Tomorrow morning, GLORY 20 will kick off in Dubai. The card is a stacked one and features top level talent from all over the globe. One of the standouts on the card is British behemoth, Chi Lewis-Parry. At 6'9, "Chopper" cuts an impressive figure, and presents a pristine record in both MMA and kickboxing.
Ahead of his superfight with Park Yong-Su, Lewis-Parry sat down with Bloody Elbow for an in depth interview. Topics ranged from his time as a pro basketball player to the reason he chose ONE FC over the UFC when both had offers on the table for him. Here's what the next big thing had to say:
I played pro ball for three years on a European team. I was playing for a team in Scotland and living up there. I had a successful season with good numbers, but it's very difficult being in a league that small in comparison to the NBA, college ball and even high school basketball in the states. I knew that if I wanted to get noticed, I had to go there (US). I couldn't sit and wait for a talent scout or a development coach to spot me over here, because they already have fresh talent in the US. You'd have to be doing some Space Jam moves in order for someone to really notice you over here.
I flew out to LA on my own dime. I had a couple of friends there from past times that I'd visited, so I bought a ticket and flew out. I went down to the Lakers training facility in the morning and waited there until the coaches started showing up. I'd done my research on Google, and got the pictures of the coaching staff, so I would know who I needed to approach.
A guy named Chip told me to come on in and I went in for them to check me out. I ended up doing okay, so I stayed on as a practice player. Every day there were new guys coming in and I stuck around. This whole thing was self-funded, so eventually my money ran out. I've always been like that. There is absolutely nothing in my head that ever says, ‘You can't do this.' I'm not a stubborn person or unrealistic, but I do believe in myself. Anyone can miss a shot and anyone can make a shot. Just because somebody is named Kobe Bryant or Lebron James, it doesn't mean that I couldn't stop them from scoring or that I couldn't score against them.
I thought to myself, ‘A closed mouth doesn't get fed,' so I opened my mouth as wide as I could and started asking around and making moves. I went down there and made sure I at least got my foot in the door.
Being there was an eye-opener, not in the sense that you have to be so good in order to play here. It was just an eye-opener that I was as good as those guys. It wasn't down to skill. Skill wasn't what held me back, it was politics. I was a guy who didn't have any Division I basketball experience. No one knew who I was. How are you going to market a guy who pays for his own flight to try out for his dream over a guy who's been leading the NCAA league in points or rebounds or whatever? There's a thousand guys in my position, so why would they pick me over guys that are already a sure thing?
I understand the politics of it, but at the same time, it was like a big "Fuck you." After that, I was like, ‘Fuck you, Basketball. I don't like you anymore.' It wasted my time, wasted my childhood. It was such a turn off that I can't even watch it now. I couldn't even tell you who is on the all-star team. I like to play it, but I can't watch it. It's all bollocks. It's all bullshit. I see some of those big names, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and I think to myself, ‘I fucking dunked on that guy. I was beasting that guy,' but it was all about the politics, you know?
When I first saw him, I just thought he was very impressive. He's a big guy with great hair [laughs]. You can quote me on that. Rico Verhoeven is killing me in the hair game. You know what? He's got a good chin, as well. It's that dimple.
I think he's brilliant, a really good fighter. Ya know, I like to talk a bit, hype up the fights. I don't mean any disrespect, but I think fans appreciate a bit of a rivalry. That's what the sport has become; it's as much about the hype as it is about the fight itself. That said, it's hard to say anything about Rico because he's that good. There's nothing I can really say except I think my style would present problems for him. If we had a fight booked, I'm sure I'd manage to find something to say [laughs].
I've noticed that in GLORY, things are very intense. Guys don't do a lot of talking. I'm like, ‘Dude, you've got to talk to sell the fight.' You've got to get people interested if you want to make more money. That's the beginning and end of it. When I talk, I don't wanna just get inside my opponent's head, I want to get in the organization's head, too. I want to create as many admirers and even enemies, as possible.
I had all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys when I was growing up, so life was good. Seriously though, I was a little fat kid. I was a little, fat brown boy in a predominantly white area who used to get picked on all the time. That toughened me up quite a bit, because as I got older, I was less shy and vulnerable. I became a bit of a scrapper. I wasn't very popular in school. If any of the kids knew who I was, it was because I was the only one playing basketball.
I begged my PE teacher to get our school team into the league. The leagues are nothing like they are over there. We're talking a bunch of kids just get on a court and a teacher is the referee. It's not even really a league. Maybe three teams out of the whole county would play against each other once or twice, and that would be the season.
I wanted to play so bad, that I rounded up all my friends—and none of them played basketball—all my 11 and 12-year-old friends, and told them to just give me the ball. Just stand there and give me the ball. That's how it was. I would score all the points for the team. I was Kobe Bryant, I was the original black hole [laughs]. People were like, ‘He's amazing! He's 12 years old and can dunk.' I was 6'1 at 12, but it wasn't that I was amazing, it was that everyone else was terrible.
I came from basketball, where I gave everything I had. I started playing at around 10 or 11, and from the beginning, I was besotted with the game. The Houston Rockets was my team. Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Vernon Maxwell, Robert Horry...those were the guys I looked up to. I felt I had a connection with them all.
I used to play every single day by myself. Rain or shine. I was just in love with the game. I hated getting my ball dirty, so I would put it in a bag, so it would stay clean. I looked like a crazy out there, shooting my ball in a bag into the net. It would get stuck and I'd have to get up there and knock it down, but that was the levels I went to.
So I spent my whole childhood all the way into adulthood loving this sport and trying to break through. When you realize the amount of politics involved, and your dream gets taken away, you tend to get bitter.
I still wanted to compete, because that sort of thing never goes away. I wanted something that wasn't a team sport, something where I could just rely solely on myself to produce results. I had a friend that showed me tapes from old UFC cards and I loved it. It was at a time when you almost felt like you shouldn't be watching such violence, ya know?
The first fight that I watched that really struck a note with me was Chuck Liddell vs. Alistair Overeem. Even though Alistair lost, he inspired me in that fight. I already knew who Chuck was, but Alistair was new to me. At the time, the UFC had a lot more media push than Pride, so you knew those guys better.
Alistair was a guy I could identify with on a physical level, because we have similar body types. I liked his really aggressive style. He was always moving forward, like a juggernaut. He was just a force, so if any one fighter really had a hand in inspiring my decision to move into combat sports, it was definitely Alistair Overeem. It's funny how things work out, because now, he and I are good friends. I've helped him out for his training camps and he's going to be helping me out for my next fight in ONE FC.
I'm also a huge Bas Rutten fan. I like the original guys. I like the Dutch guys. There's no real BS with the Dutch guys. They come to fight and they get it done. Maybe I can be the honorary Dutchman [laughs].
Choosing ONE FC over UFC
I was approached by the UFC before I signed with ONE FC. I had an offer from them, but the ONE FC offer was just much more attractive, so I took that. I don't do this to get famous off it. I'm thinking I'm gonna do this so I can better my future and my son's future. I want to stop renting and buy a house. I want to put money aside so that my son can go to college. Obviously, I'm going to go where the money is better. Those are my goals. If I can achieve those, then I'm a happy man.
The thing is, if you're good and you're smart, you can go where the money is, no matter what organization that might be, and still make a name for yourself. Fame can still happen outside the UFC if you play your cards right. People focus on the fame first. You need to focus on being your best first. Then learn how to sell your fights. Once you get that equation figured out, you're golden.
Conor McGregor is the perfect example. He trained hard and he learned how to sell his fights. He's had five fights, and now he's got the shot everyone wants. He's smart. He crafted his character and he sold it so well that he's got everyone either rooting for him or rooting against him, but everyone around has their eyes squarely on him.
He's built a loyal fan base because so far, he's backed up all his talk. People will pay to see him win or pay to see him knocked out. You've got to be a personality. That's the bottom line.
She's big here in the UK, too. I wouldn't be surprised if she becomes the next face of the UFC video game. She's done massive things and I think she's great for the sport. I do think she could lighten up a little bit. She's always so intense. But, hey, she's doing it up and I bet she doesn't have to worry about her bills anymore. Over here, people love her, especially the guys. The guys just love her. Yep, I want to fight her for a title [laughs]. Maybe that could be my next fight.
Chi takes on Park Yong-Su for his debut with GLORY World Series tomorrow (April 3, 2015) morning at 10:30 AM EST. American audiences can see the card via tape delay at 10 PM EST this Saturday on CBS Sports Network. For those that prefer to view his fight live, a PPV stream (no geo-blocking either!) will be available for $9.99 via this LINK.