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With an incredible legacy already locked away in the history books, Norman Parke is undeniably one of the greatest fighters to come out of the UK. But after a weekend of partying, he nearly missed out on the biggest opportunity of his lifetime.
On March 11, 'Stormin' returns to action at Hexagone MMA 7 at the Futoroscope Arena in Poitiers, France, and he's looking to make a statement. But before making his debut in one of the fastest-growing promotions on the planet, he reflected on the most significant turning point of his professional journey.
Born in Bushmills, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, Parke naturally gravitated towards sport, playing lots of football, until he found the local judo club.
And it didn't take long for the natural-born fighter to show real potential. Despite not displaying much interest in competing, his coach begged him, knowing his student had the talent to make a real run towards the top — and how right he was.
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Through hard work and determination, the warrior won a national title. But it wasn't until he saw early footage of the UFC that he really caught the competitive bug.
While watching the greats, he became transfixed with the beautiful sport, developing a determination to replicate his heroes.
He quickly crossed over to MMA, accumulating an impressive 16-2 record. With an incredible engine and enormous fighting heart, he earned his place among the hottest prospects in the game. And consequently, secured the right to change his life forever.
What's the most important phonecall you've ever missed? Tell us in the comments section below.
Parke qualified for The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes in Australia. And in an incredible run, he defeated the likes of Brendan Loughnane and Colin Fletcher, en route to winning the entire thing.
However, his journey to the top was anything but simple. In an exclusive Daily Star interview, he revealed the true story of how he secured his place in the biggest reality TV competition in sport.
He laughed: "That was crazy how that happened. I had actually signed up to fight in what is now the PFL; it was called the World Series of Fighting. Funnily enough, I was signed to fight in a tournament against the last guy I fought in the UFC, Rustam Khabilov. But it ended up getting cancelled or put back a bit longer.
"So I was in Las Vegas training for three weeks, and I was there on holiday too. Then my manager told me there were trials for the Ultimate Fighter back in the UK. So I came back to the apartment in Vegas and tried to sign up online, but I couldn't. So he said, 'just go to the open workouts, and you can fill the form out there.'
"I flew back home the next day and then to London from Belfast that same day and went to the trials the next morning. It was hectic; I was tired. But I knew it would pay off."
He continued: "When I arrived in London, I stayed with a friend. I went through all the trains. London is crazy for trains; it's mad. I didn't have a clue what I was doing. But finally, I made it to the open workouts, and the place was loaded with people, most of which were filling out their forms on the day too.
"The UFC watch you doing a little bit of striking and a wee bit of grappling, then they break it all down and pick which ones they want to go through to the next stage. Then we had to go through an interview, and if they said your name, you knew you would be going through."
He continued: "It got down to about 16 of us. They wanted four welterweights and four lightweights. But there were eight of us each. So they did blood tests, medical exams and then they just said, 'right, cya, go home, we'll ring you and let you know if you're picked'.
"I heard through a friend that they weren't going to pick me because I had some convictions on my record. That was total lies because Ross Pearson, who was coaching that series, said I was first pick.
"But during that whole time, I thought I was never getting picked, so I went out partying and just thought, f**k it. But all weekend, the phone was ringing. It carried on until Monday morning. I never answered it, never looked at it. Then it rang again, and I decided to check it. I saw it was an Australian number.
"I finally answered the phone. It was this girl, and she said, 'this is the UFC, just letting you know, you've been picked for The Ultimate Fighter; in the next three days, you're going to fly to Australia. So that's how all that happened.
"If the World Series of Fighting tournament had happened, I wouldn't have been competing in the UFC and The Ultimate Fighter."
Fans can watch Parke's eagerly-anticipated comeback live and exclusively on BT Sport. The Northern Irishman collides with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Junior Orgulho, and he's hoping a win will set up a title shot between himself and whoever comes out on top between Aymard Guih and Walter Gahadza, who clash in what looks to be an unmissable main event.
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