Irish lightweight ‘Stormin’ Norman Parke leaves for Poland today (Tuesday) and will fight in front of 55,000 Polish fans at a football stadium on Saturday (May 27) in Warsaw. He will battle a Pole, Mateusz Gamrot, an undefeated one at that, and hopes to come away unscathed. Better yet, he intends to return to Ireland on Sunday as the new KSW lightweight champion.
Challenger, underdog and foreigner, Parke could be forgiven for thinking he’s up against it this weekend. Similarly, it would be natural for him to be feeling nervous, anxious, perhaps even overawed by it all; the size of it, the magnitude. But, instead, the man who won The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes says he couldn’t be more relaxed or confident heading into a fight with a Pole in front of 55,000 bloodthirsty Polish spectators. This, he says, is the opportunity he has been waiting for since leaving the UFC in 2016.
“There’s going to be fifty thousand people there and it’s going to be something crazy,” he said. “But, at the same time, I’ve got to stay laser-focused and keep my eye on the prize. Experience has to come into play. When a fighter is relaxed, there’s no stress or pressure or anything. You go in there with an open mind and you’re free and loose. That’s how I feel at the minute. It’s a huge, huge show, and I’m well aware of that, but I’m controlling it.
“In my last two fights, my opponents (Paul Redmond and Andrew Fisher) had more to win than I did. I’m a big name for them to beat. These lads are putting it all on the line against me and doing their best.
“The shoe is on the other foot this time, though. They all say he’s (Gamrot) the number one boy and I don’t really see it like that. They say going to his country to fight is not a good idea. But that doesn’t bother me. I know there’s a performance I’m capable of. If I can pull off that performance on the night, it’s an easy win for me.
“It feels like this is just meant to be, like it’s just another fight. I’m not really thinking about how big the show is or who I’m fighting. I’m just soaking it all up and enjoying it. I’ve been here many times before.”
Parke, now thirty, has nine UFC bouts to his name; that’s the experience to which he alludes. Gamrot may have bags of potential, and he may have a bumper crowd on his side, but Parke is no stranger to the bright lights and the big event, nor unfamiliar with fighting the best in the world. Been there, done that, Parke now wants to know where he stands in Europe.
“I think this is the right time,” he said. “When I win the belt, that means I’m a champion again. I’m going to take this boy out and then it will all start happening. I just need to put on the performance.
“He’s not a killer, he’s not a nasty striker or anything like that. He’s much like me. I’m his toughest match-up. A lot of his fans are not really looking at it like that. They think it’s just another win for Gamrot. They think he’s a machine. But I don’t see anything about him that makes me think he’s spectacular. He’s not very, very dangerous. He has good wrestling, but I think I’m a better wrestler.
“I’m going to beat him by unanimous decision. That’s what I’ve got in the back of my mind.”
Known as ‘Gamer’, Mateusz Gamrot is unbeaten in twelve MMA fights and has secured the scalps of Renato Gomes Gabriel, Mansour Barnaoui and a couple of Brits, Andre Winner and Tim Newman. Known for his high-level grappling and aggressive style, the 26-year-old from Poznan has long been tipped as a future UFC contender.
Even so, Parke, unwilling to be deemed a gatekeeper, is yet to buy into the hype. He has heard the talk and he has watched clips of his opponent in action. He has liked a lot of what he has seen. But, until he experiences this supposed potential first-hand – in the cage, where it counts – the go-getting Irishman maintains it will be he and not Gamrot leaving Warsaw with a title belt this weekend.
“I feel like his wrestling seems to get most of his wins,” said Norman. “He’s got a good submission game as well. I’m aware of that. I also feel like I hold my own there. And, in the striking, I feel like I’m better than him. That’s all I really see in him. He needs to be tested and I’m his test. This is the chance to see if he’s the real deal. I’m not believing it yet, to be honest.
“I won’t be scared to lose. But, if I put on a shit performance and end up losing a shit decision, that’ll piss me off and push me more into retirement, definitely. If I put on a performance, I’ll beat him. I know for a fact I will.”
Parke added: “I think there’s more pleasure to be had from beating him over three rounds, a complete domination over three rounds, just to show I’m the better man. Beating him like that in his own country would be more satisfying than stopping him. I know the finish is something people like, and I haven’t had any finishes for a while, but I would be more satisfied to dominate him for three rounds.”
Emphasising a decision victory is all well and good, yet could prove risky should the rounds be close. Parke is in Poland, after all. The crowd, rather than a twelfth man, can represent, in MMA, a fourth judge. Not that Parke seems overly concerned.
“I understand the decision thing, but, if I win three rounds clear, I’ll win the fight,” he said. “If it’s a draw after three rounds there’s a possibility it could go to a fourth round. I have to be prepared for that. If it needs to be done, it needs to be done. We’ll be ready to grind another round out. I’m aware of the possibility but not really worried about it. If I can cleanly beat him and defend the takedowns and stay heavy on top, and just control the whole fight, the fans will know I won that fight.
“All I know is I’m going to be there until the bitter end. He’s got to knock me out or catch me in a sneaky submission to stop me. Other than that, I’m going to be there the whole time.”
Days before setting off for Poland, Parke used the word ‘experience’ a lot. He called the KSW 39 event in Poland an ‘experience’. He said he’d use all his ‘experience’ to help him get the better of Gamrot on May 27. He is also now, at thirty, more than happy to reflect on past experiences, which is to say look at his stint in the UFC through mature, philosophical eyes.
“Some fights I should have pulled the trigger a wee bit more and maybe I was worrying about my opponent too much,” Parke said of his time in the UFC. “Some of the boys are very strong wrestlers and it’s quite hard to strike with someone like that. It’s very hard. But people have to adapt in those situations. So that’s why I said, ‘Fuck it, suck it up and get on with it.’ I know there are a lot of big fights out there. I scraped through the last two fights through all the bullshit and now I’ve got this opportunity. We’re going again.”
Parke admits it has been tough flourishing in a post-UFC world. It’s not so much the dimmer lights and smaller crowds that have unsettled him, more the feeling that every fight he takes – so far two – seems dangerously high-risk, low-reward.
“You go from fighting the best in the world to fighting guys who aren’t the best in the world but are tough fighters who can give you a tough fight,” he explained. “Every fight is tough in its own way. There were a couple of tweaks I needed to make in my game and I also had a lot of personal shit going on in my life just before the UFC finished. Once I got that shit sorted, I was good to go. You leave it outside the cage and just go in there and fight and put it all on the line.”
If you think Norman Parke sees a KSW lightweight title as his ticket back to the UFC, you’re sorely mistaken. Conversely, he sees the belt as a symbol of a career-best win – a triumph over a highly-touted European prospect – and something that can be defended on future KSW events, be it overseas or back in Ireland or England. Parke, you see, believes the whole picture is about to open up for him.
“I’m not even thinking about the UFC,” he said. “I’ve been there and done it. It’s not the be-all and end-all. I’m getting paid good money, too. And it’s a big show. KSW is a huge show. This one is completely off the charts. I’m not even thinking about the UFC. Don’t get me wrong, when I was released, I was fucking pissed. I accepted every fight they offered, never turned down any fight. I thought, is it my style? It must be my style, the way I fight. I thought, fuck it, go away and change some things and get on with it.
“Now I just want to be the KSW champion. That’s the number one goal at the minute. I don’t really care so much about the belt. It’s the achievement. I’m going to go out there to Poland free as a bird, no pressure or anything, and take out the number one guy to take the belt. ”