(Neil Grove and Cole Konrad. Photo courtesy of Bellator Fighting Championship)
Former NCAA wrestling champion Cole “The Polar Bear” Konrad is looking to add another championship to his resume when he steps into the Bellator Fighting Championship cage tomorrow night.
The former University of Minnesota wrestler will take on UFC veteran fighter Neil Grove in the finals of Bellator’s heavyweight tournament live on FSN North.
Konrad (6-0) is best known in mixed martial arts circles for being a training partner of UFC heavyweight champion and former Minnesota wrestler Brock Lesnar. While Konrad has been training with Lesnar for a couple of years, his official MMA career started earlier this year, going 2-0 on the independent circuit before winning four in a row in Bellator.
Grove is originally from South Africa and has a 10-2 record with one draw. One of those losses was in his only appearance in the UFC, at UFC 95. He’s 2-0 in Bellator, defeating Eddie Sanchez and then Alexey Oleinik in the Bellator tournament.
“This fight against Neil will be the biggest fight of my career,” Konrad told Bellator.com. “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.”
The two fighters have arrived in the final round through different paths. Both of Grove’s victories came via TKO due to strikes in the first round, while all of Konrad’s fights in Bellator have gone to a decision.
“I see my ability to finish fights as an advantage against Cole,” Grove said. “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 will rely heavily on his wrestling to lead him to the championship.
“Obviously my wrestling will be an advantage,” Konrad said. “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."
Championship fights are five 5-minute rounds, instead of the regular three 5-minute rounds, which Konrad believes will also be an advantage for him.
“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 third, fourth, fifth, it makes no difference. If you know how to compete when you're tired, you know what you have to do,” Konrad said.
Konrad has also been an integral part of Lesnar's training camp leading up to his title defense next Saturday against Cain Valasquez at UFC 121. Konrad and Valasquez faced each other three times in NCAA competition, including victories by Konrad in the semi-finals of both the 2005 and 2006 NCAA tournament.
The fight will be broadcast live nationally from Kansas City on the Fox Sports Network, but because of the Minnesota Wild hockey game, it will be delayed locally on FSN North until 1:30 a.m.