Written By Brad Rysz
Under the guidance of Tito Ortiz, Kendall Grove made his mark on the UFC during the third season of The Ultimate Fighter. He defeated Ed Herman in a closely contested finale to win a contract with the UFC. Since then he has gone 4-2 in the UFC with victories over Chris Price, Alan Belcher, Evan Tanner, and Jason Day.
A native of Maui, HI, Grove was originally a wrestler, but eventually moved to Las Vegas, where his MMA career really got started. Now that he’s fought on the big stage, Grove has moved back to Maui where he started his own MMA gym, trains with BJ Penn, and raises his young daughter.
Grove will fight Ricardo Almeida at UFC 101 on Aug. 8, 2009.
Q: How did you get into MMA?
Kendall Grove: I got into MMA from wrestling in high school. I did jiu-jitsu my freshman year and it was very expensive here in Maui at the time, like [in] the late '90’s, so I couldn’t really afford it anymore. One of my good friends got me into wrestling. From that point on I fell in love with that one-on-one competition.
I started getting more into the UFC, watching it and getting into a lot of fights. I started training, low-key, like with my friends. Then I moved to Vegas and hooked up with John Lewis and then started training with Mark Laimon at J-Sect and then from there, I fell into the sport.
Q: Why the move to Vegas?
KG: I moved to Vegas just to get away from Maui. I was going through some personal stuff and I told my parents that I was going to move to Vegas. One of my best friends at the time, who got me into wrestling, was going to go to college at UNLV and he didn’t want to go by himself.
I worked with him and he was like, “Hey, Kendall. Just go to Vegas.” I was like, “Screw it. Let’s go.” I had $600 and it was the best move I could have ever done with my life. I’m sure if I would have never moved to Vegas with my friend I wouldn’t be here right now.
The sport wouldn’t have bit me as hard as it did. Once I moved there, within a month I hooked up with John Lewis and I had a great school. There were a bunch of people from Hawaii there so I didn’t feel like an outcast. Just everybody was solid over there. Then I met Phil Baroni, and that’s how my career got started.
Q: What made you decide to move back home?
KG: I was partying, but it wasn’t really getting involved in my training. I still trained my ass off. I was well prepared for Patrick Cote. A lot of people say I was partying, but with me, when it comes to training I’m very serious. I mean, you’ll see me out, but I won’t be drinking. I’ll be drinking water. But it just poured a little spice.
He beat me fair and square, but my heart and my head wasn’t in it at the time. I’ll admit, it kind of got to me. I let my friends’ voice get in my head when I shouldn’t have. I mean my former friends.
It was totally my fault. We are all in control of our own lives, but just for the record I wasn’t slacking. I trained hard and I was prepared for that fight. Every dog has its day. The reason why I moved back to Maui was because of my daughter.
I told myself, there are a lot of Hawaii people in Vegas, they call it the ninth island, I just see a lot of young youth there that forget where they came from. Their parents didn’t really educate them. I want my daughter to be proud of her nationality and where she comes from. Vegas is an adult town. It’s a weekend getaway.
I didn’t want to raise my daughter in Vegas. I wanted to go home. I figured it was time. I spent six years and established my career in Vegas.
Q: How has having a kid changed you?
KG: Having a baby is very motivating. You have to guide it. The way my daughter grows up is the way I and my fiancé treat her. It kind of made me grow up. I was young, I was coming off of a tv show. I was popular. Everybody would recognize me. When I had her, all that other stuff, trying to be as most famous as possible, went out the window.
The main thing is that it made me mature and grow up real quick. I still have a lot of growing up today. Me and my fiancé are figuring that out everyday, one day at a time. It’s cool.
It’s like the biggest fight of my life. I’m fighting everyday to provide for my daughter and teach her the right way to grow up. You can kind of say it’s making me stronger as a fighter and as a person. I don’t want her to struggle. You always want best for people you love. That’s what’s hyping me up right now.
Thinking of her, I run faster, punch harder, and roll quicker.
Q: Where did you meet B.J. Penn?
KG: I met him at J-Sect. I forget who he was fighting at the time, but I first met him there and then just kind of a handshake, “How you doing? I’m from Maui.” He’s from Kala. I said, “You’re one of my heroes.”
He made it to the UFC and he’s from a small island in Hilo. I hooked up with him years later because one of my real good friends and training partners, Troy “Rude Boy” Mandaloniz, got me hooked up with him and now we are training together.
Q: Who are your role models?
KG: When I first started my role model and hero has always been BJ. He made it. He was a big motivational party of my life in this MMA game. After that, Phil Baroni who got me started with my career, he was in the UFC. He’s always been my hero. Another one is Jason “Mayhem” Miller, who I trained with early in my career.
Lastly, Randy Couture. Basically all the guys I trained with. That’s one thing I get to say: I trained with a bunch of my heroes. Tito is in there. I like his style. My whole career, most of my heroes and the guys I looked up to in the states, I got to work worth. Overseas, I love Fedor. I love his style. He gets it done.
Q: Tell us about your upcoming fight with Ricardo Almeida.
KG: Like everything, I’m going to try to get comfortable. The guy is good. He’s a black belt. I got to respect the fact that he can take me on the ground. He can take my head and my neck home with him. I respect everybody I walk in there with, whether it’s a no-name guy or Ricardo Almedia.
I haven’t gotten any tape on him yet. I haven’t seen the fight with him and Matt Horwich, but he couldn’t take Couture down. I’ve been working a lot on my wrestling defense and my submission defense. I’m not a fortune teller. I’m not a genie. I can’t predict what is going to happen in this fight.
I say I’m going to keep it standing, but he’s an athlete and a fighter. I’m sure he’s coming in there with bad intentions for me and I’m going to do to the same. That’s all I can do. All we can do is train smart, train hard and train positive. When we go out there and fight, that’s our reward.
That’s my game-plan thus far. I’m just training hard for every aspect of the game. If he puts me down I’m going to try to get back up.
Q: What makes you a tough opponent for somebody?
KG:My will to fight. I’ll fight to the very end. I think I have a huge heart. I just love to fight. I can honestly say I don’t really care if I lose. I don’t care if I win. It sucks to lose, but the stress and the care about that isn’t really there. I go out there and fight my ass off. If I do that, I know I can come back home and nobody will be disappointed.
My family tells to just go out there and fight hard. When you come home, we will love you just as much. To me, that’s all that matters. That’s what makes me dangerous. Guys are scared that if they lose, they’ll lose their job or never fight again. I’m just glad I made it. I made it.
I came from a small island in the Pacific and made it through everything. I made it the biggest organization in the world in the UFC. I did it through hard work and never letting anybody get to me. I did what I had to do and I fought hard. I tried to represent Maui and Hawaii.
Q: What advice would you give to an MMA fighter trying to make it?
KG: Don’t let anybody hold you back. Don’t let anybody stop you from your dreams. If I can make it, anybody can make it. Have a good work ethic. Train hard. Stay humble. Don’t let anybody stop you from accomplishing anything.
Take every fight seriously. Always know that the guy across from you can knock you out just as easily as you can knock him out. The main thing is to stay humble.
Send any questions or comments to Brad at email@example.com.
(Photo courtesy of combatlifestyle.com)