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26th Feb 2016

Norman Parke tells SportsJOE he wanted to “strike while the iron’s hot” with McGregor challenge

Tom Victor

Conor McGregor had no shortage of challengers after Rafael dos Anjos withdrew from UFC 196 with a broken foot.

Anthony Pettis and eventual challenger Nate Diaz were among the more high-profile names put forward, but another – Northern Ireland’s Norman Parke – drew a fair amount of attention himself.

The 29-year-old offered to withdraw from his bout with Rustam Khabilov at UFC Fight Night London and fly to Las Vegas instead, and he has explained to SportsJOE that he was never going to turn down the opportunity to throw his hat into the ring.

“That’s f**k all personal, to be honest,” he says

“I heard [RDA] had pulled out, that his foot was broken, and I thought ‘why not? Strike while the iron’s hot’.”

He speaks highly of the impact McGregor has made in raising awareness of the UFC, even among people who don’t follow the sport. His mother and grandmother, for example.

“Back in Ireland, North and South, you’ll get people who’ve never watched the sport who know who he is, and that’s something different on its own,” Parke explains.

The Antrim-based lightweight has shared a bill with McGregor before, most recently when ‘The Notorious’ knocked out Dennis Siver in Boston last year, but the scale of the Dubliner’s aura is on a whole new level these days.

And while Parke has plenty of time for McGregor’s antics outside the Octagon, he hints that it might have taken some time for others to recognise his potential.

“It’s unbelievable,” he says. “Media-wise, at the start…people never knew his whole vibe, but if you see the media now when he’s about, it’s just like a swarm of flies just straight in there.

“And he can deal with that no problem, no pressure.”

Parke might not have been selected to take on McGregor in Vegas, but ultimately the 21-4-1 fighter was not too disappointed to see Diaz win the race.

The pre-fight press conference drew a phenomenal live streaming audience, with the pair exchanging verbal blows in a way we probably couldn’t expect of other matchups.

Certainly Diaz’s steroid accusations and McGregor’s forceful reaction seem unique to the situation, and Parke explained the trash-talk potential was one of the main reasons he was happy with the UFC’s decision.

“Diaz is the fight I wanted to see also, you know, in terms of the smack talk,” he reveals, though he’s backing McGregor to win the bout.

“I know Diaz has got a huge reach – his punches are a bit more sloppy, Conor’s a bit more precise with his strikes and understands how to play the game no problem,” he says.

“Any danger Diaz will pose will probably be in some grappling exchanges, but I don’t really see that holding. I think Conor’s going to be the stronger fighter.

“Conor can finish the fight for sure, but if it gets to the grappling exchanges at all on the ground then maybe [Diaz] can sneak a submission, but my money’s on McGregor to win the fight.”