Family first as Grove prepares for Salter

Wailuku fighter finds motivation after losing grandfather, father

Grove

Going into his 40th professional mixed martial arts fight, Kendall Grove is all about family these days.

Grove (23-16) will face John Salter in Bellator 181 on Friday night in Thackerville, Okla.

His grandfather, Moses Kauhaahaa Sr., died in February at the age of 85. His father, Eric Walla Grove, died in March at 61.

“I had some sudden tragedies in my family at the beginning of this year — this has to be the worst (expletive) year of my life,” the 34-year-old Wailuku fighter said via phone from Oklahoma last Friday. “I lost my grandfather a week before I was supposed to fight last. … So, I’m like an (expletive) because I was saying in all my interviews that I was going to dedicate that fight to him. That fight didn’t materialize, so I was very emotional. Crying at the weigh-ins when I wasn’t even weighing in. It was just heavy.

“I went home, buried my grandfather, we said our goodbyes, and a month later my dad passed away suddenly, unexpectedly.”

Grove hasn’t fought since October, when he lost to Alexander Shlemenko. A fight set for Bellator 174 in March fell through.

Salter (13-3) has won five fights in a row and is ranked third in the Bellator middleweight class. The 2007 NAIA 174-pound wrestling champion for Lindenwood expects that a win could bring a title shot.

“I have already beaten (Brandon) Halsey — that was the guy who was kind of owning the division for awhile — and now to fight a guy like Kendall who has been around forever, tough guy who is always dangerous all the time, to get a win like that, that puts me right there as the No. 1 contender for sure,” Salter said. “I think I’m the only answer for fighting for the title.”

Said Grove: “What makes it sweet, man, I don’t like this guy. I can’t wait to get back in there.”

Grove sees a few opportunities against Salter, but the list begins with his deceased relatives.

“Losing the two men that gave me my name — my grandfather, who gave me my Kauhaahaa name, and then my dad who gave me my name — everything that I am is because of those two guys,” Grove said. “It’s been hard, but I turn that into motivation.

“Honestly they’re my two biggest fans.”

Friday will be like no other fight day ever has been for Grove.

“It’s going to be hard because those two guys were guys I called day of the fights, mandatory — first my grandfather then my dad,” Grove said. “So it’s going to be hard come Friday morning.”

His two male role models will be on his mind when the first bell rings.

“Those are the two core guys in my life that I looked up to,” Grove said. “They gave me my blood, they gave me my name. Everything I am today is because of those two gentlemen. I just want to go out there and represent them and make them proud. I know they’re proud, but you know, win one for the Gippers.”

With six children at home on Maui, Grove credits his wife, Anna, with a huge assist to his career.

“It’s been tough with my career going up and down,” Kendall Grove said. “She’s helped me a lot and I just want to say I appreciate everything she’s done to help me grow as a fighter, husband and father.

” ‘I love you and I wouldn’t be here without you. What other mom of six would let her husband leave for three weeks? … Thank you for always having my back.’ “

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

MMA on TV

Friday

6 p.m. (tape delay)–Bellator 181: Kendall Grove vs. John Salter; Brandon Girtz vs. Derek Campos, SPIKE

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