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· On The Spot ~ Neil “Goliath” Grove

· Article author: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Posted on 07/20 at 06:39 PM

When the upstart Bellator Fighting Championships organization decided to hold its first-ever heavyweight tournament during the upcoming third season, many speculated that it would feature the same mix of prospects, journeymen looking for a shot at glory, and established names with a bit of an international flare thrown in.

Heavyweight UFC veteran Neil "Goliath" Grove fits the bill as the established name and also as an international talent, hailing from England by way out South Africa, where he played semi-pro rugby before moving to England and taking up karate under a judo sensei that would ultimately lead him to his fighting life in MMA.

Grove holds an impressive 8-2-1 record while fighting strictly in the U.K., and all eight of his wins have come via knockout. The only two losses for the “Goliath” were at the hands of recent UFC signee Rob Broughton and to Mike Ciesnolevicz during Grove's first and only UFC fight. was recently able to catch up with the mammoth heavyweight at his home in England, where he will be until he travels to the U.S. for the first time next month to fight in front of Americans for the first time.

David McKinney: Why did you decide to sign with Bellator?

Neil Grove: My manager is Ken Pavia, and I just recently signed with him. I’ve done enough in the British scene when it comes to MMA, and the best fighters are in America. It’s just been a dream of mine to fight in the States. With Bellator being one of the biggest and best fighting championships in America, it was smart for me to make this move.

DM: Do you have a different mindset fighting in a tournament? Do you try to finish fights earlier?

NG: I’ve never gone into a fight wanting to go the full three rounds. I like to fight early, and I’ve been training quite hard in wrestling with a sambo trainer and it’s given me more confidence—obviously because I like to strike. Learning about wrestling has given me more confidence with my standup skills. I like to knock people out. I don’t go into a fight thinking about fighting the whole three rounds; I want to go in there and do the job as quickly as I can.

DM: One of the biggest criticisms of British fighters has been their wrestling ability, and you even marveled at American wrestlers during your first trip to Xtreme Couture. Is top-level wrestling something that Brits will have to incorporate in order to make it to the top of the sport?

NG: Yes, definitely. There are so many jiu-jitsu coaches in the U.K. now and most of the British fighters are all concentrating on their jiu-jitsu. Once you have good jiu-jitsu defense, jiu-jitsu means nothing. But wrestling, I find, once your wrestling skills are up you can neutralize jiu-jitsu as well. There are a lot of Brazilian coaches over here teaching jiu-jitsu and doing quite well, but in the process of doing well with it they do lack wrestling skills.

It’s something that Americans start at a very young age. So, you know, it’s second nature for them. I wouldn’t mind training in the States to be honest with you; it’s something I’m thinking of doing after the first round [of the Bellator tournament]. The best I could come up with in the U.K. is training with an ex-KGB sambo champion.

Now if a wrestler wants to take me down, that’s okay, but he’s going to have to deal with kicks and punches to the face when he tries to grab my legs.

DM: Your only two losses are to Rob Broughton and Mike Ciesnolevicz. What have you learned from those fights?

NG: To be honest with you, they’re both sore spots. I think in the Broughton fight the scoring wasn’t right. We did go down to the ground and I overturned him, and I was in a dominant position and unfortunately the referee kept standing us up. I did speak to him afterward and he said that the crowd wanted a knockout. I just think maybe it’s the lack of experience of what MMA is about, because MMA is not just about striking and it’s not just about wrestling—it’s a combination of the two. That fight is a sore point in my career of fighting.

The fight with Ciesnolevicz, not a lot of people know, but during his first takedown attempt I landed on his knee and I broke two ribs and I couldn’t stand up. So basically I had to outwrestle a wrestler. Obviously at the time I was still learning, and he got the heel hook and tapped me. I have no problems with losing; I know what it feels like. Like you said, you do learn from it. I learned from my fight with Rob Broughton not to allow the fight to get judged by scoring, and with Mike, he’s a good wrestler, and you sort of underestimate guys sometimes. I know for a fact that if I would have connected then he was going to go down. But it was a great moment fighting for me in the UFC and in front of a local crowd.

DM: How did you get started in MMA?

NG: Well I started off with goju-ryu karate. Goju-ryu is similar to kyokushin, which Americans may recognize, and my sensei comes from a judo background, and that made me a rounded fighter at the time. I stepped with training in just goju-ryu and won my first fight. My first loss in MMA was my fight with Rob Broughton and I didn’t know what to think of it at the time.

I got started really late in life. My first fight I was two months shy of being 36 and I think like most of the guys like Coleman and Couture they got better as they got older. I wouldn’t say physically better, but definitely better in mind. I’m getting wiser as I’m getting older.

DM: Talk a little bit about being born in South Africa and playing rugby. You also had some other jobs, as you didn’t make your MMA debut until your mid-30s.

NG: I played rugby back at home in South Africa, and I moved to England in 1996. Before that I was playing professional at a very high level. I’ve been playing rugby since the age of five and it does harden you up. I suppose you can compare South African rugby to American wrestling.

DM: Any word on who you will fight in your Bellator debut?

NG: I don’t know who I’m going to be fighting. I’m ready for anybody to be honest with you. They were talking about maybe adding Josh Barnett, who was somebody I was almost teamed up to fight in Japan. I don’t care who I’m fighting at the end of the day; I’m going to come to fight and I’ll set the pace. I’m sure any of the guys they’ll put up with me will be world-class fighters.

[Editors note: Grove is now set to face Eddie Sanchez at Bellator 24.]

DM: At 6’6” and 270 pounds, you obviously have a size advantage over most opponents. How do you use your size to your advantage in fights?

NG: With my kicks and my punches it helps being bigger and not being slow. People always underestimate my speed because of my size. If it goes to the ground I’m comfortable being on my back and if I end up on top then you’re completely stuffed.

DM: What do you say to your critics who believe that you’ve already reached your potential in MMA?

NG: I don’t think I’ve reached my top potential yet. I’m still priming, and I think I’d like to climb the rankings in MMA at heavyweight. I don’t know where I’m standing at the moment, but I think by winning [at] Bellator it would help. I’m not looking at retiring for at least another five years, which means I’m not even halfway through my fighting career. And I’m learning every day. Every time I go into the gym and I train with my Muay Thai coach and my wrestling coach I feel like I’m learning something new every day.

DM: After your fight with Robert Berry at Cage Rage 27, you called out Kimbo Slice. Is he somebody that you’d still like to face?

NG: Well I’d love to fight him. I think the only reason why I wanted to fight him at the time is because he was a big name and he was actually still undefeated and he was becoming more and more famous, but then he lost. And he kept losing. So right now I think the only reason to fight him would be the exposure. I don’t think I would prove myself as a better fighter if I beat him but it would definitely be a great fight for exposure.

DM: What will it be like for you fighting outside of the U.K. for the first time?

NG: It’s absolutely amazing. I’m so excited—I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing for me, but I’m definitely very excited. I went to Vegas a couple of years ago and it was my first time to America. I’m looking forward to it; I’m looking forward to meeting all of the fighters and I’m going to go do a bit of sightseeing afterward and maybe some training at a good camp in America for a week or two. I love the idea of going to America. I find Americans to be nice friendly people.

DM: Are you still planning on fighting in the U.K. and defending your Ultimate Challenge heavyweight title?

NG: I’m signed with Bellator for 18 months and I think I’d love to focus on training and fighting in America. I think if I was asked to or if I have to, I’d rather relinquish my title and concentrate on fighting in America. If I decide to retire one day I might make a comeback and fight in the U.K., but the money is not as good in the U.K. as it is fighting in the States anyway. But you asked if I want to defend my title, and it depends. If they offer me good money and a good fighter it would be worth it, but otherwise I’m just concentrating on my fighting now for Bellator.

DM: At the end of the Bellator tournament, what will fans in America say about Neil Grove?

NG: Everybody makes such a big hype about the fighters of other events, especially people like [Bobby] Lashley, Brock Lesnar—these are all very big guys coming from [WWE] and wrestling and I don’t think a lot of people have fought a guy with the size I have. I’m sort of the same height as Tim Sylvia and I’m bigger than him I think in stance. I’m just hoping to put on a good show. I think Americans are all used to the wrestling and takedowns and ground and pound and I think they’ll like seeing a standup war and a knockout.

In addition to MMA Spot, David McKinney is the MMA columnist for UWeekly Magazine and a contributor to MMA Madness.

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