Nobody ever handed anything to Shelby Walker.
Nothing was easy……ever.
Maybe it was her hardscrabble upbringing. Maybe it was her background in the military.
But somehow, there was nothing that was going to stop her.
Until something did.
And now, we commemorate her on the 15th anniversary of the night she was taken from us, far too soon.
But there was a lot to talk about while she was here.
This was someone who carried with her the spirit of the trailblazer.
We will see a women’s world championship fight in a prominent position on Saturday night’s UFC card. Their presence is now relatively commonplace. We have seen Ronda Rousey emerge as a worldwide superstar.
But you don’t have to go back very far to remember when those of the female gender were not necessarily welcome in MMA’s predominant organization. This happened to be the time Shelby Walker was coming of age.
“It wasn’t like it is now, when women are looked upon seriously as performers,” says Larry Goldberg, Walker’s manager and publisher of Boxing Insider. “The UFC had enough issues with the men in 2005. They didn’t think the public was ready for women in MMA yet.”
ShelbyGirl sought to break down the barrier, and she was on the verge of it.
The UFC was ready to match her with Erica Montoya at UFC 51 in Japan, in February 2005. But the show got moved out of there, and the proposed bout took a rather circuitous path before it fell through.
It took some time for women to break the door down. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until 2012 that Rousey made her debut in the UFC.
“Shelby was in on the beginning of this evolutionary process,” Goldberg says, regarding women being accepted into the UFC. “The whole thing could not have gotten to where it is now without people like her.”
Imagine if Dana White had been in attendance when she scored a five-second knockout over Angela Wilson in 2003 – a world record at the time – that evolutionary process may have sped up a bit.
We see Claressa Shields celebrate herself for being a simultaneous competitor in both boxing and MMA. Well, whether she is switching back and forth on a moment’s notice is a matter of debate, but ShelbyGirl did that seamlessly – one of the very first to do it, in fact.
She was proud of her blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, awarded to her by Royce Gracie himself; nonetheless, the lack of opportunities sent her looking for another outlet, and she found it in the boxing ring.
She was game. And she was determined. At America’s Top Team training center in Florida, she drew the attention of Howard Davis Jr., the former Olympic gold medalist boxer and world lightweight contender who had transformed himself into a successful trainer.
Davis did not sweat fools or slackers. ShelbyGirl was neither. Together they embarked on a journey that saw Walker fight for a world championship twice – against Emiko Raika for the WIBA featherweight title, and Jamie Clampitt for the IWBF lightweight crown.
She didn’t win those fights. But that’s not what’s important.
What IS important is the way the people felt about her.
And they knew her, alright. ShelbyGirl was an early participant on the social media outlets of the day, interacting with fans on a regular basis in many MMA forums, including “The Underground,” where she became something of a celebrity.
She built a sizable following, and, after Dana White flew in on his private UFC jet to see her box against Mia St. John (this being a year after the UFC 51 fallout), she actually shot a reality show pilot.
“Shelby had a YouTube page before I even knew what a YouTube page was,” says Goldberg.” She was ahead of her time in that way. She would have been really big on a platform like Instagram. She was part of the BoxingInsider website giving fight predictions. We broke all the unspoken media rules, trading coverage to get her featured in numerous MMA and boxing publications and radio shows.”
Even as we poignantly come across the anniversary of her passing, and regardless of her near two-decade absence from the ring, Walker is still discussed on the internet today. An inescapable part of that involves the circumstances of her departure from this earth.
Shelby Walker should be remembered as a one of a kind person. Someone with charisma, heart, and flair – who would fight all comers and who made a significant contribution to Women Combat sports.