ULTIMATE FIGHTING CHAMPIONSHIP
Maui’s Grove faces most important fight of career
The one-time middleweight contender is riding a two-match losing streak
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Will try to snap a two-fight losing streak tomorrow night in Las Vegas
The Ultimate Fighter series winner will look to snap a string of consecutive defeats when he squares off against Evan Tanner in the main event of the Ultimate Fighter finale show tomorrow night in Las Vegas.
With his UFC career possibly on the line, Grove will have to win his most difficult fight against the former middleweight champion.
The bout is one of five scheduled for the Spike TV broadcast beginning at 6 p.m. Hawaii time.
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OOURTESY JOSH HEDGES, UFC
Kendall Grove has gone from being a hot property in the UFC to a fighter struggling to get his career back on track. "I went from having 100 friends behind you walking down the street to turning around and having five," he said.
The term "must win" is often over-used in sports, but not in the case of Maui's Kendall Grove.
"Da Spyder" will fight former middleweight champion Evan Tanner in the main event of the UFC's Ultimate Fighter Finale Show tomorrow night in Las Vegas with his UFC career possibly on the line.
UFC Ultimate Fighter Finale
Kendall Grove (10-5) vs. Evan Tanner (34-8), Tomorrow, 6 p.m. (tape delayed) Spike TV
Once considered a threat to eventually contend for the middleweight title, Grove's career path has done a 180 as he now finds himself fighting for his job after consecutive defeats.
"I don't want to lose my job, but I'm not going to put that pressure on myself either," Grove said. "I'm just going in there to fight. I'm going to go out there and do the first thing I signed up for and that's fight."
Two years ago, Grove became a big name in the UFC by winning the Ultimate Fighter reality series to earn a contract with the company.
He continued his success with submission wins over Chris Price and Alan Belcher and seemed poised for a run at a possible title shot.
Nickname: Da Spyder
Height: 6 feet, 6 inches
Weight: 185 pounds
Hometown: Wailuku, Maui
MMA record: 10-5
UFC wins: Ed Herman, Alan Belcher, Chris Price
UFC losses: Patrick Cote, Jorge Rivera
But back-to-back first-round knockout losses have dealt Grove a huge reality check. The fame and fortunes that once surrounded him have suddenly disappeared, and it hasn't been easy.
"I went from having 100 friends behind you walking down the street to turning around and having five," Grove said. "It sucks I had to go through it, but my eyes are wide open now. I'm doing this for the true friends who are still with me and the people in Hawaii who have always had my back."
With his first child due in August, Grove has cleansed himself of the Vegas lifestyle by moving back to his hometown of Wailuku, Maui, where he's opening INI Training Center to teach mixed martial arts to younger kids.
He's also spent three months training for this fight at BJ Penn's Academy in Hilo, where he has learned as much mentally as he has physically.
"BJ's the man. He's helped me get my head right," Grove said. "He's very professional and he's the champ for a reason. He's been through what I'm going through. I've got to fight for myself before I fight for anyone else."
Adversity can be hard for fighters who have succeeded most of their life to deal with.
After Grove suffered his first UFC loss, he wasn't able to get past the fact he got caught with a punch after winning the early portion of the fight against Patrick Cote.
When he stepped into the ring against Jorge Rivera in his next fight, his attitude was one he hadn't had entering a fight before.
"I'm a fighter, yet I went into that fight and put all that pressure onto myself that I can't get hit," Grove said. "Well you know what? You're going to get hit. This is a fight. (The Rivera fight) was the most embarrassing thing I could do to myself."
Grove will have to rebound against maybe his toughest opponent he's ever faced. Tanner (34-8) was the UFC's middleweight champion for four months in 2005 and owns wins over Robbie Lawler, David Terrell and Phil Baroni twice.
After a two-year hiatus from the sport, Tanner returned in March and put on a lackluster performance against Yushin Okami in a second-round KO loss.
At 37, it remains to be seen if age has caught up to the longtime UFC star. Grove, who is 12 years younger, doesn't believe Tanner lost a step based on his previous fight.
"Would you be saying that if Randy Couture got knocked out?" Grove said. "Evan's a great fighter. People judge us for what they have just seen. They don't judge us for who we are. I went through some hard time my last two fights and he's gone through hard time the last three years. Both of us want to come back and it's going to be a tough fight."
The event will be broadcast in Hawaii on Spike TV (Oceanic Dig. 559) on a tape-delayed basis beginning at 6 p.m.