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Know your Bellator: MMAmania interview exclusive with heavyweight Neil Grove

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Neil Grove definitely lives up to his nickname, "Goliath."

The tower 6'6 fighter has to cut weight to make the 265 pound heavyweight limit when he competes and he'll bringing all that imposing mass into Bellator's fifth season and its heavyweight tournament.

Grove competed in the season three tournament, destroying both Eddie Sanchez and Alexey Oleinik inside two minutes to make it to the finals where he had no answer for Cole Konrad's dominating wrestling and top control game. 

After contemplating giving it all up to be a commentator, he's back and punched his ticket to the season five tournament with a sloppy slugfest against Zak Jensen in which he overwhelmed the Ultimate Fighter veteran with ground and pound. He'll be competing against Mike Hayes in the season five heavyweight quarterfinals tonight (October 1, 2011) on MTV at Bellator 52.

The powerful native South African spoke with less than 24 hours before his fight tonight about the birth of his daughter, his changes in training and what he expects in his first round match-up against Mike Hayes.

Brian Hemminger ( You recently had a new addition to your family, can you tell me about that?

Neil Grove: Yes, my daughter Calice. I've been away from my wife for several months training in America and I came home on September 13th and I decided to stay for an extra week because, even though she wasn't due until the end of the month, I'd been told that girls come early and I was fortunate enough that my wife started contractions on the 22nd, we took her to the hospital later that night and she went into labor at 11 p.m. and my beautiful daughter arrived at 1 a.m. She was a healthy seven pounds and I'm so thankful that I decided to stay the extra time in the UK to be there for it.

Brian Hemminger ( Are you planning on going home in between tournament fights or are you going to be away from her for the next three months if you continue to win?

Neil Grove: I'm going to be doing both. I'll be training here at Reign MMA but I'll also be going back to the UK. I won't be letting up on my training much because I also have Semtex gym in the UK as well as some incredible Combat Sambo coaches over in Ireland that I can work with while I'm over there. Anton Davidovich and Shane Long are some of the best in the world in Combat Sambo and I will need them if I advance to the later rounds because that Bulgarian, Blagoi Ivanov is in this tournament and he's incredibly good. He even beat Fedor Emelianenko in Combat Sambo to end his streak at the world championships. I should be fine going to both.

Brian Hemminger ( Can you tell me about how you originally started training at Mark Munoz's gym Reign MMA?

Neil Grove: Well originally when I moved out to California, I started at CSW with Erik Paulson and Josh Barnett, guys like that. I didn't originally train at Reign because there was a guy there I didn't wan to deal with. Eventually though, I went out there and from day one when I started training there, there's no animosity and there's a lot of discipline there. There was some good guys there, Fabricio Werdum and some really good fighters. Mark Munoz has been a great fighter in the UFC and Krzysztof Soszynski and I've  found that the sparring was at a pace where it didn't feel like I was fighting. Some places you go train and sparring turns into a full-on fighting match and I just didn't enjoy that. I just felt I had fun there.

Brian Hemminger ( So is that because when you start fighting, it's for real for you? I know in reading some of your blogs, you say that you flip the switch in a fight and I'm sure you wouldn't want to have to do that every time you're sparring with teammates.

Neil Grove: Yeah, it's really intense for me to fight. It's not something I do naturally. I've had some fights in my life and I'm not saying that I can't fight, but I don't like fighting. When it comes to training, I love my training and it's great but when it comes to sparring, training with Steve Gladstone, you learn to pull punches and it almost makes you have more control anyways. If you control your punches and your kicks then you control your body and when it comes to sparring, I've never tried to hurt anybody. Fighting is for inside the cage, inside the ring, not training. There's a lot of guys that do, though. They go out there and they spar so hard they injure their partner or get injured. I'm 40 years old, closer to 41 than I am 40 so I think, "Why risk being injured?" Especially when you're in this tournament format. I want to go in there, face my fighter as quick as I can and come out with as little injuries as possible.

Brian Hemminger ( Let's talk about your upcoming fight. You're stepping in there against Mike Hayes. You mentioned that when he stepped in because of Ricco Rodriguez losing, that stirred things up a bit. Were you expecting to face someone else originally?

Neil Grove: Yeah, Ron Sparks. I think it's a very similar match-up. They're both similar fighters to me, Ron Sparks and Mike Hayes. They both like to stand and bang. I don't change the way I train based on who I fight, I train my striking, I train my wrestling and I train my submissions. Anything can happen, I could get clipped, he could get clipped and we could end up on the ground. I'm glad I'm still facing someone who's more of a striker. A week before my fight with Zak Jensen, we all met up for a photoshoot with all the other divisions as well. We became friends and I became very good friends with one actually and on the last day they told us that we were fighting each other. It's a job. Fighting for Bellator and fighting MMA is a job so we accepted the fact. Mike Hayes is an extremely good fighter. He's durable, he's never been knocked out so that's something that needs to be aknowledges.

Brian Hemminger ( The biggest difference I'd say between Ron Sparks and Mike Hayes is the size. I think Sparks is about 40 pounds heavier which means that you're also 40 pounds heavier than Hayes. Do you feel that size disparity will be a big difference potentially?

Neil Grove: I've fought guys that are a lot lighter and I find them harder to fight against. Although Ron Sparks is heavier, he's also shorter and doesn't have the same reach so it's a very different fight. I'm fighting a guy with almost the same height as me, the same reach and he's elusive. He likes to move around. He's always moving and he's not going to be easy to catch.

Brian Hemminger ( What's your biggest motivation going into this tournament? I know you've got the family back home, there's a bit of feeling for revenge against Cole Konrad. What's keeping you going forward?

Neil Grove: I really want to make a name for myself, upgrade my standing as a fighter in MMA. That's the biggest thing. It is definitely because of my family as well, to make a living and make money to feed them. I've spent many months away from them so I definitely want to make it worth the while. It's very important to me and I don't want to lose because it would make that a waste of time. That's what's driving me and I think it would be a great honor to be a champion for Bellator. They've treated me great and I'm proud to be fighting for them. It'd be a great honor and a privilege to be their champion. I don't really have Cole Konrad in my scopes at all at the moment. He's the last thing on my mind. Right now for me, it's Mike Hayes.

Brian Hemminger ( You were originally announced to be a part of the commentator team before season four started on MTV2. Is that something you want to do once your career is over?

Neil Grove: Oh yes, for sure. I've always wanted to continue the rest of my life with MMA. It's become a big part of my life and I just think it's going to be natural for me to go from being a fighter to commentating because when you're fighting and commentating at the same time, it's hard work. It's been natural for me and I've enjoyed it. I went out in January and February and trained with Sean Wheelock and it just happened that MTV2 wanted somebody with more experience so they brought Jimmy Smith back.

I love Jimmy Smith. He's one of the best commentators out there and with it not happening for me, it was about five days before the next season started. It was the end of February and season four started in the beginning of March. They told me that they were going with Jimmy Smith but they wanted to offer me a chance to get back in the season five heavyweight tournament as well as a chance to do some guest spots in commentating and hopefully in time they'd have a more permanent position for me. Bjorn Rebney was very straightforward with me and there's no hard feelings or anything like that. I expect them to give me something in the near future. I think if I win this tournament, it'll delay for a little longer for now.

Brian Hemminger ( How do you expect the fight to play out against Mike Hayes tomorrow night? What are you visualizing in your head right now?

Neil Grove: You know, it's a funny thing to ask because I try not to think of the fight at all. What I try to visualize is flying back home to my family and being happy. I think there's one thing in my mind right now, it's to be happy and see my family and celebrate our victory. What has to happen for me to be in this sort of mood is to win. It's going to be a tough fight. Every fight is tough. Every fight is hard. I'm gonna do what I do best which is stand there and fight. You can ask me the same question on Sunday and it would be a lot easier to answer.

Neil would like to thank trainer Steve Gladstone, Razor Wear, Hooligans United, OCfightDOCS, Dom Fight Gear, OB's Bar and Grill which is hosting his after party in Lake Charles, Lexani Wheels, his friend "Hoppy," Huntington Beach Ultimate, everyone from Reign Training Center, Cork City Combat Sambo, Anton Davidovich, Bellator, his wife, Emily, his son Ethan and his daughter Calice, his mother and father in law, Matt from Paradigm Sports Management and most of all his fans for supporting him all this time.

So what do you think Maniacs?

Will Grove be up to the challenge and again blast his way to the finals? Will his changes in training be the difference?

Sound off!