When UFC and Bellator veteran Kendall Grove turned 40 this past November, he thought his fighting career was already over.
He made a promise to his father prior to his death that he would not fight past 40, and with a growing business through his gym based in Maui, Hawaii, the Ultimate Fighter season 3 winner seemed content to essentially consider himself retired.
But then a strange thing happened.
Thanks to an extended break from fighting with his last mixed martial arts bout taking place in 2019, Grove started to feel much better because his body finally had time to heal. He had been fighting non-stop since 2003 and the rigorous schedule took a toll on him.
“I’ve been out by choice, kind of giving my brain a break,” Grove told MMA Fighting. “I was going hard for my whole career, especially when I got let go from the UFC. I was really trying to get back.
“When I first fought in KSW, I fought two times in f****** less than six months. I had back-to-back losses but I was trying to get those wins, trying to get those big names and I kind of ran my body ragged. Not really smart the way I was doing it.”
The time off benefitted Grove’s body but it also gave him a chance to fall in love with the sport all over again. He started doing grappling competitions while also training up and coming athletes in his gym, which suddenly reignited his own desire to fight again.
The difference this time around was Grove acknowledging that the clock was ticking on the end of his career but returning with the full knowledge that he was fighting because it was something he wanted to do — not because he needed to do it.
“I just turned 40 in November and I promised my dad before he died, I wouldn’t fight past 40,” Grove explained. “Then [KSW president] Martin [Lewandowski] gave me a call and I was like ‘oh f*** I just turned 40!’
“But it’s a great opportunity and I’m not past 40 yet so I gave myself through Nov. 12, 2023. This is my last hurrah.”
In his return at KSW 78, which he’ll headline on Saturday, Grove will face off with a familiar foe as he clashes with Michal Materla in a rematch from their first fight that took place back in 2013.
It was a memorable battle for a lot of reasons — including Grove blasting Materla with an upkick that actually knocked the Polish fighter unconscious momentarily until he hit the canvas and woke up again — but it’s also hailed as the “bloodiest fight in KSW history.”
As part of the damage Grove inflicted throughout the fight, Materla was left with a broken nose and cuts that just had blood pouring down his face. The blood certainly got on Grove as well because he was still cleaning it off his body days after the fight had already ended.
“I showered at the event and then I went back to the hotel and showered,” Grove said. “I got home to Hawaii, I showered. The next day, I showered again so this is like three days later after the fight. I cleaned my ears with a Q-tip and all his blood was still my ears. It’s gross now but it wouldn’t have been gross 100 years ago. F*** it’s just part of the job.”
The fight itself was a back-and-forth battle that actually required the middleweights to go to a special deciding fourth round, which was not something Grove expected.
In Grove’s mind, he had already done enough through 15 minutes to secure the victory and truth be told, he didn’t even know a fourth round was a possibility — until he was told the fight would continue.
“The fact that he was so cut up, bleeding, I broke his nose, I think his orbital fractured, I think I popped his eardrum with hammer fists off my back,” Grove said. “That’s why after the third round, I was on the ropes [celebrating].
“It was my fault. I was stupid but I didn’t know we were going to a deciding fourth round. Maybe I should have read the fine print but spilled milk. I can’t complain. I was bitter for a long time but I’m over it.”
Of course the rematch is being billed as Grove’s opportunity to get revenge a decade later but in reality the fight means a lot more to him than just erasing a loss from his record.
With Grove acknowledging that he’s only got so much time left in the sport, he wants to scratch that fighting itch and leave it all in the ring with his final fights.
“For me, I’m fighting for me,” Grove said. “I’m fighting so when I’m 50 talking to my grandkids, telling them the stories of my career, I’m not going to have any regrets. I’m leaving on my terms.”