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Chi Lewis-Parry, former pro basketball bigman turned undefeated heavyweight, making presence felt in ONE FC


Chi Lewis-Parry always knew he was more Dennis Rodman than Chris Bosh when it came to the struggle for hardwood supremacy. And in a way that's why all of this makes sense, even though none of it really does if Parry takes a moment to remember the little kid who dreamed of owning the paint alongside his childhood idols -- men who played the game like real men, "The Worm" and his technicolor ferocity, or Sir Charles Barkley, the round mound who'd scrap and scrape for every board despite possessing the verticality of a shooting guard.

As it stands, Parry still bangs bodies and slams those ‘bows into the giants of the world with best of them. But after keeping his NBA dream alive for nearly two decades, the six-foot-nine Englishman now applies his aggression to a new athletic pursuit, one in which he's already amassed a 5-0 record along with an impressive highlight reel since turning pro two years ago.

"I always just enjoyed the physicality of [basketball]. I think that's why I ended up fighting, because I kind of enjoyed that side," the now undefeated heavyweight told ahead of ONE FC 16, where he'll make his promotional debut against Alain Ngalani.

"Obviously everybody wanted to be Jordan, but I always enjoyed being more physical, having more of the aggression; crashing boards, diving on the floor for the ball, that was more me. It was more fun."

Parry is somewhat of an oddity in mixed martial arts, with his vast frame and former life as a professional power forward. Though thus far, the recipe -- which includes an 86-inch reach that exceeds even Jon Jones' -- has proven to be a smashing success.

From the time he was young until age 26, Parry blocked shots and battled for loose boards all across Europe, vying against the not-quite-good-enough American players who relocated to Spain, Lithuania, Bosnia, Madrid and the United Kingdom to claim the lion's share of foreign club teams' available salary cap. Parry put up good numbers and amassed his fair share of accolades, but the pot for most clubs was small, and life on the court proved difficult to sustain, especially inside his native U.K., where scouts rarely ventured to poach NBA talent.

Eventually things came to a head in 2010, and Parry took one last shot in the dark at realizing his NBA dreams, placing a phone call to the developmental talent coach for the world champion Los Angeles Lakers, who he had met previously after winning a Nike tournament in London.

"I'm one of those guys that, a closed mouth doesn't get fed," Parry reflects. "I've got no problem asking for something. If I want it, then ask. The worst thing they can say is no. So I said to him, ‘I'm going to be in town' -- I wasn't, I was lying -- ‘I'm going to be in town and I'd like to come and get a workout, just to see if you can give me any pointers.' But what I really meant was, let me come tryout.

"I went down there and literally tried to take everybody out. So I was just beasting on Pau Gasol. Lamar Odom is nowhere near as big as people made him out to be, so I was pushing him around. I was blocking Kobe. And I was there for like two months, I was thinking, ‘man, I made it. I'm finally going to get into this sport.' Then they came back with this garbage offer of, I could play in the D-League and they would give me $1,500 a month, which was not much better than I was getting (in the U.K.), but I still had to get my own accommodations. Accommodations in L.A., man, where am I going to find that (so cheap)? I'd have to find another job.

"I had some great fun, made some great contacts. But the love was kind of killed when I realized that you could get to your dream, but your dream isn't actually what you imagined it to be."

By that point Parry had been training mixed martial arts for upwards of two years, after a friend of his -- now Parry's head coach -- made the power forward sit down and watch Chuck Liddell's PRIDE Grand Prix match against Alistair Overeem, a massive Dutchman who's become somewhat of an off-again, on-again training partner.

"I used to watch it like everybody else and cringe, but then I always used to think, I could beat that guy, when I blatantly couldn't," Parry says, chuckling to himself. "You remember the big sumo dude? Akebono? I remember thinking, I'll beat him up. But there's no way."

As these situations often go, one thing led to another, and soon Parry decided to make the switch full-time over to mixed martial arts. And once he did, he never looked back.

"The transition from basketball, the methods of training and my agility was like a big plus for me," says Parry. "So when I fight, you look at me, I'm six-foot-nine, nearly 120 kilos, but I can move as good as any division. I think it's all down to the footwork that I picked up from basketball playing defense. It's a similar thing.

"The hardest part was learning to be efficient on the ground," he adds. "That was difficult, but it was fun because I knew that in order to do that effectively, I had to put the hours in. The way I train, I'm very anal. I was the same in basketball. I would shoot off the backboard a thousand times before I would step outside and shoot a three-pointer, because I wanted to make sure I could make 99-percent of the shots off the backboard -- the real simple shots. You get a lot of guys who want to train, and they go, ‘right, this is a jab-cross, now show me a spinning heel hook.' Dude, get the basic stuff first.

"Fundamentals are more important. People get caught in the glamour. People see amazing athletes like Jon Jones and Anderson Silva, Anthony Pettis, they see all this amazing stuff and they go, yeah, I could do that. Well that's a quick way to get yourself chinned if you don't actually know what you're doing."

While not all of his hardwood skills have been transferrable to the canvas, Parry's work ethic and athleticism have proven to be invaluable to his growth, as has been the tremendous cardio that came hand-in-hand with streaking up the court for fast break dunks and chase down blocks.

Parry stresses that the classic cardiovascular bane of the heavyweight division, more than anything, is his strong suit, to the point where he says his stamina is "probably the best in the ONE FC heavyweight division." If true, that, along with his formidable and rangy kickboxing arsenal, will be good tools to fall back on this Friday, when he steps out of the regional circuit and into the 12,000-seat capacity Singapore Indoor Stadium, on the same card headlined by the debut of ONE FC's biggest free agent signing, Ben Askren.

But if he's fretting about the pressure, Parry isn't showing it. Because hey, he was never even supposed to be here in the first place, so why not have some fun with it?

"What do I know about [Ngalani]? He's got an impressive physique. He sounds like he's got a girl's name. That's about it," Parry says with a laugh. "No, all jokes aside, he's a very, very impressive striker. Beautiful kicks. Unbelievable lats. He must be doing some serious rows, man. He's got some impressive lats. He should be body building. He's got a massive, massive physique. It doesn't makes sense.

"But he's just another man in the way. I respect everybody. I won't say, ‘I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that.' I know what I'm going to do. I'll just show it."

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