This is number forty-eight in Jack Brown’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature veteran MMA heavyweight, Neil “Goliath” Grove. The South African-born, English fighter, Grove, has fought for Cage Rage, the UFC, and Bellator in the past. Currently, he is fighting for the UK’s UCMMA promotion. He is due to headline their next show, UCMMA 34, in London, England, on June 1st. Please enjoy the conversation below.
Jack Brown: What was your first experience with martial arts/combat sports, and how did it become more than just a hobby for you?
Neil Grove: Jack, I played rugby all my life, and when I moved from South Africa to England, in 1996, I found myself working in nightclubs as a doorman/bouncer over the weekends. To cut a long story short, in 2000, I ended up meeting my Sensei, Gavin Mulholland, of DKK in London, doing Goju Ryu. I loved it, and went to every lesson, seminar, exhibition, camp and even extra lessons to grade my Shodan/black belt in 2005. In 2006, I decided to test my abilities as a fighter, and in November, 2006, I had my first cage fight! I only ever wanted to do one, maybe two, and that's when the bug bit me!
JB: What do you recall about your first professional MMA fight, a TKO win back in 2006, and how prepared do you feel you were at the time?
NG: I was scared s---less! As I was approaching the cage, I wanted to turn around. It was a small venue. I think it held six to seven hundred people, and I had two hundred friends there - not fans, friends and family. So there was no turning back. I would've had to leave the country. So I inched forward and into the cage. I weighed a “light” 290lbs. My opponent was 295lbs! If I think now about what I did that day, I was not even fifty percent prepared! I was skilled, maybe, but not in shape. I was unfit and had no idea about ground control. Although we did submissions in Goju Ryu, it was nothing as advanced as BJJ or Sambo.
JB: You are 12-6-1 in your career, and all of your wins were KOs or TKOs from punches. How have you developed and honed the power in your hands over your career?
NG: I can thank Goju Ryu for the foundations of my fighting career, and also my natural ability. But it's my Muay Thai coach, Steve Gladstone, of Semtex Gym, who I’ve been training with for six years now, who has helped perfect my striking skills, combinations, and speed!
JB: Of those wins, in which fights were you most satisfied with your performance? Which losses do you regret the most?
NG: I’m most satisfied with my wins against James Thompson, Robert “Buzz” Berry (the rematch, though I won both), James McSweeney, Martin Thompson, Eddie Sanchez, and Zak Jensen. Of my losses, I have no regrets, but I believe that in my losses against Rob Broughton and Mike Hayes, I got robbed. Maybe I regret my fight at UFC 95. I broke three ribs in the first thirty seconds of the fight. From then on, my bad luck escalated. I would love to have that fight all over again. Mike Ciesnolevicz is great though, a nice guy.
JB: You have fought for a variety of promotions, including Cage Rage, the UFC, Bellator, the SFL, and UCMMA. How do these various promotions compare?
NG: Yes, I wish I fought at least once in Pride too, but hey-ho. The only show I regret fighting on was the SFL. I wasn't well, and had a bad night. It would be different if I fought Todd Duffee in UCMMA. Bellator was great while it lasted. I had an amazing time fighting in America, and just so you know, if I ever get offered a job that would make it worth moving there, I'm going! Saying that, when I fought in Rama, Ontario, Canada, it was a great crowd! But the best is fighting at home. Cage Rage and UCMMA are my favorites. Fighting in front of a home crowd is amazing.
JB: What do you think of the overall state of MMA in the UK in general?
NG: I love fighting in London. I'd say 70% of my fans are here. It's growing, but I feel there are too many events that are at the same standard. UCMMA is still standing out at the top, but I would love to see them get sponsored properly, like the boxing in this country. It's appalling how much they get paid! Take that idiot, Tyson Fury, for instance. Calling out Cain Velasquez? What's he on?
JB: On Saturday, June 1st, your fight against John Gillies will headline UCMMA 34. What do you think of the matchup and what do you think of Gillies as an opponent?
NG: It's UK K-1. So it's K-1 with MMA gloves. I think he is deluded, but he had the balls to step up. I'm sure he is going to come out firing on all cylinders.
JB: Heavyweights continue to be in demand in MMA. How much longer would you like to continue to fight and who are the fighters that you would most like to face before your career is through?
NG: I'm fighting Oli Thompson in July. Other than him, I hate rematches and feel I'm better than the others too. If I can stay healthy, I’ve got another two, or three, or four years? If Randy could do it, I can. But then I suppose I need to start TRT soon to go past another two.
JB: What else do you enjoy outside of training and fighting, and who are the individuals who have supported you most in life?
NG: Wow. This might end up too long and boring for your readers? I like spending time with my kids and winding my wife up. I love going to the movies, and cooking, but I have to be in the mood! Support? My wife! My Sensei, Gavin. My coach, Steve. My sponsors, in particular, personal sponsors, my mate, Hoppy, Shane Long, and Heinrich van der Westhuizen. And Ken Pavia.
JB: Last question, Neil, and thanks for taking the time to do this. What does it mean to you to be a fighter and how much do you enjoy it?
NG: It's changed my life. I'm so happy I did it and became part of the ever-growing sport of MMA. I want to end my career on a high, and in twenty years time, still be known for my twenty KO's and one submission win in my career.
Thank you so much for reading and please follow @goliathgrove and @Jackjohnbrown on Twitter.
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