Norman Parke: “I’m not in the UFC to be a gate-keeper, I’m here to challenge for the title”

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Ahead of his July 19 date with Naoyuki Kotani at The O2 in Dublin, “Stormin’” Norman Parke spoke to PETER CARROLL about fighting in Brazil, grabbing shorts, referees, his fight camp at Next Generation Northern Ireland, Kotani and finishing fights.

There is no denying that Norman Parke’s last outing in Natal, Brazil against fellow TUF winner Leonardo Santos was a close affair. However, the result was undoubtedly taken away from the Ulsterman due to an infringement that saw him grab his opponent’s shorts, prompting a brief stoppage to the bout with a point being taken away from the Northern Irish lightweight.

Indeed, rules are rules, but what frustrated many of Parke’s fans was Brazilian referee Wernei Cardoso’s failure to deduct any points from his countryman, Santos, despite the jiu jitsu champion twice using the cage for leverage as he defended the Bushmills man’s takedown attempts.

Although other fighters might shy away from a return contest in the home of samba after suffering similar injustices, Parke was adamant that he would have no problem competing there again due to the plethora of talent that the nation boasts in the 155 lbs division.

“I would fight in Brazil again,” he said. “They have a good few guys floating around the top ten of my division. As for the last fight that I had there, yeah, it was frustrating. I felt I landed a lot more strikes, I won that fight in my eyes.

“I’ve watched it a few times and I did grab the shorts, but usually you’d get some type of warning for that, and when my opponent grabbed the fence twice nothing was done about it.”

Surprisingly, the Rodney Moore product even sympathised with Cardoso, citing new territory and nerves in front of his hometown crowd as possible reasons behind his decisions.

“That referee probably stopped another fight early that night too, as far as I know it was his first time refereeing at a UFC event. He probably had a lot of pressure on him in there and there was probably was a bit of bias towards the hometown boy too.

“I’ve learned a lot from that night, I know I have to go in there and go all guns blazing from now on. I’ll be going for the kill in my next fight, I’ll be doing my best to finish it,” claimed Parke.

Having prepared for his previous UFC outings with Alliance MMA in California, Parke gave some insights into his preparation with Next Generation Northern Ireland for the Dublin event.

Parke said: “I was going to go back to the States for the fight, but I figured I’d lose about two weeks training if I did. You lose a week getting your body back to normal after you fly over and then I would have lost another week after I flew back for the Dublin card.

“I’ve got great training here with the guys in Next Generation. Rodney Moore has been coaching me throughout my career and he’s a southpaw so he’s been able to get me ready for Kotani, he’s doing a great job of mimicking his style in the gym.

“He’s a lot bigger and stronger than Kotani too, but that’s not something I’m worried about because I believe that I’m one of the strongest fighters in the lightweight division.

“I’m trying to focus on my own game though, I’m not thinking about him too much. So many guys obsess over what their opponent is going to do and then when the bell rings they forget what they were meant to do themselves.”

Parke explained how the fight with Kotani came to be and how he feels about the matchup. The judo black belt also outlined where he thinks a win against the Japanese veteran will put him in UFC’s lightweight rankings and where he feels the fight will be won.

“I knew who my opponent was for about a month before the fight was announced but they couldn’t confirm it for whatever reasons. There are so many Japanese guys with good records that I didn’t know who it was at first and maybe I was thinking that I should’ve gotten a higher ranked opponent.

“Kotani is a very good fighter, he’s got something like 25 submission wins and he’s been in the UFC before so I’d be foolish to take him lightly. I have a lot of respect for him and the Japanese martial artists in general, but I think that I’m capable of finishing him.

“If I get a convincing win over him I think I should be looking at a top 20 opponent. I’m not in the UFC to be a gate-keeper, I’m here to challenge for the title.

“For sure, I’m 100% focused on Kotani for the time being, he will be the most experienced fighter on the Dublin card. There’s a lot riding on this fight for him too though, he’s back after a long lay-off.

“He’s a very cautious fighter, he waits for people to overcommit and then he counters them over the top and he’s very fond of attacking single leg takedowns. I’m confident he won’t be able to get me down because of my background in judo, I’ve got great balance even on one leg.

“I’ve seen him taking a lot of guys down in the past and they just stay there and he eventually submits them. I’m not going to let him mess around in my guard if he does get me down – I don’t play that shit – I’ll be straight back up throwing punches.

“I don’t want to play into his game at all. The way I see it, the fight always starts on the feet so I’ll be at an advantage straight away.”

The TUF: The Smashes winner revealed how he is looking forward to fighting in front of the Dublin crowd and how his reception could help put Kotani off during the fight.

“I have no problem fighting anywhere, but I’m expecting there to be a great atmosphere in the O2 that night. The reception might get to him, but the Japanese guys are usually very tough – they don’t even change facial expressions during fights!

“An American fighter would’ve been good for an opponent too. They’re always crying about having to travel, you hear them talking bullshit about the weight they put on because of the flights. I think the crowd could’ve really had an impact on a guy like that had I got one.

“Kotani is a real fighter though, he’s tough. I’m ready to go right now though, I’d go for five rounds. I’m going to push the pace on him and hopefully I’ll be able to get the finish. I hear it’s like a box of Pringles, ‘once you pop you can’t stop’.”

Still unbeaten in four UFC tests, Parke has yet to finish any of his opponents. Having stood out on the European scene for his propensity for the finish, Parke believes that Kotani could be the first to suffer a stoppage loss to him under the flagship banner.

“I really want to get a finish in the UFC, and I’ve been keeping all my tools sharp so if an opportunity arises I will take it. Kotani has decent striking but he’s not on the same level as me, I’m very confident.

“I’m in my groove now, my hands are faster than ever. If he starts throwing sloppy shots at me I’ll be countering him over the top and eventually he just won’t want to be in there anymore,” said Parke.

Parke finished by breaking down the action that he believes the Irish crowd will witness when he faces off against Kotani in The O2.

“I can see us both coming out in the first and feeling each other out for the first few minutes. I’m gonna hit him with four or five hard punches and he’s going to start attacking that single leg takedown.

“He won’t be successful but he’ll keep trying it. I’ll keep chipping away at him. When we come out for the second round he’s going to be gassed from trying to take me down throughout the first.

“He’ll slow down and that’s when he’ll start to hear the crowd. He won’t want to be in there and that’s when I’ll try to knock him out.

“Anything can happen in the Octagon though and the whole fight could go a different way but I’ll adapt to whatever he throws at me. I’ll be ready for everything.”

@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.