Grove: “Tanner is a must-win!”

Grove: ‘Tanner is a must-win!’

Story by Anthony Springer
Photo: Chris Cozzone

Las Vegas is a city known for high stakes and high wages. Many men have come to the city hoping to cash in and hit it big—only to leave the city of lights with their tails tucked between their legs, life in shambles, and bank accounts empty.

Kendall “Da Spyder” Grove was not one of those men. The 6’6 middleweight became somewhat of a celebrity during his tenure on The Ultimate Fighter’s season three, wowing television audiences on the show with preliminary victories. The Hawaii native’s dream came true with a finals victory over Ed Herman via unanimous decision in which he became The Ultimate Fighter.

With his bout with UFC veteran Evan Tanner at this Saturday’s The Ultimate Finale, Grove will once again play the ultimate game of chance. Not only is he trying to snap a two fight losing streak, but he’ll also be fighting for two—Grove and his girlfriend are expecting a daughter in August.

“[It] makes me more hungry,” Grove said of his mentality now that fatherhood is staring him in the face. “Now I’ve got a family to feed. Makes me train harder, gives me more motivation to go out there and make my future daughter proud of her dad.“

In addition to the upcoming birth, talking to Grove gives one the sense that “Da Spyder” is chasing destiny. When he steps into the Octagon, it’ll be two years and a day (his calculation) since he was crowned The Ultimate Fighter, and beating Tanner will bring his career full circle.

“I can’t even think of it,” he said of the feeling he’ll have if he comes out victorious. “It’ll be great! Shit, it’ll be so satisfying for me to come in and beat a veteran like Evan. That’ll be the icing on my career. That’s how I’ll know that I’ve made it. It’ll let me know that I can hang with the best. Two years and a day later here I am in the main event against a pioneer in the sport. A legend. A 15 fight veteran of the UFC. I watched this guy before I thought about fighting…before I even started training. I’m just happy to be here and I’m honored to be fighting a guy like that. ‘Let’s get it on!’ like Big John used to say.”

Fighting Evan Tanner on the two year (and a day) anniversary of becoming The Ultimate Fighter while trying to snap a two fight losing streak would make most fighters nervous. However, Grove is coming into this fight cool and calm. After talking to him, one would be hard pressed to believe he’s coming into an important bout, as he finds plenty of time to crack jokes. His sense of humor and—unbelievably—the two losses he suffered at the hands of Patrick Cote and Jorge Rivera (both by TKO) have allowed the islander to loosen up just a little bit. And as with most fighters, defeat was a better teacher than victory.

“[I learned] not to bring your previous losses to your upcoming fights. Don’t get me wrong, Jorge and Patrick are great fighters and not taking anything away from them, but my head wasn’t right. Especially in my Jorge fight, I came in feeling like ‘I can’t get hit, I can’t get hit.’ Even though I was felt like I was beating Patrick up until I got caught, it’s not how you start a fight but how you end it and Patrick ended that fight. When I came into my [fight with Jorge], I didn’t want that to happen again and I put a lot of pressure on myself. But this is a fight, you’re gonna get hit. That’s my mindset right now, I’m gonna get hit. So I want to see how hard he’s going to hit me. Not taking anything away from Evan, but come Saturday, I’m sure he’s gonna hate me and I’m gonna hate him. Coming off of two losses this is like a must win.”

Grove goes a step further, leaving no allusions that he’ll be fighting as though a loss will spell an early release from the UFC.

“I gotta win this fight for my job. That’s my mentality coming in, gotta win this fight to keep my job.

“And I love my job!”

Win or lose, Grove will find himself moonlighting after Saturday. Like a number of fighters in other areas, he’s preparing the grand opening of his martial arts academy in Maui this September with Troy Mandaloniz (from TUF season 6)—a move that will allow him to have an alternative to fighting and also open the door for other Hawaiians looking to bang it out in MMA.

“We have all the fighters in the world, but no foot in the door to fight in the mainland. With my connections, hopefully we can get some fighters out here; get the Hawaii boys some recognition. It’s getting lonely out here with just me and BJ [Penn] and a few others. I hope to provide that opportunity.”

With opportunities for more fighters surfacing from Hawaii on the horizon, the next logical step would be to bring the big show to the islands. After UFC 84, Dana White hinted at doing just that—and the very thought of being able to fight in his home state makes Grove ecstatic.

“God strike me dead after that fight and I’ll be the happiest guy on earth,” he exclaimed when asked about the fighting on a UFC card on the islands. “Not that I’m dead, but I’d be the happiest fighter on earth. The world doesn’t know Hawaii likes to fight. We’re probably the number one fight-aholics out there. When you see the crowd, there may be more fights in the crowd than inside the ring.”

Despite the violent overtones, Grove assures me that any physical jousting that takes place ends with good spirits—literally.

“We love to fight out here, it’s in our blood and we settle things with our hands.  Growing up, if I had a problem with somebody and they had a problem with me, our dads would bring us together, we’d beat the shit out of each other and they would drink after.”

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