After 15 years as a professional mixed martial artist, Kendall Grove has decided to try his hand at a new discipline: bareknuckle boxing. However, the transition does not mean his MMA days are over. Grove just wants a change of pace.
“I’m not done with MMA,” he told Sherdog.com. “It’s just a different avenue [to compete] and try something new.”
Grove will test his limuts under the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship banner on Saturday at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi, Mississippi, alongside other MMA notables, including Chris Lytle and Charles Bennett. The 35-year-old Hawaiian last fought at Bellator 193 in January and owns a 23-18 record as a mixed martial artist.
“I’ve always liked to swing hands, [and] it always interested me,” Grove said. “For the last seven years, I’ve been really into boxing -- watching it, watching old fights and just trying to get better at it.”
The opportunity with BKFC materialized when Grove became a free agent. After a nine-fight run in Bellator MMA, he was released after suffering three straight defeats. Grove understands the promotion’s decision was based on business, but it surprised him nonetheless.
“It confused me, but it is what it is,” he said. “No use crying over spilled milk. Just pour another glass.”
Grove received offers from several smaller promotions in Canada and the Legacy Fighting Alliance. However, he wanted to get away from the physical, emotional and spiritual grind of MMA and spend more time with his family. Staying home and laying tile on a full-time basis left the 42-fight veteran restless.
“I kind of got bored, planets aligned and this opportunity popped up, and I took it,” Grove said, the lure of uncharted territory proving too much to overcome. “I have never done this before besides in high school [and] in the streets.”
When asked if he believed his Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship debut would showcase his abilities as a boxer, Grove was quick on the draw: “It’s going to have to. It’s all I can do. If I get hit hard and I shoot a takedown, then you know he hit me really good.” Humor aside, he feels he brings legitimate boxing skills to the table. “I felt I always wasn’t just a grappler,” Grove said. “I have a long reach, I have a decent jab [and I have] a scrappy attitude when it comes to fighting.”
The idea to pursue a spot in BKFC came from the suggestions of several followers on Grove’s social media accounts. While their support helped him turn in another direction, some of his family members were not as enthusiastic about his latest endeavor.
“A lot of my older family, like my mom and my aunties, they actually think I’m crazy,” Grove said. “My uncle’s think it’s cool.”
For a fighter who has lost by knockout or technical knockout eight times and participated in bouts that went the distance on 12 other occasions, the question of whether or not he risks further trauma to his brain must be broached. However, Groves believes bareknuckle fighting to be less damaging than MMA. Why? “The Ultimate Fighter 3” winner thinks bareknuckle competitors have to be much more selective with their strikes since they do not have the protection of gloves.
“You don’t want to hurt your hand in the first round,” Grove said. “You’re definitely going into the fight with a different mentality instead of just bombs away.”
Despite perceived differences with MMA, bareknuckle boxing remains a combat sport where brain trauma is an inherent possibility. Grove has concerns regarding the studies and stories about athletes developing Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
“I would be lying to you if I tell you I feel I didn’t have it already,” he said. “I feel it, I see it. I mean, there’s no way to detect it until I am dead.”
Grove puts his health in danger, not for masculine bravado or his competitive spirit but to put food on the table. He wants to provide for his family.
“At the end of the day, I have bills. I have to feed [my kids],” Grove said. “This is what I know how to do.”
Grove concedes that he would likely walk away from combat sports if asked to do so by his wife and kids. That day has not yet come. As he trains for his first bareknuckle boxing bout, he feels energized. More importantly, he feels healthy for the first time in a long time. Although Grove’s deal with BKFC is not exclusive and allows him to return to MMA whenever he wants, he prefers to focus his attention on the boxing ring for the foreseeable future.
“Every day,” Grove said, “I look forward to training.”
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