Maui fighter on 'Ultimate' high
By Brittany Yap
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Brittany Yap
Kendall Grove wears the seven stitches above his right eye and two black eyes as a badge of honor these days.
They are the remaining battle scars after six weeks of living in a house with 15 other mixed martial arts fighters and ultimately winning Spike TV's "The Ultimate Fighter 3" middleweight title.
The 23-year-old Maui native's narrow decision over Ed Herman in last Saturday's championship in Las Vegas earned Grove a six-figure Ultimate Fighting Championship contract, a $50,000 watch, a $5,000 bonus for the "fight of the night," a new cellphone with lifetime service, and new-found fame.
"It's cool that people know who you are," Grove said in a telephone interview.
In a recent stop at Disneyland, he was approached several times for his autograph.
"(Fighters) Joe Stevenson and Stephen Bonnar told me to expect it," Grove said. "Everybody's gonna know you now, they said."
The live finale of "The Ultimate Fighter 3" drew 2.8 million viewers nationwide, the most watched UFC event in history, according to Spike.
Grove rewarded himself by indulging in his favorite meal that he couldn't touch for weeks — a McDonald's Big Mac meal with a Dr Pepper (super-sized), a spicy chicken and two filet-o-fish sandwiches.
Although he will continue to keep in shape, he is enjoying mornings where he can wake up, roll over, and go back to sleep. However, on mornings leading up to a big fight, his routine is different.
"I wake up, take my vitamins, have a protein shake, and run three miles," Grove said.
Grove was chosen to be on the show in December. Sixteen fighters were split into two teams and trained to face off with others in their weight class. Winners advanced to the next round, while the losers went home. The two remaining men in each weight class fought for a UFC contract.
Grove said he will receive $300,000 over a three-year period to fight three times a year.
The show was filmed for six weeks in January and February in Las Vegas, and Grove was contractually restricted from talking about the show while it aired between February and June.
Grove had a hard time adjusting to his roommates and the cameras constantly being around, but eventually got used to it. Fight day was the most annoying, he recalled.
"You'd wake up and the camera would be in your face, 'cause it was your day to fight," Grove said.
He also was not allowed to keep in touch with family and friends.
Upon arrival, the fighters' cell phones were taken away and "we couldn't call nobody, we couldn't watch TV or write letters," Grove said.
Grove was on Team Ortiz under the watchful eye of professional UFC fighter Tito Ortiz.
Grove said he is going to return the favor, and help Ortiz train at Big Bear Mountain in California for Ortiz's showdown with Ken Shamrock Saturday in Las Vegas.
"(Ortiz) is an excellent coach. He was there for one thing — us," Grove said.
Grove trained in isolation at Big Bear Mountain before his fight with Herman. Nicknamed "Spyder" by his father because of his long arms and legs, the 6-foot-6 Grove said he was surprised with last Saturday night's unanimous decision by the three judges, who all scored the bout, 29-28.
In February, Grove said he remembers sitting in a Jacuzzi with Herman, and that they told each other "come June 24, let's just put on one of the best fights in UFC history," Grove said.
Grove said he was excited when Herman also received a contract with the UFC.
"We both won that night," he said. "We both fought our (expletive) off."GROWING SPORT
The popularity of mixed martial arts in Hawai'i has been evident in the large and sometimes sold-out crowds for cards at the Blaisdell Arena. Amateur fights around the state also have become popular.
Grove hopes to pave the way for those who want to become ultimate fighters.
"My advice is to just train hard. If you wanna do it, do it 100 percent," he said. "With great sacrifices come great rewards."
After Saturday's fight, Grove's record improved to 8-3, and he's looking to fight again in December. He has his sights set on Luigi Fioravanti, who, according to Grove, is good at stand-up.
Grove is giving his body some time to recover, but said next week he will start cardio training again. However, he will attempt nothing that involves contact with his face because his stitches will take 100 days to fully heal.
He plans to return to Maui for a month at the end of this month.
Whenever there's a fight on Maui, and he's on the island, he said, "I'll be there.
"I'm not one of those who forgets where they came from."
Grove's parents, Jimmy and Kay Tsuha of Wailuku, can't believe how quickly their son has progressed.
"Once he makes up his mind, he just goes," Jimmy Tsuha said.
Kay Tsuha said she didn't like the idea of her son going to Las Vegas and training to be an ultimate fighter, but later got used to it.
"I knew if I didn't let him go, I wouldn't feel right. He'd be giving up his dream," she said. "I am glad I told him, 'It's OK.' "
Kay Tsuha often avoids watching her son's fights on TV because she gets nervous, but she did watch the fight against Herman.
Grove said during the competition he appreciated the support of the people of Maui and the rest of Hawai'i, and felt he couldn't let them down.
"To all my fans in Hawai'i, thank you for always believing in me," Grove said. "I fight for you guys. And I'll see you soon."
Reach Brittany Yap at email@example.com.