ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The shiny new Legacy Fighting Alliance lightweight championship belt is destined for prominent placement at Force of One Martial Arts, the Clovis, N.M.-based gym where Harvey Park got his start in MMA approximately a decade ago.
“We’ve won belts, but nothing this big or heavy or nice,” Park told Sherdog.com. “We’ll put it out there on the reception desk for maybe a month for whoever wants to take a picture with it. We have a shelf with all the belts we’ve won, and we’ll just put that one there on the top.
“And it’ll stay there until we win a bigger one.”
In an ideal world, Park will never defend the title he claimed with a technical knockout of Demarques Jackson at LFA 64 on April 26. Fighting for a promotion with a proven track record as a springboard to the UFC, the 33-year-old Curry County (N.M.) Sheriff’s deputy has won three straight contests -- and 10 of his last 11 professional bouts overall dating back to October 2015. His only loss during that period was a decision setback to current UFC talent Austin Hubbard at LFA 39.
With that in mind, the wheels are already in motion for an Octagon debut. Park and his team have been in conversations with the UFC and matchmaker Sean Shelby – it’s just a matter of when and where the call-up might take place. If that means earning a UFC contract through a summer appearance on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, so be it.
“We’re ready for short notice call; we’re ready for a full camp, Contender Series — anything [UFC] we’re ready,” Park said. “If they call us up, we’re ready. We’ll take what they’ll give us.”
Park grew up in tiny Melrose, N.M., a town with a population of around 700 about 25 miles west of Clovis. The sporting identity of Melrose is exactly what one might assume of an area in such close proximity to Texas.
“Melrose and Clovis, they’re football towns,” says Park, who played both basketball and football during his formative athletic years. “They just love their high school sports like any small town.”
Park spent four years in the U.S. Navy after high school, where during his service he developed an affinity for combat sports while working out with some of his peers. That ultimately led to him finding head coach Eric Suan’s Force of One gym, which in addition to MMA, offers Olympic style taekwondo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, cage fitness and even weapons training. Today, the facility boasts a roster of mixed martial artists with some type of amateur or professional experience.
Some 10 years ago, however, that wasn’t necessarily the case. When Park arrived, he helped Suan build the MMA program from the ground up. It’s a far different experience than Park might have had if he started off at one of New Mexico’s more prominent gyms like Jackson-Wink MMA, where a litany of big-name fighters populate the cage and mat space on a daily basis.
Park is grateful for the extra attention he has received from Suan since his very first day.
“That’s something special between me and Coach,” Park said. “We started together and we build everything together. He was my very first coach my very first fight. We’ve learned this game together, we’ve met the people together, we’ve traveled together. I couldn’t do it without him.
“It really means a lot to me. I think it’s something special when I’m just nobody — zero amateur fights — and he’s treating me like some kind of superstar, booking all my hotels, helping me cut weight.”
As the stage has grown, Park looked to supplement his training outside of his home base. Rather than heading to Jackson-Wink MMA, he sought out Jackson’s MMA Acoma, which is located at the old facility previously occupied by renowned trainer Greg Jackson. The revamped facility is now owned by fighters Nick Urso and Clint Roberts and features a burgeoning team, including Ray Borg, Nicco Montano and Lando Vannata, among others. Despite the similarity in name, there is no affiliation with the more well-known Jackson-Wink MMA team headed by Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn.
For Park, it was the ideal place to train and grow.
“The atmosphere…it’s different here,” he said. “They say leave your ego at the door. That’s exemplified here.
“I was just talking to [Vannatta] and he’s congratulating me, making me feel like I’m the champ. It’s just a different attitude here. There’s no big egos. Everyone’s trying to learn from each other. It’s a sharing environment. If someone has something they can teach you, they’ll teach you. If you feel like you can help someone, they’ll accept it. The environment here is so awesome.” Even if his career progresses to the heights he desires, Park plans on maintaining a working man’s profile resembling that of a Stipe Miocic, who has continued to maintain a job as a firefighter even during a recent run to the UFC heavyweight championship. Park wants to follow a similar path with the police force.
“I enjoy law enforcement. There’s something about helping people, from little things or even big incidents,” Park said. “You’re running in there, not knowing what to expect. And I enjoy that. It’s something even from a young age I wanted to be in law enforcement. It’d be hard for me to walk away from even if I was making multi millions.
“As long as I can do them both, I’m gonna do them both. But I do know that law enforcement will be there. If I got some opportunity I couldn’t turn down, I could take that and in 10 years I could go back to being a sheriff’s deputy. I’m realistic about it, but I really enjoy my career in law enforcement.”
As a small-town resident where everyone seems to know virtually everyone, Park has seen his profile reach a new level. He said his phone had more than 1,000 notifications after he won the LFA belt last month. And if he’s out in public, recognition will come from unexpected sources. Sometimes, even football can take a back seat.
“If I go into [the grocery store], there’s old ladies saying, “Hey, good fight,’” he said. “I’m like, ‘Really, you watched this fight?’”
That growing fame has even translated into his law enforcement work, where Park recently booked an impromptu bout with an intoxicated local.
“I got a fight coming up with some guy I arrested on his birthday. He scheduled it,” Park said with a laugh. “I wrote it down. I’m gonna send him a message. He was too drunk, but I’m gonna make sure he knows about it.”
Park is still relishing the accomplishment of capturing a championship in one of the sport’s top regional organizations, but he knows the journey is far from complete. The sheriff’s deputy may be a household name in small-town eastern New Mexico, but he’s looking to make an even bigger name for himself down the road.
“It’s been a long grind. I’ve been looking for this belt. I’ve been looking at the UFC. We’ve been trying to get our break and I feel like it’s happening,” he said. “We’ve been grinding so long.”