The fight game is filled with highs and lows, but few can say that they’ve had as many in a single year as Norman Parke. Whether it was the lows of a disappointing draw with Leonardo Santos and a year-ending injury that scuttled a November Pay-Per-View clash with Diego Sanchez, or the highs of knocking out Naoyuki Kotani in front of a packed house of Irish fans in Dublin, the Northern Ireland native saw it all.
Yet as he gets ready to step back into the Octagon against Gleison Tibau on Sunday in Boston, there was never a point where he got too high or too low. The secret is staying on an even keel, even when things are going south.
“I get over it straight away,” Parke said, referring to the injury that took him out of UFC 180 and the biggest fight of his career to date. “I could sit there and feel sorry for myself but that’s not going to get you anywhere. I never dwell on anything too much; I just accepted it and moved on.”
As fate would have it, Parke’s replacement for the Mexico City bout – Joe Lauzon – was also forced out of the bout, along with Sanchez, scrapping the fight altogether. It left Parke where he started before the injury to his knee occurred – as a lightweight on the rise whose impressive win over Kotani moved his current unbeaten streak to 12, with five of those fights coming in the Octagon. That meant another big fight would be next, and he got one in the form of streaking veteran Jorge Masvidal. Unfortunately, Masvidal pulled out of the bout with an injury, allowing Tibau to step in. Some would say that the Brazilian is an even tougher fight. Parke isn’t so sure, but no matter who it is, he feels that he is seen as the underdog.
“People say that (Tibau is tougher) and talk about his wrestling and his size because he’s very big for the weight category, but I think Masvidal’s very underrated and is very good everywhere,” Parke said. “He’s the one I wanted to fight because he was ranked in the top 15 and I thought it was a good opportunity, but he got injured and I go straight to Tibau. I said ‘no problem, let’s go.’ I never really dwelled on it or thought about it too much. To be honest, I don’t really mind fighting anyone. People can say it could be a harder fight, but in my eyes a fight’s a fight. The way we’re reared, we’ll fight anyone put in front of us, no problem. People think I’m going to get absolutely demolished by this lad here but I do not see that at all. I feel like I’m the favorite. And I feel that way every time I step in there because I know I can beat him no problem. I can beat him everywhere. I’m aware of his strengths and where he’s good and I respect him, but at the end of the day, it’s either you or him and it’s definitely going to be him.”
For this fight, Parke is continuing to keep his camp at home in Northern Ireland with the Next Generation team, and even though he spent several camps with the Alliance MMA squad in California and got good results, there’s nothing like sleeping at home in your own bed.
“I could never get a proper night’s sleep when I was away and staying in the gym,” Parke said of his stay in San Diego. “So I thought I’d stay here for the next fight (against Kotani), and I got the finish.”
You can’t argue with that kind of success, and even with the switch in opponent, Parke is getting the quality work and attention he needs in preparation for Tibau.
“I had a great time training at Alliance and I have a lot of great friends there, but being here, I’ve got my boxing coach with me all the time and my MMA coach Rodney Moore, who’s preparing me for this fight and we’ve been working together the whole time, so the focus and attention is on me for this whole fight,” he said. “And when you’re working one-to-one it feels like you’re learning more and you’re getting to work some stuff that you want to learn as opposed to when you’re in a crowd with loads of different people.”
A tumultuous year could rattle the most steely of competitors, injecting doubt into what used to be an unshakable resolve. Not Norman Parke though. When it comes down to it, all that matters is performing on the night, and he’s more than ready to do that on Sunday.
“You’ve got to convince yourself that no matter what, you’re going to win, and that’s it, no matter what circumstances you’re in,” he said. “If you doubt at all in your head, you’re already beaten. When you freeze in the moment, it’s like a rabbit in headlights. That’s your chance. It’s only 15 minutes, and then you look back thinking, what have I done? I felt that before; it ain’t gonna happen again, not on the big stage with so many people watching.”
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