UFC middleweight Kendall Grove likes to practice what he preaches.
He tells his students at Straight Rootless Jiu-Jitsu in Wailuku, Hawaii that every opponent is a Rubik’s cube—a puzzle to be solved. The Ultimate Fighter season three winner meets Tim Boetsch on a Spike TV broadcast bout this Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada for UFC 130, where he’ll attempt to break down “The Barbarian” problem in front of him.
"That's the only tape I have on him when he's a big 205-pounder. Who knows, we'll find out [Saturday] if he's big, but that's who I'm training for is a 205 Tim Boetsch—well, he looks 235,” the Hawaiian told Bleacher Report of his opponent making his debut at 185-pounds. “A strong, brawler-wrestler that doesn't hold anything back. We fight. We put it on the line. Stylistically, I think it's a good match up.”
Since arriving in the Octagon nearly five years ago, Grove has posted a 7-5 record, alternating wins and losses for his last six bouts, most recently dropping a unanimous decision to former title challenger Demian Maia last December. Grove jokes in mixed martial arts, only UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre sticks to game plans, so once he and Boestch begin trading leather, it’s anybody’s (read: his) fight.
"I've been an up and down fighter in the past—win one, lose one, win one, lose one—but it's a game. They come to fight about as much as we come to fight. The better trained fighter will win that day,” said middleweight’s tallest competitor, standing at 6’6. “That's why we train harder, smarter and learn from our mistakes and come back even stronger.”
Grove speaks freely about his last two defeats and what he took from them. Against Mark Munoz last April, he tired himself out going for a finish, leaving nothing to defend when “The Filipino Wrecking Machine” returned on the offensive with punches en route to a second round technical knockout. Maia? Too much respect. He won’t respect Boetsch too much or leave any windows of opportunity open for him because he simply can't afford to do that.
With business partners in his gym leaving him “high and dry” in Hawaii, Grove runs a one-man show. Both his fighting career and gym endeavors cost him cash like they make it for him. He understands each requires full-attention to succeed, but temporary sacrifices like shutting down Straight Rootless for the month leading up to his scrap with Boestch are necessary.
"[My students] know my gym wouldn't have been there if I wasn't fighting. They let me worry about myself, train for my fight and then re-open it again,” he explained. “It's kind of half-assing right now but up until I find a steady instructor besides myself, that's just the way its gonna have to be.
"Fighting is a full-time job and you need to give it all your attention and all your concentration or you're gonna have a short career. That's how I feel."
The 28-year-old has had a wild yet rewarding six months. His gym changed locations twice. He bought a house. With the birth of his daughter last month, he welcomed his second child—the first with his fiancé Anna—into the world, bringing his family count to five (one boy and three girls). Scheduled to wed July 1, Grove takes pride in fighting for his family and the small island state he represents in the Octagon.
“I have a lot of family support and a lot of them don't get to come to Vegas and watch,” he said. “It's just hard, especially here in Hawaii, $60 pay-per-view, so it’s good telling all my family members, 'Hey, don't worry, it'll be free on Spike.'”
Then there are his students. With Straight Rootless closed for his fight, Grove hopes they still get the lesson: solve the puzzle first to get the prize—the finish.
Danny Acosta is the lead writer at FIGHT! Magazine. Follow him on twitter.com/acostaislegend