Neil Grove is one of the sport's hardest hitters. | Photo: Dave Mandel
All-action heavyweight Neil Grove (www.twitter.com/GoliathGrove) will blog his thoughts and experiences for Sherdog.com as he takes part in Bellator Fighting Championships’ fifth-season heavyweight tournament. Grove faces Mike Hayes in the quarterfinals at Bellator 52 this Saturday, Oct. 1, on MTV2 at 9 p.m. ET.
When I was asked to write this blog, I sat for a while thinking, “Should I make this personal?” Should I write about my personal experience and hardships throughout the year? So, I thought, sod it! I’m going to tell you a little about what goes on in my mind instead! But, for you to understand that, you would need to know a little about my personal life, so here goes!
My fight against Zak Jensen this year earned me entry into Bellator’s Season 5 heavyweight tournament. So, if I lose, I’m back to square one! Something like my loss in October 2010 against Cole Konrad for the heavyweight title might have had a negative effect on many, but I had no room for any negativity in my life this year! During my quarterfinal and semifinal fights last year, my mindset was perfect! I had one thing on my mind, and that was to fight for the title. I wasn’t prepared for what I believe made me lose against Cole in Kansas City, Mo. I stopped believing in myself and could only think of his wrestling ability, something which I had very little experience in, at the time.
Early this year, I was looking to become one of the commentators on Bellator, so I “moved” to Kansas City to train with one of the best play-by-play commentators in MMA, Sean Wheelock. Things didn’t really click during those two months, as fighting was still on my mind. Then, I was offered a way back into the fifth-season tournament.
I was already in America, so my wife told me to stay. I had always wanted to train in America, as MMA is huge over there. My wife also added in the same breath that she was pregnant! It was great news! Not planned, but great news for both of us!
I had to decide: continue fighting, or be a father and husband during this ‘delicate time’ in any family. We both agreed that I should make the most of it, being a young 40 years old, still learning every day and still wanting to put my stamp down as a fighter. I certainly didn’t want to turn around in 10 years’ time and say, “What if I had trained in America?” Little did my wife and I realize how tough it was going to be on both of us, as well as my son. Being away from home to train was and is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Being way from your loved ones to pursue a dream -- one that isn’t a guaranteed income, either -- can mess with your head!
I moved to Southern California. There, I had a place to stay with my friend, Ken Pavia, until I could afford and find my own accommodations. Orange County has some of the best MMA gyms in the country. I started with seven weeks of training at CSW with Erik Paulson and Josh Barnett. I had a great time there, and the newfound experience -- sparring and wrestling with some of the biggest and best MMA fighters in the world -- was very different from what I was taught back in the dojo.
You see, I come from a traditional martial art, goju-ryu. My sensei, Gavin Mulholland, taught me about respect, humility, discipline and dedication! I was the biggest in the class, so when sparring against smaller guys, older guys and even women, I had to learn about control. He forced me to concentrate more on my technique than he did with others, as I had an advantage: size and strength! I had to spar without hurting anyone. What it did was make me calm and controlled. I’ve taken this attitude with me to all the MMA gyms I’ve ever trained in. Never hurt anyone, even in hard sparring sessions!
Something that might surprise you: What goes through a fighters mind before a fight? Why on earth would anyone want to put themselves in that position? To get in the cage and allow someone to inflict pain on you, or to do something you can’t find it in yourself to do unless it is really necessary, like hurting someone!
I think of running sometimes. Yes, laugh at me, but I also think to myself, “I have to provide for my family!” But it’s dangerous. People will laugh at you if you turn around now! I am better than him. I’ve trained my butt off for this fight... and so it goes on, until I hear the gate shut. And what happens next is hard to explain.