FITNESS PROFILE | KENDALL GROVE
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Michael Tsai
Some people pursue physical fitness in hopes of living a long and healthy life. So does Maui-born professional fighter Kendall Grove, even if he measures his life in and out of the ring in five-minute intervals.
Grove, a contestant in the Spike TV reality series "The Ultimate Fighter" this season, is one of a number of skilled Island fighters making a name for themselves on the national scene.
The Wailuku native excelled in football and wrestling as a student at Baldwin High School. After graduation, a friend, John Kim, turned him on to jiu jitsu, sparking what has become a wildfire of ambition in Grove.
In 2002, Grove moved to Las Vegas and promptly immersed himself in the world of mixed martial arts. He practiced jiu jitsu and muay thai kickboxing, and worked out with ultimate fighting greats John Lewis and Phil Barone.
To free his days for training, Grove took a night job shampooing carpets at a low-end hotel.
"I used to jam to get it done so I could crash the rest of the night," he says, laughing. "I used to get four hours a night of sleep over there."
Grove trained two, sometimes three times a day, honing an intensity in the sparring ring that quickly impressed Barone, who told him that he had "the edge, that killer instinct" to succeed in the ring.
The encouragement buoyed Grove, even when his car was stolen the next day, and later, when he got a pay cut at his already low-paying job.
"I knew what my ultimate goal was, so all I did was train," he said. "I fell in love with the training. For me, not training was like cheating on my girlfriend."
Grove returned to Maui to continue his regimen, and to get some in-the-ring experience.
"But the Mainland was where the elite fighters were," Grove says. "My mom saw me moping around when I was home, so she finally told me to go back and pursue my dream. She didn't like the idea of me fighting, but she supported my goal."
Grove was rooming with Joe "Daddy" Stevenson last year when Stevenson won "The Ultimate Fighter." Producers of the show took a liking to the outgoing, free-speaking Grove and invited him to apply for this season.
Grove sent in a personal interview segment and a couple of videos of his fights and waited. And waited.
"I thought no way are they going to pick me," he says.
But that's why Grove is a fighter and not a prognosticator. He got the call to join the show on Jan. 2. A few weeks later, he was living and training with a family of equally ambitious fighters and accelerating his growth with instruction from the likes of Dean "The Boogeyman" Lister, Tito Ortiz and Saul Soliz.
"It was like training with the dream team," Grove says. "I just took every day as a learning experience. I was a sponge."
While Grove is contractually restricted from talking about the show, he said the intense six-week experience will be evident every time he takes to the ring.
Being around the sport's top fighters only reinforced Grove's commitment to training hard and training consistently.
He works out six days a week, mixing cardio work with a strength-training regimen specifically geared toward the demands of the ring.
Every other day, Grove does 30- to 60-yard sprints 25 times. He also does sustained three-mile runs, pushing his pace to build the endurance he needs in a high-energy fight.
In the weight room, Grove concentrates on workouts that emphasize explosive movement. He does squats, power cleans, dead lifts and other exercises to build power in his legs, shoulders, back and abs — areas he relies on for maximum punching power.
Grove works extensively on his legs, as well.
"Legs are really important when you're fighting," he says. "When you get rocked, it's your legs that buckle. If you have strong legs, they don't buckle as much."
Grove absorbs his share of punishment during his fights but is reluctant to take days off to recover. If his legs are battered, he'll work on his upper body. If his upper-body muscles are bruised or torn, he'll concentrate on cardio work.
"If I take four days off to recover, I already feel like shooting myself in the head," he says.
During "The Ultimate Fighter" competition, Grove chipped a bone in his shin. Unwilling to drop out, he continued to train and used every spare minute to ice and massage the injury.
Even on his days off, Grove finds himself sneaking in mini-workouts. If he goes to the beach, for example, it isn't long before he's running laps on the sand.
Of course, such intensity can only be sustained with proper overall care of the body. Grove likes 12 hours of sleep, but he'll make do with eight if he has to. He also eats modestly and often to keep his energy up, and drinks at least 1 1/2 gallons of water a day to ensure he's properly hydrated.
For all of his hard work, and now, budding fame, Grove says he's just trying to set a modest example for other local fighters to take a chance and pursue the heights of the profession.
"There are way more guys here that could whip my (expletive), but they don't want to take that step and leave Hawai'i," he says. "We have some of the best fighters in the world, but a lot of them are afraid to leave the island. Sometimes you have to leave to get better."
Reach Michael Tsai at firstname.lastname@example.org.