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'In the UFC, there was a lot of pressure. If you lost, you were only getting half your money'

Norman Parke chats to The42 about bare-knuckle boxing, life after the UFC and closing in on title glory ahead of his KSW bout this weekend.

Norman Parke.
Norman Parke.

“I LIKE DONALD Cerrone, that’s a good story that.”

It doesn’t take long for Norman Parke to dispel whatever tentative comparisons are made between him and the Denver native.

“His lifestyle is totally different from mine. He lives his life totally different to how I live mine.

“But to see him come back on that win-streak, people just said he was done, he’s finished.

“Then he’s fighting beasts at welterweight and now he’s come back down to beat prospects. He’s beating good fighters. He bust Al Iaquinta up.

It’s crazy how it’s changed for him. This game is funny. It’s full of highs and lows. One year you’re way up on a good win streak and the next year you’re on a three-fight skid.”

There are, perhaps, some comparisons – no matter how tentative.

Both are fathers of young children, both have always embraced their love of fighting and now both are in the hunt for lightweight titles in their respective promotions.

Cerrone, of course, is earning his money in the world’s premium MMA show, the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Holder of multiple records including most wins in UFC history, most finishes and winner of five Fight of the Night bonuses, the 36-year-old says the birth of his son, Danger, has re-energised him and given him fresh perspective in his fighting career.

Parke, meanwhile, has done his time with the UFC. And after being released in 2016, he decided to explore his options.

Taking fights on cards all over Europe, including BAMMA, BRAVE Combat Federation and Absolute Championship Berkut, the Antrim native has now penned a deal with Polish promotion, KSW.

With one scrap of his four-fight deal already under his belt – a victory over welterweight, Borys Mańkowski in March – he returns to the cage again this Saturday night.

Having signed an open contract, meaning he can now take fights with different promotions should the right offer come along, the 32-year-old approaches his fighting career with a more relaxed perspective.

“I never not take it too seriously now. When I was in the UFC, I thought too much about everything. If you lose you’re only getting half your money. There’s a lot of pressure.

“I always think for the pay scales, the fighter should get paid the money and that’s it. Let them fight.

“I’m happy enough being here and doing what I’m doing at the minute to be honest. Taking each fight as it comes.

“People always ask me if I have a plan. I’ve got no plan.”

Source: KSW/YouTube

Chasing Titles

The Bushmills man has been here before.

Against the reigning KSW lightweight champion Mateusz Gamrot – whom he has fought twice, resulting in one loss and one no contest due to an accidental eye poke – he came up just short when challenging for the title.

Even looking back as far as BAMMA 28 in Belfast more than two years ago, Parke beat Paul Redmond in front of a packed SSE Arena but having missed weight, also missed out on a chance to lift the title at 155lbs.

His difficulty making weight, he says, is partly the reason he fought at 170lbs in March and why this next fight will be at catchweight 163lbs.

“I was struggling to get to lightweight. I missed weight and I lost money missing weight a few times.

“I figured it was time for me to go up and have a fight. Then the Borys fight came up. By chance a guy got injured and they asked did I want to take the fight.

I was like ‘No problem – I’ll take it’. Once I beat him they asked did I want to stay at welterweight but I just told them no. I’m a lightweight fighter.

“I think maybe going away and being a little bit more dedicated to my nutrition and stuff that I can make lightweight – healthy, too.

“I said to them I wanted to stay active and asked if I could get on this card too. A quick turnaround from the Borys fight.

“They told me they’d try get me an opponent. I would have had to cut to lightweight which would have been a wee bit too much – so I suggested a catchweight.

My opponent [Artur Sowinski] said he would, he seems pretty game. This is just the lead-up for me to go back to lightweight. I’m dropping to 155lbs after this.”

At this stage in his career, Parke is looking squeeze the most amount of money out of the time he has left in the cage.

His contract situation, in this sense, works to his advantage.

“It does but it only makes sense if it was the right place and the right fight too.

“It’s not like I’m looking around to see who I’m fighting, but if it makes sense and I’m in a good place like the UK or back home I’ll certainly consider it.

I’m not going into Russia to fight some Russian guy you’ve never heard of and he ends up smashing you up. It’s happened to a lot of good guys before.

“You just have to be careful when you’re going up there.”

There were even some links to bare knuckle fighting, something which was recently championed by former UFC featherweight and team-mate of Conor McGregor, Artem Lobov.

“Artem go paid good money for that boxing. And rightly so.

“He did get a lot of damage but he says he’s getting paid decent money so he just said he’d go and fight for that.

“It’s not a good way to be earning well though. When you look at it, it’s a lot of head damage.

Aye, I was thinking about it. I’d talked with the BKB boys but I was looking to shift them a bit more [on their offer].

“Look at the way Artem got big money for fighting Jason Knight – Knight got paid big money too.

“Artem has the big following so he got paid the big money. Knight was getting something like that too. What I was getting was nowhere near what Jason Knight was getting paid.

I just thought I’m not going to let someone, I don’t know who he is, come in with bare knuckles and try smash my face up. Especially not for the money I think I should get. That’s all it was.”

So for the time being, his focus remains on his career with KSW.

Source: Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship/YouTube

Path to the title

Should Parke down his opponent this weekend, he would be well on his way to setting up a trilogy with Gamrot and another title shot in the next 12 months.

But the Northern Irishman isn’t losing the run of himself.

“I just need to win this fight. There are big things coming after this fight. I just need to stay focused.

“I’ve made a good name for myself since I’ve fought Gamrot. Since that first fight, people have been saying that it should have gone to a sudden death round. Maybe I should have won that fight.

“All that history is there. That earned me a lot of fans and the Borys fight did too. 

“I think the fight for me at lightweight that’s the big fight. I’ve been there before. I fought most of my career at lightweight.

“There’s a title on the line at lightweight. Win the belt, defend the belt. Keep moving forward.”

His confidence is well founded, particularly after his last outing in Łódź.

Coming out the right side of a unanimous decision victory, Parke was bullish about the tools he has to help him climb through the division.

I was fighting a home guy. He was ‘their boy’. I just said fuck this I’m coming over here and we’re going to have a good fight.

“Once we exchanged a few shots I just thought to myself: ‘This is it, I’m well in here. Let’s do it’.

“I got settled into the fight. I knew he was trying to knock me out but I knew he couldn’t keep that pace up for three rounds. There’s no chance.

“I just kept saying that to myself after the first round. I started picking up the pace on him a wee bit.

He slowed himself down and I took over during the second half of the fight. I was initially skeptical about going to Poland for the fight, but then I watched it back and it all came down to round two.

“He won round one I won round three. He threw a lot of volume but wasn’t landing as many shots. Whereas I would land shots every now and then but I’d stun him.

“A few times his leg buckled. Those were the significant strikes landed. I thought I was the clear winner – two rounds to one.

I shouldn’t even say this but if we were fighting for a title I think he was already done at this stage. His cardio was done.”

He adds: “I’ve got everything there in my game. Now it’s about sharpening everything up.”

Quick to remind those who don’t see him as a threat that he is riding a three-fight win-streak, he insists he may have some say in where how he moves through the lightweight ranks.

“If I were to win this fight here, then make the next fight against Gamrot. If that doesn’t happen and I need to fight another fight, stick me on the London card in September.

“They talked to me about Belfast or London maybe later this year. Imagine [KSW] coming up to Belfast. See how many fans I’ve got up the North, see how many of them are Polish too.

“Polish people know who you are because a lot of them follow KSW back home. They know how big the promotion is. That’s why I like coming here so often.

I like how they come and support the fights. If we did that back home, supporting the local shows and get bigger places sold out, it would make it more interesting and give [local fighters] more opportunities.

“Right now they have to fight elsewhere. There are still a lot of people against it.

“Plenty of people, including politicians, don’t like the style of fighting. It’s the most exciting sport in the world.”

Norman Parke2 Norman Parke (right) insists he sees his future with KSW.

It does appear that Parke has reverted to this school of thinking as he enters this next phase of his career.

An appetite to make money and compete on the biggest card possible is there, but he is again seeing his chosen path as sport.

After his previous ‘retirement’ from the sport, ‘Stormin’ Norman’ is again finding enjoyment in his day job.

I was just pissed off that night. Other shit was going on too. Personal stuff. I said to myself, I couldn’t be arsed doing this anymore. It was a heat of the moment thing.

“Everyone goes through stages like that too. Here I am now on a win-streak and a chance to make it four in-a-row for the first time in a few years.

“Right now, I’m not really feeling much different to any other time I’m getting ready for a fight. I’m just going through the motions now.

“Meeting all the fighters. Having a bit of fun and chilling out before I cut weight.”

And, like Cerrone, he has someone else to fight for now.

“I’m going on holiday with my wee boy when I get back home.

It’s a present for his birthday that we couldn’t do because I had a few fights coming up and then I had this fight coming up.

“We’re going next Wednesday to Thomasland. He likes Thomas the Tank Engine and anything to do with trains.

“His Mum looked it up so we’re going to go there after the fight.

I only got here on Sunday night. I’m only here for the week and then I’m straight back home on Sunday. That’s the way it works for me.

“Straight in, straight out and that’s it,” he laughs.

The immediate future is all that matters. He’s given little thought to life after he hangs up the gloves.

“Maybe if I market myself a bit better coming to the end of [my fighting career]. I was thinking about having my own gym.

“We just have to figure that out. Like I said, I don’t like to think too far ahead.

I just like living in the moment. Which isn’t a bad thing.”

Parke faces Artur Sowinski this Saturday night at KSW 49 in Gdansk. You can read the full fight card here.

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