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After starring on TUF 3, Kendall Grove and Michael Bisping still share bond

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

MONTREAL – Kendall Grove and Michael Bisping are old chums from way back. All the way back to The Ultimate Fighter 3 in 2006, back when both guys won the reality show in their respective weight brackets. Back when Grove was a gangly 23-year-old Hawaiian to keep an eye on and Bisping, the outspoken Brit, was sawing through Josh Haynes.

And this weekend in Montreal, they are back together. Grove will be cornering Bisping on Saturday night when he takes on C.B. Dollaway in the hinge fight of the UFC 186 pay-per-view at the Bell Centre in Montreal. He has been with Bisping since UFC 152 in Toronto, when "The Count" fought Brian Stann. Bisping has been with Grove ever since then as well. It’s a bond that has strengthened both men. Together they’ve become a partnership of mutual perseverance.

"I give him credit for helping me revive my career," Grove said on Thursday at the media day in the old section of Montreal. "I seen him a few years back when I was still with the UFC, I did a Fan Expo in England when he was fighting [Yoshihiro] Akiyama. I hadn’t seen him in awhile except in passing. We have that bond from The Ultimate Fighter. It changed our lives. And on top of him and me winning it, he told me, ‘if you need any help, let me know.’"

At the time Grove was essentially training on his own, and he was at the tail end of his UFC run. Bisping was putting together another run at the middleweight title, and so Grove was reluctant to bug him.  

"But then I got into my sh*t with the UFC, I got let go and I was kind of a nomad," he said. "I was traveling around, trying to get back there. And then I saw him again, and he said the offer still stood. My wife said, hey, you need help, there’s nobody here on Maui for you to train with, call Bisping. So I called him. He said, you help me out and I’ll help you. So he flew me out there out of his own pocket [for the Stann camp], put me up at his house, fed me, let me train. That was the start of everything."

Grove says he never quite understood why the UFC let him go after split decision losses to Demian Maia and Tim Boetsch, but that now it’s "water under the bridge." Since leaving the UFC in 2011, he has fought under 10 different promotional banners all over the globe. Post-UFC, he became the very definition of a journeyman. He fought in KSW in Poland, at RWE in Maui, at K-Oz Entertainment in Perth, Australia, and most recently in Bellator, at such exotic locations as Cedar Rapids, Iowa and West Valley City, Utah. He fought in the AFC, and before then in a ShoFight showdown with Derek Brunson. He’s been all over the place, and encountered every level of success and failure.

Yet, here he is. At 32, he’s on the verge of finally breaking through.

In his next fight, Grove will go against Brandon Halsey for Bellator’s middleweight crown. That fight takes place at Bellator 139 on May 15 in Temecula, Calif., just a few weeks removed from Bisping’s fight with Dollaway. Grove, who at one point lost three fights in a row and was spiraling, is now positioned to become a champion in a major organization. He credits Bisping for getting him not only back into the spotlight, but back into relevancy. And it all started back at that Las Vegas mansion, when it was just two guys from entirely different islands who ended up bonding over an inference of being wronged.

"For me, I bonded with [Bisping] because I knew I was never going to fight him, because he was at 205," Grove says. "So, and then we kind of clicked. I pushed him and he pushed me. We both felt disrespected by Tito [Ortiz] at the time, because he had his No. 1 picks and we’re both No. 2 picks for our weight. Bisping said at the time, ‘did he just call us training partners for our champions?’ We kind of had a chip on our shoulders for that. We were like, ‘f*ck that, we’ll prove everyone wrong.’ And we ended up doing it. And it’s kind of cool that we have that connection."

A decade is a lifetime in the fight game. It’s easy to overstay your welcome in a game predicated on relevancy. Yet, Bisping is fighting Dollaway on a PPV with hopes of making one last stab at the title. He’s still viable. Grove is fighting for the Bellator title. He’s not through yet. Grove has helped Bisping keep his dream of fighting for a title alive, and Bisping has stood by Grove through what he calls his "up-and-down roller coaster career."

It’s been a crazy ride, full of detours and shifting destinations. Montreal is just the next stop. On this day, Grove is watching Bisping’s media scrum, and he gets a little wistful looking at his old TUF 3 alum.

"I was trying to get back to the UFC," he said. "So I went to KSW in Poland, which is an unbelievable show. I think they come in only second to Pride with the grand entrances and the overall show in general. I fought for their belt [against Michal Materla], and I think I got ripped off. My contract said three rounds, and yet we ended up in a mysterious fourth round. But I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to get killed in Poland by some gangsters.

"But then Bellator called and I started a relationship with them, and now I’m fighting for the belt. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m very fortunate. I’m very blessed."

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