Resilience is a trait celebrated throughout the fight world, and rightfully so. Who can resist seeing someone lift himself up off the canvas to win a fight or to come back against impossible odds to pull out a victory? But what about simply being stubborn? Well, Kendall Grove wants to get some love for that underappreciated trait, especially considering that after more than a few steps to the edge of the proverbial cliff in his career, he still refuses to be pushed off.
“I think it’s just my stubbornness to prove everybody wrong,” he laughs, when asked about his uncanny ability to be MMA’s version of the horror movie villain that just can’t be killed. “I ain’t the most athletic kid, but I have heart and a strong mind. I wasn’t always the first to be picked in whatever I did, I wasn’t the best wrestler in high school, I wasn’t the best jiu-jitsu guy and I still get submitted by some of my students who are not even blue belts. But I have accepted that in this sport there’s always someone better out there and it’s any given Sunday out there – sometimes it’s my time, sometimes it’s yours, but when it’s game time, I’ll show up.”
“Da Spyder” has been showing up in the UFC’s Octagon for over four years now, putting together a 7-4 record in the process. It’s not a shabby record, yet not a spectacular one either, and while memorable wins over Ed Herman, Alan Belcher, Evan Tanner, and Jake Rosholt dot his resume, they’re sandwiched by the losses to the likes of Patrick Cote, Jorge Rivera, Ricardo Almeida, and Mark Munoz, making it evident that the one missing ingredient in the Hawaiian’s game is consistency. And though he knows this, it’s not necessarily the most important thing on his mind.
“With the consistency, it’s who shows up that day,” said the Ultimate Fighter season three winner. “I gotta be on a streak, I can’t win one, lose one, win one, lose one. But that’s more added pressure, so I really don’t care. If I win, I win. I’m gonna go out there and I’m gonna give whatever I’ve got. I’m gonna train hard, train smart, and I’m gonna fight the way we’ve been training the last few months and if I come up short, I come up short; if I win, I’m gonna have consistency. But I’m tired of putting that pressure on myself where it’s not fun anymore.”
It may come as a shock to hear that, but what makes this sport what it is comes down to the different approaches to the game and the personalities behind the gloves. What works for one fighter may not work for another, and for Grove, what he’s learned is to let the chips fall where they may and just deal with what he has control over – his performance on fight night.
That wasn’t necessarily the case back in March of 2009, when UFC President Dana White made it clear in an interview with USA Today that if Grove didn’t beat Canada’s Jason Day at UFC 96, his job was going to be on the line. But Grove, at his best when his back’s pinned to the wall, delivered a 92 second TKO win and survived the axe.
Then that consistency devil reared its head again, as Grove lost two of his next three bouts, but with the pressure at its highest, he delivered another improbable victory, decisioning Goran Reljic at UFC 116 in July. But when it comes to must-win situations and the specter of a possible cut from the organization always looming for those who don’t perform on fight night, Grove has learned to not take things personally. It’s a lesson he learned from another Ultimate Fighter alumnus, season one’s Josh Koscheck.
“We (Grove and Koscheck) were in a photo book together and we all had quotes under our names, he said. “After I read it, I became a fan of his instantly, and I put all his antics aside. He said ‘it’s just business; that’s all it is.’ It’s their (the UFC’s) company and I’m just privileged to be fighting for the best organization in the world. No other kid from Maui can say that they fought for the UFC in 11 fights and also fought some of the best guys in the world. I accomplished everything that I wanted to in this sport; now I’m just trying to go for my new goal, which is to be a top ten fighter in the world. And when I realized that, all that added pressure went away. Now I’m just having fun, enjoying my time here, and I’m living my dream. I’m getting to fight one of the UFC’s top ten middleweights, and I can’t ask for anything more.”
That top ten middleweight is former world title challenger Demian Maia, Grove’s opponent this Saturday night on the TUF12 finale card in Las Vegas. Maia, one of the game’s best submission artists, if not the best, is the type of fighter who can make anyone tap if he gets them to the mat, and conventional wisdom says that with the long limbs on his 6-foot-6 frame, Grove will be a prime target for the Brazilian. That seems to be the talk even among Grove’s buddies.
“Even some of my closest friends, when I told them who I was fighting, they were like ‘oh Maia, oooohhh,’” he said. “That kinda pisses me off, and what a lot of people don’t know is that I asked for this fight.”
That’s not surprising given Grove’s willingness to scrap with anyone, but Maia is the kind of puzzle that isn’t very easy to figure out. Yet the 28-year old remains firm in the belief that when the bell rings, he’ll have what it takes to put on a show and get the win, in that order.
“The secret is letting go,” he said. “I’m taking this seriously and I’m confident in what I have. Two, three months is not gonna put me on the same level of jiu-jitsu as Demian Maia, so why am I gonna let that get in my head? It’s a fight and we start standing. Obviously he’s been working on his standup, he’s got great wrestling, and unbelievable jiu-jitsu, some of the best in the sport. Look, he made (UFC middleweight champ) Anderson Silva fight cautious, and he went five rounds with him. But I’m gonna go out there and I’m gonna fight because that’s my reputation. I’m gonna put on a good show in victory or defeat.”
And victory feels a lot better than defeat. Grove’s learned that the hard way, but he’s also trained to make sure that at the end of the day, there will be more W’s than L’s on his record.
“It takes a lot of focus, a lot of hard work busting your ass every day in the gym, training smart, checking your ego as soon as you walk into the gym and picking it up on the way out,” said Grove. “And you have to keep the sport pure and not forget that.”
Stubborn Grove Keeps Scrapping
“I’m taking this seriously and I’m confident in what I have. Two, three months is not gonna put me on the same level of jiu-jitsu as Demian Maia, so why am I gonna let that get in my head? It’s a fight and we start standing."