Ben Fowlkes
Friday June 20th, 2008

Kendall Grove doesn't need anyone to tell him what's at stake in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter 7 finale.

"Nobody likes a loser," said the 25-year-old Hawaiian. "That's just how it is."

In preparing for Saturday's bout against Evan Tanner, Grove has had to digest and move on from two straight losses -- a tough lesson that Grove seemed to learned the hardest way possible.

Two years ago, he won the third season of the Spike TV reality show after a unanimous-decision victory over Ed Herman in the finale. The win seemed to signal a bright future for the young fighter, especially as he followed with two more wins over Chris Price and Alan Belcher in October 2006 and April 2007, respectively.

But as time wore on, the season three victory seemed to mark the pinnacle of Grove's career. His past two fights were marred by losses (both via knockouts) to the hard-hitting Canadian, Patrick Cote, and Team Elite fighter Jorge Rivera.

Though tough to digest, Grove claims the losses were necessary for his growth as a mixed martial artist and a person. The old Grove, he admitted, was "too nice."

"I worried about too many other people. You have to worry about yourself and put yourself first sometimes. When I was on top, everybody wanted to be on top with me. When I was down, all these people weren't with me any more. It was all, 'Oh, you're a scrub. You lost.' Don't get me wrong, I have some true friends who were with me through all of it, but there were a bunch of other people who weren't."

Now, as he returns to the T.U.F. Octagon as a contracted UFC fighter, Grove isn't looking to break into the MMA scene -- he's just looking to keep his job.

A third straight loss would all but guarantee Grove a spot on the growing list of fighters recently cut from the UFC. In facing Tanner, a former UFC champion, who also finds himself on the verge of unemployment following a knockout loss in his recent comeback effort against Yushin Okami, Grove claimed, "This is a do-or-die fight for both of us.

"We're both fighting for our jobs. When you're fighting for your job you have to go out there and give it everything you have. That's all you can do."

In a way, the pair's dilemma plagues many mid-level fighters and is a problem emblematic of the UFC as a whole. In the talent-rich weight classes, there's a limited window of opportunity to prove oneself. If a fighter isn't moving up the ladder, he's being pushed down and headed for an unceremonious exit.

Leaving isn't on Grove's timetable, however. Not yet. To prepare for Saturday's bout, he returned to Hawaii to train with UFC lightweight champion B.J. Penn, who knows a thing or two about coming back from a loss (Penn fell to Georges St. Pierre and Matt Hughes in back-to-back fights before winning his last three bouts).

"[Penn's] just been coaching me, getting my head right," Grove said. "He's the champ. He's been through some ups and downs. He knows how to deal with that. He's been talking to me and making sure my head is strong and that I'm ready for this fight."

But more than "getting his head right," the key for Grove could simply be putting the past behind him and fighting without fear of the consequences. Then again, he probably doesn't need anyone to tell him that.

"This time I've got nothing to lose," he said. "I've already been devastated and knocked out. I know what that's like now. What can Evan do to me that hasn't already been done?"

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