Storm’s A-Brewin’ – Norman Parke on Jon Tuck, training at Alliance, Conor McGregor and the future

After a meteoric year that has seen him travel across the world to claim the TUF Smashes crown, “Stormin’” Norman Parke will look to make it three wins in as many tests under the UFC banner this Saturday when he takes on Jon Tuck in Manchester.

With a shift of location to California, where he trains with some of the best fighters in the world, the Antrim man spoke with Peter Carroll on his arrival home with an eye to his pending fight and his future in the sport.

Hearing his name chanted by crowds across Ireland and the UK was commonplace for Norman Parke before he was propelled into the spotlight by The Ultimate Fighter platform in late 2012. However, despite claiming the coveted contract from the UFC and putting in two strong performances in Queensland and Las Vegas, it may not be until this Saturday that the Northern Irish talent receives an ovation he is used to inside the Octagon.

With the MEN Arena only a short flight away from his nearest and dearest, as well as a host of his most diehard fans, there is definitely some perks to coming home.

“Honestly, I think I could fight anywhere and it wouldn’t bother me, but it’s definitely nice to be closer to home,” said Parke. “Between my friends and family there’s a nice little squad going over to see the fight in Manchester.

“I’ll have the support this time and that should be great, but I don’t feel any added pressure –I’m just gonna go out there and do what I do.”

Although he reacted well to the step up in competition that Dana White provided him with, his coach, legendary Irish middleweight Rodney Moore, agreed with Parke that a change in location could force the best out of the 26 year old.

“Rodney knew the situation; training at Alliance was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down really. They always say that ‘steel sharpens steel’ and after training with the likes of Ross Pearson, Michael Chandler and Jeremy Stephens – some of the top 155ers on the planet – I know that it’s true.

“I wanted to test myself and now I know I deserve to be in there with the best guys at lightweight. To train with them guys and fit in gives me a lot of confidence and I’ve made some big improvements out there.

“Since TUF I’ve travelled from one side of the world to the other with the show in Australia, all along the West Coast and into Mexico – it’s been great and it really helped me push my game to the next level.

“I’ve definitely improved my skills but no matter where I am, I always keep my feet on the ground and remember where I come from.

“When I come home and head up to Next Generation the guys can see the difference the move has made and I love being back with them. I go up there now and the smaller lads box the shit out of me – it’s great to be home,” he laughed.

Despite the sunshine and the allure of the night life that the Golden State has to offer Parke has immersed himself in his work, learning from every experience, none so much as his two Octagon outings where he faced off against Colin Fletcher and Kazuki Tokudome.

“The two UFC fights have really taught me to make the right decisions. With Colin, he’s a great guy, but I knew had him beaten in each round. I like to take the fight to where my opponent is weak, but if the worse come to the worst, I don’t mind making any fight a brawl.
“You’ve got to be sensible with your career though and in the Kazuki Tokudome fight I knew I had the guy beaten in the first two rounds. He recovered in the third round and gave me a hard time, but I knew I had the win if I could grit it out.

“I don’t listen to the crowd either. I’m always aiming to get a bonus, but you can get taken away from your game plan if the crowd are loud. I’m a bit more precise now so hopefully come Saturday, I’ll be able to get my hands on one.

The word that is perhaps most associated with Jon Tuck, Parke’s opponent for Saturday night, is “unbeaten”. Despite the weight of the notion, Parke believes that fighters can learn more in defeat than in victory, especially in his case where valuable lessons came against more experienced Irish campaigners in his younger years.

“My first professional fight was against Greg Loughran and honestly I didn’t even know who he was before the fight.

“I just remember looking across the cage and him taking off his t-shirt and thinking to myself, ‘I’m fucked now.’ I did quite well in the end and I took a lot of lessons away from it.

“I needed more competition experience and I took 30 amateur boxing bouts and entered a lot of wrestling tournaments to get used to the intensity. I got a good streak going and I knew I was ready for action again.

“Then, with my loss to Joseph Duffy, it kind of highlighted to me that I’d been taken my weight for granted.

“Jon Tuck will end up learning a lot from the loss he’ll walk away from Saturday with too. He’ll learn a lot from the defeat and he’ll be a better fighter for it,” he insisted.

Studying his opponent in the lead up to the bout, Parke recognised some of the threats that Tuck could present, but maintained that the Guamanian will struggle to pull off his patented BJJ techniques on the night.

“His jiu jitsu game is his strong point,” the lightweight acknowledged. “He’s a good brown belt as far as I know and he’s got some nice sweeps from his guard.

“It’s not something I’m particularly worried about. The years I’ve spent training in Judo and competing in wrestling tournaments make me very hard to move.

“At Alliance, I train with division 1 wrestlers and they have trouble sweeping me, so best of luck to him if he wants to play that game.

“I just feel like I’m a lot more well-rounded than him and I can cause him trouble in every department. It’s gonna be a tough night for him.”

Not only does the TUF: Smashes winner want to win the bout, but due to his last two bouts ending in decision, Parke is out for the finish.

“I just want to go out there and have fun,” he said. “I haven’t really been able to do that so far in the UFC. I want to strike, if I land my left hand on this guy he’s going down, but I’m ready to fight wherever we end up going.

“I’m going to be looking for the finish 100%, and I think I’ll have him finished in the first or second. I’m used to the crowd now and I’ll be able to relax in there, so that should help a lot.”

Although Parke isn’t really in the business of calling his fellow fighters out, after his UFC debut in April Conor McGregor had no hesitation in targeting the Antrim man as well as a host of other fighters.

“I think some people think I dodged Conor at some stage or something. We were meant to fight at one stage and I ended up fighting a guy from Finland in the end instead.

“He’s a lot like Michael Bisping the way he will call everyone out, so it didn’t surprise me to it. I’ve watched him for years and I think he’s a great fighter, but if we were to fight it wouldn’t be a problem.

“I’m not in this business to turn down fights, no one is. All of the talk means nothing really, because if it went down it would only be me and him left in the cage. I think it would be a great fight,” he said.

With so much having changed in the life of Norman Parke in a year – winning The Ultimate Fighter in Australia, switching camps to Alliance in California, taking victory in his first UFC bouts – he pondered what 2014 might have in store.

“This time next year I hope to be further up the 155 ladder and when I get the win on Saturday hopefully I’ll be offered some of the top tier guys.

“When I look at the lightweight roster I think I’m good enough to give any of them guys a run for their money. I’m training with the best guys in the world every day and I won’t stop putting in work until I get there.”

By Peter Carroll – @PetesyCarroll

Owner/Editor of SevereMMA.com. Writer, Podcaster, Producer of 'Notorious: Conor McGregor' film, 'Conor McGregor: Notorious' TV series, 'Ten Thousand Hours', 'The Fighting Irish' and more documentary films.