This interview was originally posted on Gals Guide To MMA.
On April 7th, Super Fight League 2 will go down in Chandigarh, India. The first card already got some people talking, whether it be for fights (or whatever you can call Bob Sapp stepping into a cage or ring these days) or a theme song that is reminiscent of the theme songs on any Nintendo 64 game you played a decade ago. Add that with the deal the company has to be streamed live and free on Youtube and you have caught a few eyes.
Regardless, Super Fight League is attempting to make a splash in the fertile soil that is India's MMA market.
And one can't say they are not pulling out all of the stops either.
While the first card was nothing to write home about in terms of drawing power with guys like Bob Sapp, James Thompson, Jimmy Ambriz, and Xavier-Foupa Pokam, the organization is giving us a card with some solid name recognition. Alexander Shlemenko will take on Ikuhisa Minowa, better known as "Minowaman." UFC veterans Gabe Ruediger and Paul Kelly will square off. In the main event, Todd Duffee will square off with the man I had a chance to chat with.
Neil Grove is a Bellator, Cage Rage, and UFC veteran. At fourty-one years old, Grove is certainly no spring chicken. But he is still rather young in the fight game, with his first fight coming late in 2006. Hailing from South Africa and currently living in England, Grove's giant frame and karate stylings have brought excitement to his fights, with all eleven of his wins coming by way of knockout or TKO. Prior to his fight with Todd Duffee, a man with some heavy hands himself, I caught up with Grove to talk about this fight and his career as a whole.
Mountaineer: We are now less than a month out from when your fight with Todd Duffee is slated to go down. How is training going and are you doing anything different to prepare for this bout?
Neil: Training is going as planned. Been working hard on my guard and take down defense. I'm also off to Ireland soon to train with my combat sambo coach.
Mountaineer: When you look at Todd Duffee as an opponent, do you see anything that you haven't encountered before? Is there anything that you are impressed by? Unimpressed by?
Neil: Not really. I respect and have respected all my opponents. And will always continue to do so. He is huge. That's all I have to say! (Laughs)
Mountaineer: And coming from someone as big as you, that is a huge compliment!
Now, you will be fighting on Super Fight League's second show. Did you get to catch their first outing and do you have any impressions on that initial show?
Neil: Overall, it was a good show for a first time. The main event was a bit of a disappointment, especially for James Thompson. Bob Sapp is good for exposure but is renowned for giving up!
Looking at the production side of things , good looking stage, great lighting, the commentators and MC should let each other speak, not all at once, and to be honest, the MC was average.
But for a first time? Brilliant! Can you imagine their tenth, twenty-fifth, or one-hundredth show if they keep on proving?
Mountaineer: With all that said, what do you expect from fighting in India? What are your feelings on fighting in such a new area of exposure for MMA?
Neil: I'm happy to be a part of a brand new event. Hopefully leave a lasting impression with SFL like all the greats did for Pride.
I regret not starting earlier in MMA. Hopefully this will be my way of contributing to MMA in India!
Mountaineer: Now, saying you regretted not starting MMA earlier, I want to back track all the way to your childhood and your start in martial arts. You were born in South Africa and have becoming one of the most recognizable fighters to come from that area. As a child, what was it like growing up in apartheid-torn South Africa? What was life like for the mini-Goliath and did you get your martial arts start in South Africa?
Neil: I started martial arts in 2000. Saying that, I moved to England in 1996. I was almost twenty-six at the time.
I was brought up in a family and environment where we did not discriminate like the media and foreign politicians wanted to taint white, Afrikaans South Africans.
When I was eligible to vote for the first time, it was to vote for equal rights. As an avid rugby player, I wanted to see South Africa compete internationally. I was sick to death watching the British and American press make us look like we were ALL racists and treated other races differently. And with 95% of the white population, made it happen, and you know the rest about the politics in South Africa by the sounds of it.
Being Afrikaans, my mother thought it would be a great way to learn English by sending me to an English crèche. Here I got bullied from the age of theee to six, before I went to school.
We also moved a lot. I went to eight schools. Being the new boy also had me bullied. For years, I got beaten. I then started fighting back. Still got beaten, but the tears became less. And when I was seventeen, I started winning fights, even when it was against boys in college or university.
Rugby toughened me up. Which makes getting kicked, punched or thrown easy when it comes to fighting!(Laughs)
Mountaineer: That really is amazing. What was your inspiration and motivation to get into martial arts?
Neil: I was introduced to Sensei Gavin Mulholland after a big incident at a big nightclub I worked in over weekends to make extra money. He showed us some control and restraint moves and I was hooked, only to find he had MUCH more to offer. Five years later, I had my black belt. A year later, I had my first pro MMA fight because I wanted to see if my belt was worth it! And it was!
Mountaineer: For those who are just learning about you, what was the martial art you were learning? While you were picking it up, did you compete in any tournaments, kickboxing bouts, amateur MMA bouts, etc.? Or was it just training for the six years until your MMA debut?
Neil: Goju-ryu karate and it was just training. Some in house competitions, and there were guys smaller than me and better than me!
Mountaineer: You went 2-0 in MMA before getting into Cage Rage. When you took a bout with them, you took a fight on two days notice. And it wasn't against a local talent, but a guy who had competed and held his own in PRIDE in James Thompson. What were some of your thoughts going into the fight, during the fight, and after? Did you feel that the short TKO victory put you on the map?
Neil: I only ever thought that I would do one, maybe two fights at the most. But when Andy Geer couldn't find a replacement for the fight against James, they called me. I asked them to give me ten minutes to think about it and called my Sensei, my friends and my family. Everybody said not to take the fight. James was too experienced and I would get battered. After five minutes, I called back and said yes.
Cage Rage was the best show in Europe at the time. Anderson Silva fought for them! I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. To the MMA fan, it meant there was a new man in town!
But I felt the next fight put me on the map, personally.
Mountaineer: After two victories against Robert Berry and Domagoj Ostojic, you took on the former Cage Rage heavyweight champion Rob Broughton. Broughton was the most prominent grappler you went up against at this time. Unfortunately, you lost a hard-fought decision. Was this the first time you trained grappling or prepared for the fight to hit the ground? What was the gameplan for the fight and what do you think went wrong that you would go back and change? And after the bout, what was it like experiencing your first loss?
Neil: I was hungry to prove to the world my ten second KO win against James wasn't a fluke. I also never plan a strategy other than to survive and fight like its for my life!
If you watch that fight again, I was winning until I showed fatigue at the bell of the 3rd round. I got taken down, overturned him and once I was in a dominant position on top, Leon Roberts stood us up. It happened twice. Why? I was told that the crowd wanted a stand up war. That's not MMA. I might have respected him too much? I wouldn't change a thing. He won with a majority decision.
Mountaineer: And after all of this, you took home two victories against Robert Berry and James McSweeney. After these victories, you were given your first shot in the UFC. What was it like receiving this call to fight at UFC 95? Did this bring about any changes in training or life for you?
Neil: After beating McSweeney for the British heavyweight title, I got the short end of the straw. Fighting in the UFC was a step in the right direction, but McSweeney got into the TUF house at the same time. Given the choice now, I would've preferred that.
I trained ten times harder. Was in the best shape of my life, then during the sprawl defending Mike Ciesnolevicz's takedown attempt, I broke 3 ribs. I found myself in a precarious position where I couldn't get up and had his heel. We all know how that ended.
But what was even more disappointing was that they cut me. Even before the operation I had on my knee because of the heel hook.
Mountaineer: How long did that take to rehabilitate from and how did it affect training for that moment in time?
Neil: Everybody gave up on me. I then had my next fight booked seven months later, just to have the guy pull out after the weigh-ins. Then nine months later, I KO'd Martin Thompson.
Mountaineer: And of course, you pulled through after a few fights (one draw and one victory, as you mentioned) and got to your current home in Bellator. You were the one of the finalists in the inaugural heavyweight tournament and you fell against the tough Cole Konrad. You then dropped a razor-thin decision to Mike Hayes in the season five heavyweight tournament, but received a return as his injury replacement against Thiago Santos. Unfortunately, he earned a submission in the first.
What kind of adaptations do you have to make to prepare for Bellator's tournament format? Was the experience any different from season three to season five?
Neil: It's tough to fight every four weeks. In season three, I went hellbent for leather and got to the finals.
In season five, there were high expectations. But every fight is tough, regardless of your ranking or your opponent's. What killed it for me was the fact I was away from home. Being without my wife, my three year old, and at the time, Emalene was pregnant with our little girl. A lot goes through your mind. I had great training and a great opportunity to win that tournament and it didn't workout that way.
Mountaineer: Did you spend most of your time in America during the tournament season?
Neil: I did last year, but won't be training there again for the whole tournament, if they offer it to me. Unless Bjorn Rebney flies the wife and kids over and puts them in one of his houses for me! (Laughs)
Mountaineer: And another interesting fact here is that you allegedly almost became one of Bellator's announcers? You are also a part of the Middle Easy family as WHOA TV's commentator. With your astute opinions earlier on SFL's debut and production, is announcing one of your passions and the route you'll go after once you are done fighting?
Neil: Definitely! I was trained for the Bellator job by the best play-by-play commentator, Sean Wheelock. I wanted to add that Rob Beiner helped as well. It was a good couple of months in my life, I was looking forward to seeing America, but alas!
Mountaineer: You are clearly a fan of the sport when you sit in the booth. So I must know who some of your favorite fighters in combat sports are to watch and root for? MMA fighters, boxers, kickboxers?
Mountaineer: Good list! Now, this is Gals Guide to MMA, so we like to have a few fun questions at the end.
First, when you are not training and what not, what do you do to relax? What are some of your hobbies? What movies, TV shows, and music do you enjoy?
Neil: To relax, I like watching some TV on the couch with my wife. She owns a beauty salon and day spa, WPR Beauty and Cosmetics in Billericay. I would have the odd massage, facial and pedicure.
Hobbies? My kids. If I have a free hour from work as a personal trainer, sports therapist and MMA strength and conditioning coach, I go see my kids. My mother-in-law takes care of them while we are working. I go see my little boy, Ethan, who turns four a week after my fight and our little girl, Calesi, who is six months.
I love all music. Predominantly 70's and 80's music and therefore a lot of rock! I watch any movie. It's another great way to relax for me. I love House, the new shows, Alcatraz, Touch, Sons of Anarchy, Luck, Homeland, Fringe, Top Gear and rugby, cricket and MMA.
Mountaineer: You're a heavyweight. Often times, heavyweights have more free range with their diet. Are you mostly a clean diet kind of guy? Or do you have some guilty pleasure foods that you could just eat day after day?
Neil: I'm mostly clean. But I love chocolate. Lots of it!
Mountaineer: We are down to the final two before we let you go here! When all is said and done and you hang up the gloves, what do you want to be remembered for most in your career? When an MMA magazine writes about the career of Neil Grove, what would you want it to say?
Neil: I would love to be remembered for being heavy handed and great knockout artist! I see myself, and hope my fans too, as a nice guy. I've never trash talked an opponent. I find it disrespectful. A sign of weakness. If anyone talks of one of their favorite heavyweight fighters out of South Africa or Britain, I want to be in the top three!
Mountaineer: April 7th. Super Fight League 2. You versus Todd Duffee. What can fans expect from this fight and how do you see it going down?
Neil: I will be clinical. Not looking for anything other than a win by finishing the fight!
Neil would like to say thanks to all of his fans and asks you follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Neil would also like to thank Super Fight League, Ken Pavia, Paradigm, Steve Gladstone at Semtex Gym, and Anton Davidovich at Cork City Combat Sambo.