Neil the MMA

About Neil Grove

I suppose it all started in kindergarten… crèche or pre-school as some would call it!

I was born in South Africa, and contrary to the belief that most South African white people are/ were racists, i was brought up not knowing the difference between black/ brown/ yellow and green people. However, what i did know, was that as an Afrikaans kid, we didn’t get along with the English speaking kids…

At 3 yrs old, my mother sent me to an English crèche. There i was bullied and my lunch was stolen everyday. Not to eat, as peanut butter and jam sandwiches was more popular with Afrikaans kids! What i can remember, is that i got hurt one day, and ended up hiding most break times in an old garage which had old tires in it.

I loved school. Went to 8 schools and made friends everywhere, but not before the bullies of the school had a ‘pop’ first at the new kid. At first i got hit, cried and then left alone. Just as i was accepted, we moved again, and the ‘popping’ continued. The first few times, it was hard. One day i decided to retaliate. I got sick of being picked on. I only got beaten harder, but I felt better for trying to stand up for myself. I still cried though. When i was in my final few years of school i started winning the bouts. I never started them though, but was happy to oblige when someone thought they could have a ‘pop’ at the new boy. Then they started bringing their older brothers from out of school to fight their fights for them…

I started playing rugby from a young age. That too helped with toughening me up. At school and college, if a fight broke out on the field, i got stuck in.

I moved to England in December 1996. Got myself a job at an Irish nightclub in South London. And as you can imagine, got stuck in a lot of fights. Then ended up moving to North London and started working at an Australasian Pub. It was packed with South Africans, Ozzies and Kiwi’s. And the Irish, English, Welch and Scots came 2nd and then the poor French and Americans who dared it in there!

Due to a major fight breaking out between 20-30 punters and myself and a fellow bouncer, Tiger, a Kiwi tattooed from head to toe, including his face, we were told to join Sensei Gavin Mulholland’s Goju Ryu classes to learn some ‘control and restraint’…

And i did. In 2000, i had my first lesson in a traditional martial art. Not just any karate. People hear the word karate and think Chuck Norris or Bruce Lee. That is ‘point scoring’ karate. Goju Ryu is a ‘combat’ style karate, and includes throws and submission wrestling.

I loved it. I recall my first lesson. We were training the thigh kick. I was in the back of the class with all the other beginners. We were kicking each other. It seemed to work when i was kicking, even though i was ‘holding back’ and not kicking with all my power. But when it was their turn to kick me, it didn’t hurt. This baffled me and made me doubt what i was meant to learn. I asked Sensei Gavin to kick me, as none of the others were hurting me, and Sensei said that it would. So he agreed and said that he would use 20% of his strength and pure technique. Well, he kicked, a few seconds later i was crawling on the floor in anguish of the pain i was experiencing!

Because Sensei was half my size, I went out and bought myself a Gi the next day. From then on, i never missed a lesson, a seminar, a camp or social meeting when it involved Goju Ryu. In fact, when i met my wife a year later, i told her never to interfere or try stopping me when it came to my training in Goju Ryu. a year later we got married and in 2005, i achieved my Shodan (black belt).

A year later, i told him that i wanted to test my ability in the cage, MMA. He was very excited. Everybody said start with a few semi pro or amateur fights, to which I said it, would defy the whole reason for wanting to test myself. And a month off of my 36th birthday, in 26th November 2006, I had my first fight!

I told everyone just one, maybe two fights… I was 5-0 just training with my Sensei, before i decided that i needed a bit more. I joined a local MMA club. The coach had an amazing pedigree in kick boxing, but it was his jiu jitsu that attracted me. I then had my first loss. Continued training with the MMA club, won the next fight, then got introduced to my Muay Thai coach in 2008, Steve Gladstone at Semtex Gym in Swanley, Kent.

In December 2008, i fought for a Heavy Weight title, and won.
The UFC signed me, i lost my first fight and they cut me…
I defended my title twice, and twice fighters pulled out after the weigh ins…

Where one door closes, another opened and i was signed up in 2010 to fight in the first HW Tournament for Bellator Fighting Championships! I made it through to the finals and lost.

Since then it’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride. I took a year off of work and lived in America to train in the arts of wrestling. I lived in South California and trained at Reign under Mark Munoz. Home of Fabricio Werdum, Anderson Silva and many other Brazilian fighters when they come to fight in America. I also trained at Huntington Beach Ultimate Training Centre. Home for Cheick Kongo, with whom i sparred with before his fight with Pat Barry, Michael Bisping and Rampage Jackson.

I’m still training at Semtex Gym in Kent, where Pete Irving, Jason Young and Jake Bostwick, to mention a few train. Pete Irving has been teaching me BJJ for MMA.

I also go and see my good Russian friend Anton Davidovich before my fights at Cork City Combat Sambo, in Ireland.