Heavyweight behemoths Neil “Goliath” Grove and Cole “The Polar Bear” Konrad face each other this Thursday night, Oct. 14, at the Kansas City Power & Light District in Kansas City, Mo., as the headliner for Bellator 32 which will air LIVE nationwide on FOX Sports Net at 7 p.m. CT.
Grove (10-2-1) and Konrad (6-0) will be competing for the Bellator Fighting Championships Heavyweight Title. These two men have fought long and hard to get here. With no politics involved, no favoritism shown, neither fighter is here because they may be more popular than another, they are here because they earned it.
The fighters shared their thoughts about one another:
Grove: “Cole is a good wrestler with an amazing college wrestling pedigree. I hope he brings his up-most best as I’m doing the same when it comes to my striking ability. I’m hitting and kicking much harder right now than ever before. I have also spent more time with my wrestling coaches for this fight with Cole.”
Konrad: “I think Neil is going to try to start fast like he always does, and he’ll probably be looking to finish the fight early. I think that will be his only strategy. I just don’t see that happening for him. Any of his fights that have gone more than a couple of minutes, he’s been nothing shy of exhausted. So if I get him into the third and fourth rounds, he’s going to be in for a really long fight.”
The South African born Grove turned professional in 2006 at the age of 35. In his first 11 fights, which were all fought in the U.K., Grove went 8-2-1. He won his first championship in Dec. 2008 by defeating current UFC heavyweight James McSweeney via second round TKO for the Ultimate Challenge MMA heavyweight title .
In July of this year, it was announced Bellator signed Grove for their season three heavyweight tournament. His first fight on American soil took place Aug. 12 at Bellator 24 against UFC veteran Eddie Alvarez. It took Grove just 1:32 to run through Sanchez and advance to the tournament semifinals.
A month later, at Bellator 29, Grove took out Ukranian submission master Alexey Oleinik with a first round TKO in just 45-seconds. This advanced grove to the season three heavyweight tournament finals where he will face Konrad this Thursday. Grove shared his thoughts what this fight means to him:
Grove: “I deserve this! I have paved my destiny and I am going into this fight believing that I will become the new Bellator World Heavyweight Champion. Becoming the champion will be amazing. It will be just the start of a prosperous fighting career in the USA.”
Let’s take a look at Cole Konrad’s journey to the Bellator championship.
“The Polar Bear” actually just started fighting professional MMA this year, 2010, and has already amassed a perfect 6-0 record. His success in the cage has come primarily due to his years of success on the wrestling mat.
In high school Konrad won the Wisconsin State Championship and also won the 2002 Junior National Championships in Greco Roman and freestyle wrestling. At the University of Minnesota he won two NCAA titles and at the international level won gold at the 2005 Pan-Ams and Bronze at the World University Championships in 2006.
As part of the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy and as a training partner to UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar, Konrad made his pro MMA debut in January at Max Fights 8 in North Dakota. He submitted his opponent Gary Hamen in just 1:13 into the first round. A month later at Matrix Fights 1, he defeated Joel Wyatt at 2:23 of round one.
In May, Konrad fought Pat Bennett and in June fought John Orr as part of Bellator’s second season. Konrad won both fights via unanimous decision. Konrad was then signed on as part of Bellator’s season three heavyweight tournament.
In August at Bellator 25, he won a unanimous decision over Rogent Lloret in the quarterfinals. Then in September at Bellator 29, he won a unanimous decision over Damian Grabowski in the semifinals. Lloret came into their fight with a record of 9-1-1 and Grabowski had an undefeated record of 13-0.
These wins sent Konrad to the finals where he will meet Neil Grove on Thursday. Konrad talked about what the fight against Grove means to him:
Konrad: “This fight against Neil will be the biggest fight of my career. Winning the championship would definitely be a big deal for me. I’ve been training hard for a long time now, and I would basically look at the title as a reward for all of the hard work I’ve put in. I want that belt. I don’t know if I have any jeans that the belt will fit through, but I’m sure we can work something out (laughs).”
No one is going to argue that Cole Konrad has the most exciting style in the game, nevertheless you have to be impressed by what he’s done in his first year as a professional fighter. He’s an enormous man who looks to be almost the size of two Roy Nelsons, and when he takes an opponent down and puts that weight on top of them, it’s nearly impossible for them to move.
No doubt Konrad will be looking to do the same thing against Neil Grove on Thursday as he has done against his two previous opponents in the tournament. He will want to put Grove on his back and either pound out a TKO or get a submission, but if he can’t finish it, he will have to grind out a full five rounds for the first time in his career.
Can his cardio hold up for five, five-minute rounds? As long as he’s on top, he should be able. However, if by some chance (miracle?) Grove can continuously stop his takedowns, it will be interesting to see what Konrad’s cardio is made of. As mentioned earlier, he looks to be about the size of two Roy Nelsons. Having said that, Grove has also never gone past three rounds. They both spoke on who the fight favors if it goes to the fourth and fifth rounds:
Grove: “It definitely favors me, of course. It would mean that he was not able to finish the fight on the canvas. Once he realizes that he’s not going to be able to win the fight by taking me down, he will have no choice but to stand and trade punches with me.”
Konrad: “It favors me. Like I said before, any time Neil has gone longer than two minutes he can barely keep his hands up high enough to throw a punch. I’m used to going the distance. Granted, I haven’t gone to a 4th or 5th round in my career, but 3rd, 4th, 5th.. it makes no difference. If you know how to compete when you’re tired, you know what you have to do. “
Grove is a striker and his only hope, first of all, will be to stop the takedown. The good thing about Grove is he’s a finisher. All ten of his wins have come via knockout. So if he can stop the takedown, he has the power to knock out just about anyone if he connects. Some might say Grove has a puncher’s chance in this fight, and that is probably not far from the truth. He has never faced a wrestler of Konrad’s caliber and more often than not when that happens, the wrestler is going to take it.
Both Grove and Konrad of course have their own thoughts about the advantages they bring to the fight:
Grove: “I see my ability to finish fights as an advantage against Cole. I also think my size and my overall level of fitness will be factors that will work to my advantage. I want to avoid letting him set the pace.
Konrad: “Obviously my wrestling will be an advantage I have over Neil, and I think my ground game is considerably better than his. That would be my biggest advantage, but outside of that, my overall training environment trumps his. I’m used to seeing big, strong, fast guys on a daily basis. I just have to avoid that big right hand of his, but that’s about it.”
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Note: The quotes from each fighter came from a Bellator press release issued on Tuesday, Oct. 12.