Kendall Grove had a handful of knockout and technical knockout wins over the course of his lengthy professional career before signing with Bellator MMA, but something about his last two victories just feels different.
The lanky Hawaiian has always been known for his submission prowess, but lately, his power seems to be more evident than ever before. First, there was the looping right hook that put Joey Beltran on all fours, setting up a few -- likely unnecessary -- finishing follow-up punches in their encounter at Bellator 143 last year. More recently, “Da Spyder” bludgeoned Francisco France with an overhand right against the fence for a second-round KO at Bellator 150 on Feb. 28.
Although he is a well-traveled 33 years old, Grove is proof that there is always room for improvement in MMA.
“For me just having the right people around me, it finally clicked,” Grove told Sherdog.com. “It took 40-plus fights but I finally got it -- using my advantages in this game to be dominant. Using my reach, using my footwork. I credit that to my standup coaches.
“Jason Parillo helped me out a lot. He’s a world renowned boxing coach, trains multiple champions in boxing and the UFC. I’m happy to call that guy a friend, a mentor -- a guy I can call who will give it to me like it is. Before every fight he’ll text me: ‘Don’t be a c--t. That helps me get in my head: OK don’t be a stupid c--t in there. Don’t go in there and fight that guy’s fight. I have all the tools and attributes. I’m 6-6; f—-ing use it. I finally found my power.”
Parillo has also tutored current middleweight champion Michael Bisping, and “The Count” has enjoyed a late-career resurgence under his guidance. While it might be premature to forecast similar results for Bisping’s “Ultimate Fighter 3” castmate, Grove admits that he has enjoyed putting his recently discovered tools to use. He hopes that he can do something similar when he squares off against creative Russian striker Alexander Shlemenko in the Bellator 162 headliner on Friday night in Memphis, Tenn.
“It’s addicting. Putting someone’s lights out, it’s a great feeling,” he said. “Submission, too, any finish is a great feeling. My last couple have been with my hands....To go out there and try to do with a seasoned striker like Shlemenko, I’m sure he’s addicted to that feeling. He’s put out lots of guys. It’s gonna be an interesting matchup. I can’t wait to test myself.
“I’m going to go down in history as the best fighter to come out of Maui. That means something to me. At 33 I’m still doing it. I’ve got other goals now that I’m a father of six, a husband, but that fire is still in there. I’m just trying to leave a legacy that my kids can be proud of and I can retire one day and be happy with what I’ve done in my career.”
While Grove came up short against Brandon Halsey in his first Bellator title opportunity, a win over Shlemenko, another former champion, could put him right back into contention. However, when it comes to talks of legacy, a belt doesn’t seem to be a necessity.
“Honestly, I don’t really care. I’m not looking past Shlemenko. I don’t want to start believing that I’m gonna get a title shot and then start losing focus on the task at hand,” he said. “That’d be cool, but other than that I’m not really too worried about it. If I do get it, right on. If I don’t, f--k it. Keep it moving. There are other tough fighters for Bellator that I wouldn’t mind fighting. Titles don’t define me.”
Shlemenko will be making his first Bellator appearance since knocking out Melvin Manhoef in February 2015. The Russian was initially suspended for three years after testing positive for the anabolic steroid oxandrolone and having an elevated testosterone-to-epistestosterone ratio of 50 to 1 following the bout. The victory was overturned, but Shlemenko’s suspension was ultimately reduced to one year in California Superior Court.
Grove doesn’t necessarily believe that the former champ is clean, but he knows that doesn’t matter at this point.
“[He’s] obviously not. When he got popped it was 50-1....I was stoked for the guy, he found a loophole and he came back. Now he’s fighting. Hopefully he learned his lesson and he’s fighting on an even playing field. My theory is he got overwhelmed by Tito Ortiz and Brandon Halsey, who are stronger wrestlers. He felt he needed an edge so he started shooting up. 50-to-1 bro, that’s like you shot up right before you went out. He paid for it. Fortunately he found that loophole. No turning back now. I’m fighting him [Friday].