Two years ago Kendall Grove was on top of the world. He came through season three of “The Ultimate Fighter” and beat out Ed Herman in a climactic bout to win the finale and a UFC contract. Now Grove finds himself back on another “Ultimate Fighter Finale” card, but in a much different situation. Coming off two straight knockout losses, he’s fighting to prove he belongs in the UFC, as is his opponent, Evan Tanner.
In this exclusive Cage Potato interview, Grove opened up about what it means to fight for your job, and how he plans to pull himself out of the lowest point of his career and get back in the win column in a fight neither man can afford to lose.
CagePotato.com: Hey, Kendall. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. What have you been doing in training for this fight to prepare for Evan Tanner?
Kendall Grove: I moved back to Hawaii. I moved back to Maui, but I’ve been in Hilo working with BJ Penn. I’m just getting ready for a fight where anything can happen. Whatever happens, happens. I know he’s going to want to take me down so I’ve been working with some big wrestlers to get ready for that. I’m just ready for war.
Do you expect him to come in with a sense of desperation in this fight?
Yeah, I do. I think we’re in the same position that way. We both need to win. This is a do-or-die fight for both of us.
Does that mean you’re assuming that the loser of this fight will be cut from the UFC?
I think so. Nobody likes a loser. That’s just how it is. I think that makes for a great fight. We’re both fighting for our jobs, you know? When you’re fighting for your job you have to go out there and give it everything you have. That’s all you can do.
What’s it like fighting as the main event for an Ultimate Fighter Finale, fighting for your job, when just two years ago you were fighting as a contestant and it seemed like a high point in your career?
Yeah, it’s weird. I evolved there as a fighter. That’s where I was born into the UFC. I had my ups and suffered some downs since then. But it’s not like I was fighting punks. I was fighting tough guys and I had some tough losses. That’s why I’m in the fight game, to fight tough guys.
It was very nice two years ago to be fighting in the finale and it’s cool to see those guys coming out of it now, but I’m a different person now than I was then.
How are you a different person now? How is the Kendall Grove of today different than the guy who won TUF?
That guy’s dead. That Kendall Grove, I had to kill him. There’s no such thing as that Kendall any more. He was too nice a guy. He let people walk all over him. They mistook his kindness for weakness. So I had to kill him. Now I’m just trying to get back on track.
What do you mean when you say you were too nice?
I worried about too many other people. You have to worry about yourself and put yourself first sometimes. When I was on top, everybody wanted to be on top with me. And that was my motto, you know, when I’m on top, my boys are on top. And when I’m down, my boys are down.
Only when I was down all these people weren’t with me any more. It was all, ‘Oh, you’re a scrub. You’re a loser.’ Those were just guys who wanted to party and get free alcohol and all that. Don’t get me wrong, I have some true friends who were with me through all of it, but there were a bunch of other people who weren’t. I had to learn the hard way.
And so is this a fight to prove that you’re different now?
See, that’s the thing, I don’t think I deserve to be doing interviews and stuff like this until I get back to my winning ways. I got devastated. Everybody saw that. I need to win to prove I still deserve to be here.
In your mind, what went wrong in your last two fights?
With [Patrick] Cote, I just got caught. I thought I started off good but, like I tell myself, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. I was going good but Cote finished it. You know, he deserves credit for that.
With Jorge [Rivera], I think I brought that Cote fight into the next fight. I put the wrong pressure on myself going into that fight. I was so worried about not getting caught, not getting hit that I didn’t really fight. I mean, of course you’re going to get hit. It’s a fight. You can’t worry that you’re going to get caught. I have to not be worried about that and just go out there and fight.
Do you think you’ve learned from that? Are you trying not to bring those losses into this fight?
Most definitely, I’m not going to bring my last fight into this one. I know better than that now. This time I’ve got nothing to lose. I’ve already been devastated and knocked out. I’ve woken up refreshed and ready to party, wondering what happened, you know? I know what that’s like now. What can Evan do to me that hasn’t already been done?
I’m just going to go out there and fight. If I get cracked, I get cracked, you know. I’m going to try and kick his ass and he’s going to try and kick mine. It isn’t rocket science. You don’t have to be a genius to figure that out.
Here’s something I’ve wondered, and it might sound like a stupid question, but why do you think Hawaiians love MMA so much?
Because we grow up fighting. We use our fists from the time we’re young. We aren’t scrubs who use guns. If you get shot out here you probably deserve to die. We use our hands and we fight each other from the time we’re young. You fight someone and then later on you’ll be friends, or else you won’t and you’ll end up fighting again. It’s in our blood.
You know, using guns, that’s what white people do. I know you’re white, but that’s what you guys do, right? You took the land from the Indians using guns. Then you came here and did the same thing to us with guns. We don’t fight with guns. We use our hands. At least, that’s how I’m feeling now. I know it sounds weird but you caught me the week of the fight and I’m ready to go to war.
It sounds like it. Are you at all worried about getting too pumped up or putting too much pressure on yourself since this is such an important fight for you?
Most definitely. Especially with a fight like this, that’s a concern. We both have to bring our A game because there’s no room for error. I’ve trained hard and I’ve trained good. I know Evan’s probably trained hard and good too. We’re just going to go out there and find out who’s the better fighter on Saturday night.
What advice has BJ Penn given you for this fight?
He’s just been coaching me, getting my head right. He’s the champ, you know. He’s been through some ups and downs. He knows how to deal with that. He’s been talking to me and making sure my head is strong and that I’m ready for this fight. I really appreciate that because this means so much. I just want to go out there and fight now. I’m ready.