Kendall Grove knows his opponent has been mouthing off. His Friday night foe, undefeated Bellator middleweight champion Brandon Halsey, has openly said there's little competition left at 185 pounds and he's pondering a move up to the company's marquee light heavyweight division.
Not only has Grove heard Halsey's words, but he's taken offense. And when the veteran meets Halsey for the title in the main event of Bellator 137 at Pechanga Casino in Temecula, Calif., he says he'll accommodate Halsey's plans the only way he knows how.
"I'm going to knock him straight out of the division," Grove (21-14, 1 NC) told MMAFighting.com. "After I knock him out and take his title, he'll go to light heavyweight because he isn't going to want a part of me again. I'm glad he's looking past me, it's only that much more motivation."
That's brash talk coming from the 32-year-old Hawaiian, but you can't blame Grove for being confident. Grove's a survivor in the mixed martial arts world, one of the first to go from Ultimate Fighter champion to the scrap heap, and one of the few to re-emerge after being cast aside.
If anything, Grove's trials and tribulations give him the sort of perspective only those who have earned a second chance can understand.
"I appreciate this so much more than when I first started," Grove said. "You can't do this forever. You get off to a fast start in this sport and you have so many people blowing smoke up your ass, and as soon as you lose a couple fights you're on your own. I understand now that I can only do this for so long. It gives me a sense of urgency and a sense of focus like I've never had before."
Grove was the middleweight winner of The Ultimate Fighter 3, and appeared to be on the verge of a breakout at 185 pounds, as he won three of his first four official UFC bouts. But he dropped three of four from there, and it seemed like just as soon as the party started, it came crashing to a halt. Grove was released after a UFC 130 loss to Tim Boetsch, making him just the third TUF champ cut from the company.
"It was tough, man," Grove said. "I'm not going to lie, there were times I wanted to quit. I'm so lucky to have a wife as strong as I have, because she refused to let me give up on my dream."
Grove would need someone strong in his corner, because it's not as if things turned around right away. Grove took fights wherever he could find them, from back home in the islands, to British Columbia, to Poland to Australia, winning some and losing some.
A well-documented reconnection with his friend and fellow TUF 3 winner, Michael Bisping, helped with his turnaround. By the time his big second chance came in Bellator, he was training in Southern California with elite partners and ready to make the most of it. A win over former Bellator light heavyweight champ Christian M'Pumbu in October secured his elusive title shot.
"I think everyone knows the story now," said Grove, who cornered Bisping for his UFC 186 win over C.B. Dollaway. "I've been here for 12 weeks, crashing on Mike's couch. Two weeks after he beat Dollaway, he was right back in the gym sparring with me. It's been awesome pushing each other and getting the best from each other."
So maybe that's why Grove, after all he's been through, isn't afraid to talk a little smack on the eve of his biggest fight in years.
"Hey, yeah, Halsey has his one trick and he can do it well. He can wrestle. He can. I give it up to him. But I can wrestle, too. What's he going to do when I stuff his takedowns? And even if he gets me down, my jiu-jitsu is better than his. And he knows he can't hang with me on his feet. I'm coming for him, and I'm going to finish him."