By Starr Begley
Maui’s Kendall Grove is moments away from stepping into the Octagon for a bout he’s dubbed one of the “biggest” of his MMA career.
Grove will face former middle-weight title contender, and BJJ prodigy, Demian Maia in the co-main event of The Ultimate Fighter: Season 12 finale at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.
The card begins at 4 p.m. Hawaii time, but will be broadcast on Spike TV at 7 p.m. tonight.
The former Baldwin High School wrestler rose to fame after winning the third season of The Ultimate Fighter, and a coveted UFC contract, under the coaching of MMA bad boy Tito Ortiz.
His UFC career has been a roller-coaster ride of triumph and defeat, and for every fan he’s earned, there seems to be a hater, with a posse. But one thing about Grove is over the years he’s learned to tune-out the static and tap into a clear channel of strength.
“Haters can hate,” said Grove. “But what do they really know? I’m here, I’m living my dream. I want to make my mark in this sport, I want to be hands down the greatest fighter that’s come out of Maui. Now I’m fighting a top-ten fighter. You can’t beat that.”
Tonight, in that cage, he’s going to need all the focus and strength he can muster, because there’s no way to escape the fact that Maia is as formidable an opponent as they come. His skill-set will challenge every single one of Grove’s strengths.
“Maia’s got world class jiujitsu, probably even the best in the sport,” said Grove, who is also known–with his lanky 6’6″ frame–to be dangerous on the ground. “But I’m not letting that get to my head, you know? He’s a human. Humans make mistakes, and when he does, there’s my opportunity to catch him.”
According to insiders, Grove’s going in as the big underdog. But broken down, the match has all the fixings to be an epic battle. Grove, who has a seven-inch reach advantage, is skilled in Muay Thai, which could be a problem for Maia. And the ground, it’ll be a technical war.
“I asked for this fight,” said Grove. “I want the challenge. I want to see where I’m at. I’m not going to get anywhere in the sport, especially at this level, fighting nobodies.”
Win, lose or draw, Grove’s got nothing to lose in this match and everything to gain. A loss against a former championship contender isn’t anything to be ashamed about, where a win would propel his career.
“Kendall’s ready for this,” said trainer Mike Donahoo. “He’s in great shape and his head’s in a great place. We’re going in there and let all everything in the arsenal out.”