Grove takes on new challenge

Maui fighter makes move from MMA to bare knuckle boxing


Kendall Grove, Maui’s most prominent professional fighter, was nearly ready to call it a career.

He lost his last three mixed martial arts bouts — and five of his last eight — and his contract with Bellator had run its course after a loss to A.J. Matthews in January.

Saturday, he will be back in action when he takes on Bruce Abramski in the second fight card ever for the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship in Biloxi, Miss. The fight is available on pay-per-view.

The 36-year-old Grove was at home on Maui working as a tile layer when he got a call from the BKFC officials a little more than a month ago.

“I was interested after the first (BKFC) show and I seen good reviews, a lot of people were talking about it, they were excited about it,” Grove said Monday. “So, that kind of got me interested. One of my friends, Joey Beltran, had the fight of the night.”

Kendall Grove lands a punch during his loss to John Salter at Bellator 181 in July 2017. BELLATOR MMA photo

Grove asked Beltran about the new fighting organization and he liked what he heard after the first show in June in Cheyenne, Wyo. — it was the first legal bare-knuckle boxing card in the U.S. in more than 120 years.

“I asked him, ‘How’d it go? How was it?’ The experience, the pay, everything,” Grove said. “He said, ‘They’re good, they take care of you. My hands are fine. It was … awesome. It’s easy to train for, less stress. I like it.’ “

It will be the first time that Grove, who has a 23-18 lifetime record competing in various MMA organizations, enters a boxing ring. Abramski is 6-6 as a professional fighter.

“It’s easier and harder,” he said. “It’s harder in the aspect that you’ve got to be really smart, technical, be disciplined on where you take your shots. You don’t want to just hit anywhere on the head because on the forehead up you’ll break your hands.

“You hit them behind the ears, yeah, you’ve got a chance to knock ’em out, but you’ve also got a chance to break your hand.”

Grove said he has been able to train while working his day job to support his wife and six children.

“It’s definitely targeting, picking your punches differently, a lot of footwork, a lot more of being a professional boxer,” Grove said. “I know I can be a fighter — it’s just now I’ve got to be a boxer. … I’ve got to go in there with a game plan, be smart, pick my spots. … It’s a professional boxing match without gloves.”

Grove added, “I fell in love with boxing the last six or seven years with Central Maui Boxing (Club), Donovan Moleta, Chaz Moleta helping me out (training for MMA bouts). This is just an opportunity for me.”

He had reached what he saw as the end of the road in MMA after his loss in January in Bellator 193.

“It didn’t go my way, I got let go, I had resentment for the sport,” Grove said. “I was like, ‘Ah, you know what? I’m going to retire, take a break for now and just chill. The first six months were good and then I got anxious again and this opportunity popped up.

“I thought, ‘You know what? This is boxing, it’s bare knuckle, it’s less stress, less time away from my family. It’s been a great camp. I’ve been happy, my kids are happy, my wife is happy, especially. So that makes me happy.”

Grove has signed a three-fight contract with BKFC and hopes to fight on cards in November and early in 2019. If things go well, he plans to sign a longer contract.

“We’re going to find out if it suits me,” Grove said. “I love striking, and we’re going to see. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, yeah… . If it was meant to be, it will be.”

* Robert Collias is at