Norman Parke is the only Northern Irish fighter to successfully compete for the world’s premier mixed martial arts outfit, the UFC. From the village of Bushmills, on the country’s stunning north coast, Norman was picked up by the organisation after a successful spell on the booming MMA scene throughout Ireland and the UK.
Parke set out on his marital arts journey as a hungry 16 year old, when he began to train and compete in Judo. He would go on to become a national champion in both judo and freestyle wrestling, before ultimately making the decision to transition into MMA, when still just 20 years of age.
With almost no formal MMA training, ‘Stormin’ made his pro debut against Greg Loughran at Ultimate Fighting Revolution 5 in December 2006. He would unfortunately lose the fight via submission but the experience would solidify his willingness to pursue a career in the sport. Harnessing the disappointment of this loss, it focussed him to go on and win ten consecutive fights, finishing every opponent in the process (the majority via submission), and start to build a name for himself on the national scene.
In early 2010 Norman would face fellow top prospect and current UFC lightweight, ‘Irish’ Joe Duffy. This would go down as Parke’s second loss, however being the man who now famously submitted Conor McGregor, so this was not much of a set back. Once again defeat would spur on the tenacious Ulsterman, as he got right back to previous form, with an impressive run of victories.
Fighting under the lights of several different organisations (Fight Stars, Cage Contender, IFC) Parke would put together 6 wins on the bounce, again finishing all of his opponents and collecting the Cage Contender lightweight strap in the process.
This win streak would turn out to be Parke’s last run on the regional scene, and in late 2012, he would sign up to be a competitor on the the UFC’s Ultimate Fighter series. Known as TUF Smashes, it would pit the top prospects from the UK against their Australian counterparts. Norman would compete in the lightweight tournament on the show and impressively win all of his fights on the way to the finale, on UFC on FX; Sotiropoulos vs Pearson. This would mark the first time that a Northern Irish athlete had stepped into the UFC’s octagon since Big Colin Robinson lost to Antoni Hardonk back in 2008. So it would be a very proud day for Parke and his loyal, growing support back home. He would dominate the contest and take the decision against Englishman Colin Fletcher, in doing so join the ranks of the UFC, a very impressive accomplishment considering his relatively short history in the sport.
This achievement however, may go down as Parke’s greatest inside the Octagon. Although he would go undefeated in his first 5 UFC bouts, including a notable win over Jon Tuck and battling through some terrible refereeing in Brazil to secure a draw against Leonardo Santos, Parke would struggle to find the killer edge that allowed him to finish so many of his opponents on his way to the UFC.
His TKO victory over Naoyuki Kotani on UFC Fight Night: McGregor v Brandao would be the first and only time Parke would be able to finish his opponent inside the Octagon. Although Norman boasted an undefeated record, the fact he struggled to end his fights before the final bell, had brought some widespread (and possibly unwarranted) criticism, so this victory seemed like it may be a turning point in his career. It was a win that elevated his profile and put him in line to face some of the divisions top ranked fighters.
One of these fighter was the very popular Diego Sanchez, and in 2014 Norman signed to fight him in what could’ve been a crazy fight. However it wasn’t to be, as he had to reluctantly withdraw due to injury, a very unfortunate turn of events for him. With animosity between the two sparking interest in the bout and it looking like a very good match up for Parke, it could have been a monumental fight for his career.
After this fight breaking down, Parke was again scheduled to face another top ranked opponent and another fan favourite in Jorge Masvidal at UFC Fight Night 59 in January 2015. Unfortunately a month before the event Masvidal pulled out through injury and the massive Brazilian Gleison Tibau would step in to replace him.
As we watched on from high in the stands, in Boston’s fantastic TD Arena, Parke lost the fight via the closest of split decisions, in what would turn out to be a grappling heavy contest. Tibau’s experience and possibly his supplementation regime (he has since been popped for performance enhancing substances, something which many expect he has been using through his career) would see him outmuscle Parke to just edge the bout on the judge’s scorecards and mark the start of Parke’s fall from grace.
Another split decision loss to Francisco Trinaldo at UFC Fight Night 67 in what was a very poorly judged fight, would put Parke on the brink of being cut by the UFC. He would admit in the lead up to his next fight against Reza Madadi that a loss would likely spell disaster for his UFC career.
Whilst winning TUF Smashes may have been Parke’s most notable competitive achievement, it’s hard to argue against his antics in the lead up to the Madadi fight being his fans favourite moment.
Madadi returned to the UFC at this event after spending 18 months in a Swedish prison for aggravated burglary of a designer handbag store in which he and an accomplice made off with $150,000 worth of merchandise. Parke would use this incident to try and create some controversy and spark some wider interest in his fight. At the weigh-ins Parke and Madadi would face off, during which time Parke produced a handbag and threw it at Madadi (You can watch the incident here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcPmCevxFI4). The incident generated a social media frenzy and in our opinion (and Dana White’s), it is to date one of the funniest things to happen at a UFC weigh-in.
The Northern Irishman beat Madadi via unanimous decision but again failed to secure a finish or overly impress with his performance. He admitted after the fight that he was tentative as a loss may have seen him cut by the promotion. However this measured approach and lack of aggression would be seen all too often, and has definitely contributed to him regrettably being axed.
In his last outing as a UFC fighter, Parke faced the experienced Russian Rustam Khabilov, a very experienced grappler and Combat Sambo World Champion. The sambo specialist was able to control Parke for long spells of the fight on his way to a unanimous decision win. This loss, combined with the perception that Parke was not producing his best performances under the UFC banner led to the promotion separating ways with the fighter early last month.
Parke has since taken some time off to be with his family (he has become a father in recent months) and has been relatively tight lipped on what his next career move would be. He signed with fight promotion and sports management company On Top Promotions on 23rd April in what appeared at the time to be the beginning of him making moves to get back to competition.
Then on 4th May, Parke announced on his social media channels that he would be fighting undefeated Valdo Sikic in the main event slot at FFC in Austria this September. He also informed his fans that he’ll be spending some time between now and then in Thailand training, with plans to ultimately finish this opponent and get back to his best.
Parke is most definitely one of the pioneers of UK and Irish MMA and has had a very successful career to this point. Winning TUF Smashes and having a lengthy spell the UFC is something which no other Northern Irish fighter has been able to do. Especially when considering the sport is only now starting to develop in this country, against the odds Parke was able to show that he had the talent to mix it with the world’s best.
Training out of IMMA/Next Generation gym under the tutelage of one of the finest MMA coaches in the UK, Rodney Moore, we expect Norman to continue to grow as a fighter, bolster his skill set and use the adversity he’s facing to improve.
As far as his long-term future, it is unclear when lies ahead, beyond the fight that’s currently on the cards. With European promotions on the rise and many of the bigger organisations such as BAMMA starting to sign professional fighters to multi-fight contracts, it’s possible that we’ll see Parke become one of the big name signings on these burgeoning shows.
Will he ever compete in the UFC again? Who knows, maybe some impressive performances outside of the Octagon will see the promotion come calling again or maybe another international organisation such as Bellator will look to bring him in as they start to increase their European presence.
Whatever the case, we look forward to seeing how Norman looks in September at FFC and keeping up with his career as he journeys into his next chapter.
All the best Norman. Stand up for the Ulsterman!