave,” and so it goes.
With that initial learning experience behind him, Cleburn Walker leapt head first again, paying a year’s worth of dues up front at Travis Lutter’s academy just so he could train as much as possible. The fruits of preparation showed for the young fighter, as he subsequently rattled off six wins in a row before suffering his second defeat.
Ever since then, the career of Cleburn “Spartan” Walker has had its ups and downs – the worst of it marred by fights which, in hindsight, might had been taken too soon or while too injured to fight effectively. The culmination of all those peaks and valleys thus far is really quite ironic. as Walker’s greatest MMA moment (making it onto Season 11 of the UFC reality show “The Ultimate Fighter”) may have also been biggest learning lesson as he was defeated by eventual runner-up Kris McCray prior to making it into the house after having taken the opportunity despite a badly-hurt shoulder.
Now Cleburn Walker stands at a crossroads with a career record of 9-5 and coming back from three losses in a row, “semper fidelis” to the sport of MMA as he looks to reinvent his legacy as one of the few and the proud to stand victorious in the center of the cage.
Read on and find out what Cleburn Walker has in mind for his next fight as he makes his debut for the Legacy Fighting Championships in Houston, TX on April 9, 2011.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. Before we get into your upcoming fight, I wanted to give our fans an opportunity to get to know you better. How did you get into MMA? Can you give us some of your history?
First of all, thank YOU for taking the time to show some interest in me. I truly appreciate it.
My start in MMA was a little unusual, and probably not the smartest way to get started. When I was exiting the Marine Corps I arranged to fight immediately. I had a pro MMA fight 3 weeks after moving home from the Corps. The funny part is, I had never had a day of formal training at that point, not even wrestling. And my opponent was 8-1 as an ammy and 2-0 as a pro. So, I lost. Shocker I know. But I lost with flair and my opponent and his team spent the whole evening giving me a confidence boost and convinced me that with the right training I could go pretty far. So a month later, I found my way to Lutter’s. I paid for a year up front and made the trip about 3 times a week to train. It was 90 miles one way from my house. I fought twice within the next 12 months and won them both by submission. The second fight was against the then highly touted Matt Rangel. I stopped him in the first round. In fact, all 9 of my wins are by submission, and 5 of which are in the first minute.
What’s life like for you outside the cage? What other hobbies do you have?
From the time I started fighting until about a year ago, I had pretty much succeeded in becoming a one dimensional, workaholic. And that started to have very negative effect on every part of my life and career. But now my life is much more balanced. I started college this semester and am making an A+ in 3 classes and a B+ in my other class. I also have made a priority of never compromising the time that is allotted to spend with my family, or time spent attending church and studying the Word. I spend a lot of time playing with my kids and doing things that would seriously lose my tough guy points if anyone saw! My new philosophy has been quality, not quantity. So I do everything in a way that lets me do it well.
As a US Marine Corps Veteran, did that experience prepare you at all for MMA? Was any of the training applicable to your fight career?
The Marine Corps was a great helper when it came to work ethic and having the “kill” attitude. I’m pretty certain I’ve won fights against guys who were better than me simply because of that. Also all the physical training helped. But most of the combat training I did involved a weapon, or weapons of opportunity (sticks and rocks). So it didn’t really apply to the sport of MMA.
One of the biggest accomplishments I’ve seen thus far in your career was your stint on Season 11 of the Ultimate Fighter, where you were eliminated by the eventual runner-up, Kris McCray. What did you take from that experience?
It was quite a privilege to be asked onto the show. However, I really shouldn’t have went. The fight was my 8th fight in 10 months, and I had been ignoring a few very serious injuries for several months. One of which was of course my shoulder, which completely dislocated as soon as I touched the mat. But coming away from the show, I had the opportunity to get great care for my shoulder and spend some down time just reflecting and studying, and planning for the future.
What’s your training like now? You still over at Lutters’ academy? Who else do you train with to prepare for your fights? Give us a quick rundown of your day-to-day atmosphere.
I actually haven’t been training at Lutter’s since about November of 2009. I do most of my training now at Peak Performance. There’s a great group of instructors and guys there. Also, Joe Christopher and I get together a few times a week for sparring. The latest addition to my support team, Dennis Funderburg, is also a tremendous help for this upcoming fight. And I try to make my way down to the Grappler’s Lair 3 or 4 times a month to get some work in with TJ Waldburger and his coach, John Moore. Once again, quality not quantity. I’m very lucky to be around people that are not only talented and helpful, but people who sincerely care about me and my progress.
You’re going into your next bout having lost two in a row to Mike Bronzoulis and Lance Benoit. Are you doing anything special to change things up for this upcoming bout?
Funny you should mention that, because the only reason behind this fight for me is because I want to avenge those two losses, particularly the loss to Mike. That’s why I asked to be a part of Legacy. I hate to admit this, but those losses are two instances of me doing something no fighter ever should do, fight just for the money. I knew both times I shouldn’t have been fighting, but I had no other means of support for my family. But during my time away from competition, I was fortunate enough to get a call from the legendary Saul Soliz inviting me to come to Big Bear and stay in camp with Tito last September and October. And let’s just say that time away and the things I was able to experience up there showed me very clearly what needed to happen in my life if I wanted to get back on track and have success. So what I’m doing different now is keeping a training schedule and lifestyle that was responsible for all the fights I’ve won. I have financial stability, and I won’t arrogantly take fights when I’m injured and haven’t been training. What I’m doing different now is realizing that I can be great when I’m properly prepared, but that I’m just as human as anybody else when I’m not prepared.
You’re supposed to be fighting Alex Cisne at Legacy Fighting Championships in Houston. Is still him or do you have somebody else? Either way, what do you know about your opponent?
As far as I know it’s still Alex, however he has a tough opponent in Eric “Big Head” Davila at the upcoming Shark Fights, so I know Legacy is looking for alternate opponents just in case. But as far as Alex, I know that he’s an excellent kickboxer. He’s been doing San Shou since he was like 5 is what I’ve heard and he’s an instructor at West Side MMA. So I am fully preparing myself for a very explosive, tough, and competent opponent who has the home field advantage. I also am friends with Bubba McDaniel, the only guy to beat Alex so far. So let’s say I have some good ideas about his personality and tendencies in the heat of battle. I’m also friends with Big Head, so I should be as informed as anyone can be about an opponent.
Do you have any predictions for this bout? How do you see it going in your mind?
Well on paper it’s the classic grappler vs. striker matchup. So we may assume he wants to knock me out and I want to tap him out. I don’t want to say too much about the actual game plan, but let’s just say I am mentally, physically, and technically prepared for an absolute war of attrition, no matter what happens.
Win or lose, what’s next for Cleburn Walker?
Whatever the Lord leads me to I will do my best to handle, with His help. That’s really as much certainty as I can have about the future.
Any last words you’d like to add? Any other message for your sponsors and fans?
I’d like to say thank you again for giving me some of your time, as well as thank you to the readers! With the awesome help from my new manager, Pierre Bertrand, things are really picking up steam. He helped form a merger between myself and Ranger Up Clothing, and we hope to get Jaco, as well as others, on board after this upcoming fight. All in all everything is falling into place and I am extremely happy about where I’m at and where I feel like I’m heading. I can’t wait to fight in Houston, it’s always a pleasure getting boo’d on the way to the cage and applauded on the way out!