Thursday, March 22, 2007

Kendall Grove – Cry Him a River

By Thomas Gerbasi

Kendall Grove used to be just another fighter, scraping along for a few bucks here and there on the local circuit, losing some fights, winning more, all the while keeping his eyes on the ultimate prize – a shot at fighting in the UFC.

But then a little detour called ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ took him off the road he was on, and after six weeks cooped up with 15 other fighters and a 15-minute war with Ed Herman in the series finale last June, the Maui native wasn’t just another fighter anymore. For fans of the show and the UFC, he was going to be a fixture in the sport’s biggest promotion, a rising star who - with the right breaks and his continued development as a fighter – could one day challenge for a championship.

From obscurity to security, all within a few months’ time. That doesn’t sit right with some of Grove’s peers, who are still pounding it out and hoping for a fraction of the notoriety already afforded to ‘Da Spyder’. To them, a win over Grove would mean ascending to his spot in the pecking order. If they beat Kendall Grove, they will prove to the world that they deserved that spot on national television each week, and not him. Grove’s heard such talk, and he’s got a simple response.

“Cry me a #$%& river,” he said. “I hate people telling me that, they make it like I didn’t pay my dues. It was just that I was the lucky one with personality to get on the show. Now they’re getting under my skin. That’s the price I pay for being on the show. Now everybody’s gunning for me. They’re all like ‘yeah, I tried out for the show, now I get to fight the guy that won it.’ And if they beat me, ‘oh yeah, see, I should have been on the show.’ Shut the #$%$ up. Quote me on that.”

It’s the perfect lead-in to what should be one of the most compelling matchups on April 7th’s UFC 69 card in Houston, when Grove squares off against fellow prospect Alan Belcher, another fighter who isn’t shy when it comes to expressing himself, and who had some pointed comments to make about his upcoming bout with the ‘Ultimate Fighter 3’ winner.

“I think this fight is perfect for me and I couldn’t be happier with the matchup,” said Belcher. “I get to beat up trash-talking Kendall Grove. I wasn’t picked for the show that he won, so I get to skip to the guy who won it and it’s not even going to be that big of a challenge. I’m just gonna go in there and smash him. He doesn’t have anything for me, he also doesn’t know how to use his reach to be dangerous as a tall guy, and he’s not good enough to beat me.”

Them’s fightin’ words, but despite Belcher’s talent (pardon the pun), dismissing Grove completely could be a mistake, since no one on any season of the Spike TV reality series has shown the type of rapid improvement Grove has from the moment he stepped into that Las Vegas house for the first show to the present. Call it the tutelage of guys like former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz, or more realistically, chalk up Grove’s growth as a fighter to his own maturation and work ethic, something he admits was lacking in the past.

“From the show, Tito (Ortiz) taught me the work ethic and how to be an ‘A’ class fighter,” he said. “On the show, I told myself that this was the opportunity of a lifetime. ‘Don’t blow it like you blow everything else in your life.’ So when I went on there, I didn’t care. ‘If he tells me to run ten miles, don’t ask questions.’ I just stuck with that work ethic and I’ve been successful ever since.”

It seems like a simple enough issue. You’ve lucked out and got on a reality show which can change your life completely if you just put your nose to the grindstone for six weeks. But as anyone who has spent some time in the TUF house, that’s easier said than done when you have no contact with the outside world, no books, TV, internet, or music to distract you, and 15 other fighters chasing the same goal. It’s a mental as well as a physical test, so when Grove hears the snickers from fighters who have taken a more conventional route up the mixed martial arts ladder, it rankles him.

“I got off the show and everybody started to call me Hollywood, which I’m not, so grow up,” he said. “I was on the show and I was successful. They’re what you call haters, guys that wish they were in your shoes but didn’t have the guts to do it.”

Grove stuck it out for the duration of the show and excelled, shocking many close to him who had seen immaturity get the best of the 24-year old in the past.

“My family and friends were shocked that I was taking this 100 percent seriously,” said Grove, who admits with a laugh that part of his motivation was that “I didn’t want to fight for $300 any more. I wanted to get paid like a prizefighter.”

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