No Fixed Abode – Parke on travelling, knee injury, over-training, Leonardo Santos, finishing and UFC Dublin

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Looking to extend his unbeaten run in the UFC to four, Norman Parke caught up with PETER CARROLL before leaving San Diego for Natal, Brazil where he takes on TUF: Brasil 2 winner, Leonardo Santos on Sunday night.

Making his fourth appearance in the Octagon this Sunday night, “Stormin’” Norman Parke will also be competing in a different continent for the fourth time since winning the TUF: Smashes finale on Australia’s Gold Coast in December 2012, as he meets a fellow Ultimate Fighter in the shape of four time jiu jitsu world champion Leonardo Santos in Natal, Brazil.

After seeing off Colin Fletcher to claim his series title, Parke put on dominant pugilistic displays against Kazuki Tokudome in Las Vegas and Jon Tuck in Manchester to see him move to 3-0 with the promotion, but rather than complain about his hectic travelling schedule the Antrim man sees it as one of the perks of the job.

“It’s great, this is the martial arts life,” said Parke. “Not many people get the opportunity to travel around the world and do what they love. This is the fourth country I’ve been to in four fights for the UFC and I hope there’s more to come. I love it.”

Revealing that he suffered a knee injury in the lead up to his October showdown with Tuck, the lightweight highlighted the restricted training camp he had in preparation for the Guamanian.

“I didn’t need surgery, it was my LCL and all it needed was some rest. It was horrible to train on in the lead up to the Tuck fight, my preparation was really limited. I couldn’t use butterfly guard, I couldn’t really train takedowns too much either so most of the camp was focused on blocking his takedowns.

“I couldn’t do shit really, I couldn’t even drill simple things. I knew I had to keep that fight standing when I went in and I stuck to my game plan. I didn’t get the finish but I didn’t feel uncomfortable at any point in there that night. I took eight weeks off after it and I definitely feel the better of the break,” he said.

Although he is embracing the travelling opportunities that come with the job, up and leaving the comforts of his Bushmills home, not only for fights but for training at Alliance in San Diego with some of the best lightweight fighters in the world, can be unsettling for the former national champion.

“To be away from my friends and my girl is tough for sure. It’s something we talk about quite often, but I’m young and I’ve been given some great opportunities to advance my game by training with the guys in Alliance, it’s something I have to do.

“Heading over to the States takes me out of my comfort zone too and I think that’s what gets the best out of me,” insisted the Ulsterman. “This is the fourth time I’ve done it and I just can’t wait to see everybody now. My girlfriend will be arriving in Brazil not long after I get there and I can’t wait to see her, it should make everything that bit easier over there.”

Training to the point of exhaustion in the lead up to this bout, after relaying his symptoms through a social media network, Parke received advice from Ais “The Bash” Daly and Michael Bisping, among others, to take a step back from his relentless camp. The Rodney Moore protégé commented on how he got his body clock back to normal.

“When I came back from the eight weeks off my body was really weird because I was able to do 10 rounds of sparring straight away. It felt like I’d never left, my fitness was really good and my weight was down. I was really pushing myself hard when I got back to Alliance, but then I was finding it hard to sleep.

“I was wrecked and it turned out I was doing too much so I headed out to the desert with Dominic Cruz and some of the other Alliance guys for a break. We chilled out and had a barbeque and my body came back after that. It’s a tough life,” he laughed.

Parke also revealed that he requested a fight in Brazil after his clash with Tuck and acknowledged some of the threats that Santos brings to the table.

“Leonardo Santos is a great test for me because he is a good fighter and I’ll be fighting him in his country. I went to Joe Silva after the Manchester card and I told him I wanted to fight in Brazil, I figured I’d probably have to do it sooner or later so fuck it. Santos was the first guy I was offered and I took it straight away. I think if I get passed him I’ll be ready for a top 10 or 20 opponent.

“I see this fight as similar to the Tuck one because I think, once I find my range early, I’ll be able to dictate the pace with my boxing. I’m expecting him to try and take me down, but the wrestlers in Alliance are finding that difficult so it certainly won’t be easy for him. I’ve got a lot of respect for his jiu jitsu pedigree and I know not to mess with him too much on the ground, it could get funky down there for me.”

With stoppages eluding Parke so far in his UFC career he had an interesting strategy when it came to making a prediction for Sunday’s fight. Having gained a reputation for his finishing ability during his ascent on the European scene, the Irishman employed a new tactic when forecasting the outcome of his match-up with Santos.

“Something I’ve been really focusing on in the gym is finishing, going in for the kill when my opponent is dazed. I’ve had three decisions in a row in here, that’s crazy for me, so this time I’m going after that bonus. If I catch him I won’t give him a chance to recover.

“I told you last time that I would finish the guy and I ended up getting the decision, so this time I’ll say decision even though I’m confident of the finish. I’ll use a bit of reverse psychology on myself,” he joked.

One of the big obstacles for any foreign fighter competing in Brazil is keeping their heads while the home crowd call for the head of anyone facing off against a fellow Brazilian. However, with guys like Jeremy Stephens to train with every day and some experience with hostile audiences, Parke is confident he will get the job done.

“I don’t mind the crowd at all. I fought in England a lot and sometimes I would get a frosty reception and I’m just not going to let it get to me. Obviously, having Jeremy Stephens as a training partner it makes a big difference. He’s been a great help to me.

“He was talking about the Brazilian crowd chanting ‘you’re going to die’ on his way out, but once he got into the cage he knew it was only him and the guy standing across from him. He won that fight with a head kick knockout in the first round and I know I’m capable of doing the same thing. I’m mentally prepared,” he declared.

If successful on Sunday, Parke already knows where and when he wants his next fight to be, with the UFC’s Dublin card on July 19th looking like the perfect reward for passing his Brazilian test.

“To fight on that card would mean the world to me. I have that in my head, as soon as I put this guy away at the weekend I want to be matched for that event. It will be an unbelievable show and I don’t think any MMA fan will have heard a better crowd. I’m going to let them know I’m there for that card and if the fight goes the way I expect it to on Sunday, it should be at least a top 20 opponent for Dublin.”

By Peter Carroll – @PetesyCarroll

Peter Carroll is Severe MMA's lead feature writer. He has been featured in many top publications and some rubbish ones too. He also writes for the Irish Daily Mirror and Vice's Fightland.