Bellator MMA middleweight contender and Maui native Kendall “Da Spyder” Grove (21-14) last fought in October and got a second-round submission victory with a rear-naked choke over Christian M’Pumbu.
After winning three of his last four fights, the former winner of UFC’s Ultimate Fighter gets a shot at the middleweight championship. Grove will face undefeated title holder Brandon “Bull” Halsey (8-0) Friday in the main event of “Bellator: Halsey vs. Grove” in Temecula, California, which will air on Spike TV.
Halsey won the belt in September against Alexander Shlemenko, also with a rear-naked choke, in 35 seconds of the first round. The fight against Grove will be his first title defense.
While winning a title would be a great accomplishment, Grove said the belt is secondary. His primary objective is settling a personal agenda against his upcoming opponent.
“That’s how much I hate this guy — where I’m looking past the title. I just want to fight this guy and give him his first loss,” he said.
Grove has spent the last 12 weeks in Southern California training. Before stepping into the cage on today, Grove spent some time with The Garden Island and talked about the upcoming fight, his grudge against Halsey and representing the state of Hawaii.
The Garden Island: First, how’s training camp been?
Kendall Grove: I’m excited. I’ve been training my ass off for this fight. I’ve spent 12 weeks up in Southern Cal with Michael Bisping, Mark Munoz and Pat Cummins. I’m prepared for this fight against a really tough wrestler.
TGI: Anything in particular you’ve been focusing on? Or did you just want to be sharp all around?
KG: He’s an awesome wrestler. That’s how he won his title, and that’s how he’s been running through guys. Obviously, I’ve been working on my wrestling defense and my ju-jitsu from the guard. Anything where I would say, ‘Oh (expletive), I’m in trouble,’ that’s what I’ve been working on.
I’ve been working on my stand-up, too. Obviously because every fight starts on his feet, and I plan on punching him on his face a lot of times. Other than that, more focused on the wrestling and wrestling defense.
TGI: With you being a Brazilian ju-jitsu black belt and Halsey having the college wrestling background, do you see this fight as a duel between two guys who like to fight on the ground?
KG: I don’t know, but I have no problem going to the ground. Obviously, I think he’s a fish out of water on his feet. I mean, he has his moments, but nothing spectacular. He’s a wrestler at heart, and he’s a stubborn wrestler. So, I don’t think much has changed in his camp.
It don’t matter to me. If it stays standing, it stays standing. If we go to the ground, I know I’m prepared for that.
TGI: Though Halsey is undefeated and the title holder, it’s still only eight fights. Whereas you’ve been fighting professionally for more that a decade. Does experience give you an edge? Or does that not matter once the fighters step into the cage?
KG: Experience is going to help in the deeper rounds. … He’s not going to know (how to handle that). Like, ‘Oh (expletive), I’ve never been here before.’
I think it’s just that wrestler’s mentality. He has a good, hard six minutes in him because he’s a wrestler. But after that, I think he’ll break. So, my goal is try to finish him as much as I can throughout the whole fight. But he’s tough and I think he’s going to be hard to finish. So I’m going to try to get him out into the fourth and fifth rounds. If it goes out there, I feel I can finish him.
TGI: So the plan is to get the fight into the later rounds?
KG: Oh yeah — 100 percent. That’s when my experience is going to kick in. I’ve been there lots of times with better wrestlers, better strikers and better ju-jitsu guys.
He came out with a win, but he’s disrespectful. He disrespected everybody. Me and everybody that I’ve fought, he discredited everything that I’ve accomplished in the sport and pretty much looking past me — calling out more bigger fighters. It’s my job as a veteran, for the other veterans, to shut this guy’s mouth and give him his first loss.
TGI: You’re talking about Halsey? He disrespected you?
KG: Oh yeah. He was. He basically talked (expletive) about me and everybody that I’ve ever fought. He’s saying that I did nothing for the sport. That tells me that you have no respect for the people I’ve fought against. He thinks he’s God’s gift.
TGI: When preparing for a fight, does you approach change when a title is on the line?
KG: The title is cool. It’s a nice, shiny trophy I can give to my son and take home.
The biggest difference is instead of three rounds, we’re going five and the chance of being the champion of that organization. Other than that, I don’t see it like a title fight. It’s just a fight. It’s a big fight, and it’s against a guy that I really, really want to beat. I’m more excited about giving this guy his first loss than winning this stupid title.
No, I don’t want to say ‘stupid title.’ Obviously, I’d be stoked to have it. But that’s how much I hate this guy – where I’m looking past the title. I just want to fight this guy and give him his first loss. But it’s an honor to have this title. Don’t get me wrong.
TGI: While I’ve lived here, it’s been apparent how much fans from Hawaii support pro athletes that come from the state — Marcus Mariota and Manti Te’o in football, BJ Penn in MMA, etc. In regards to your fan following in the state, is there added pressure to perform well?
KG: No. No added pressure. I just want to go out there and represent as much as I can, inspire the youth and make the people from where I come from proud.
It’s just the culture. We back each other up and we support each other 100 percent. I think if one of us makes it, we all make it. We consider them our brothers, our sons. We just get behind them 100 percent.
When I win, Hawaii wins. When I lose, Hawaii loses. It goes for all the superstars out there, especially Marcus Mariota. At the end of the day, he graduated from Saint Louis. But now he’s on that level and everybody has his back. I’m sure guys from Punahou, guys from Kahuku, everyone, they all support him 100 percent. Just the inspiration that he made it that far, and him representing the islands and showing he can make it that far, maybe some other kid can say,’ I want to be the next Marcus Marcus Mariota.’ Or, ‘I want to be the next BJ Penn. I want to be next Kendall Grove.”
TGI: Was there any pro athletes from Hawaii that you idolized growing up?
KG: Honestly, my older brother. I always kind of idolized him. He was tough as hell. He played football.
After him would probably be BJ Penn. Right after high school, I started getting into MMA. … He made me believe in myself. If a kid from Hilo can make it to the highest level and be a champion, then (expletive). A kid from Maui can do the same. He inspired me to do what I do.
TGI: Can you give a prediction of how the fight will turn out?
KG: Fourth round, triangle choke. In the first two minutes.
Just, that’s my favorite (expletive) move. Last time, I got an NCAA national champion wrestler with that.