Eric “The Natural” Kelly showed true Filipino resilience at ONE FC 18 in Taiwan on July 11, 2014 when he defeated tough Australian featherweight slugger Rob “Ruthless” Lisita by submission.
The fight was anticipated to be a war between the two aggressive fighters and it lived up to the billing. Kelly and Lisita exchanged blows with bad intentions into the opening round, however it was Kelly who was absorbing the nastiest punches; there was even a point where he got tagged by a soccer kick from Lisita. The very dominant first round displayed by Lisita made a lot Kelly fans nervous.
However, Kelly said he really did have composure while it looked like he was getting slaughtered,
“Even though I got tagged by his punches, I kept focused on how to defend myself in that situation.”
The second round seemed to indicate that Lisita would place more of the same hurt on Kelly, except for an exchange of more time in a grueling grappling game. Kelly showed his toughness as he continued to receive Lisita’s punches and kicks while connecting with his own, but Lisita’s strikes added up and Kelly’s nose opened with a fountain of blood.
Even with his nose cracked, Kelly was undeterred. He persevered and overcame Lisita’s onslaught by taking advantage of a brief opportunity for a back take, where he caught his opponent in a deep rear naked choke to get the tap at the 3:40 mark of the second round.
When asked how he was able to endure the amount of punishment he sustained to get the come from behind victory, Kelly was humble in his response,
“That win was inspired by all those people who helped me and motivated me.”
But Kelly didn’t stop there. He has always been known to be a respectful fighter in the heat of the battle, but when asked after it was all over, he still gave props to the man who was part of the sensational match,
“I want to thank Rob Lisita for giving me a tough and very good fight.”
Kelly became the first-ever recipient of the USD$50,000 bonus from ONE FC CEO Victor Cui for the performance of heart he showcased that night. That’s a lot of money. So, where is he going to spend it? Cars, diamonds, a trip to Disneyland? Kelly was surprisingly caught off guard,
“For now, I don’t know how and where to spend the money!”
After a few pensive moments, he was more practical. Having issues with multiple eye injuries sustained in a few bouts, plus having to move away from home in order to support his family have made him more realistic about what he will do. Kelly shared,
“Because it is really hard to be a professional fighter… if you have a lot of injuries in the future, it might be the end of your career. So my plan is to save this for me and my family’s future.”
Kelly’s win guaranteed him a ticket to challenge the 145 pound Champion Koji Oishi. The fight has been tentatively announced for ONE FC 19 in Dubai on August 29th. However, according to Kelly, the Dubai showdown with Oishi is uncertain,
“Lisita got me good in the nose, so as soon as the injury is all healed up, I’ll fight Oishi for the title.”
The fight with Oishi is going to be his second attempt to get the ONE FC strap; his first was against Honorio Banario back in February of 2013 for the inaugural title. When asked about a possible rematch with Banario in the future, Kelly was polite but still speculated,
“I’ll fight whomever ONE FC puts in front of me. But it was a heart-breaking loss against Banario, because I knew that when I went in there to fight him I was not one hundred percent ready.”
Following his win in Taiwan, Kelly went back to his hometown of Baguio to enjoy a respite with his family and friends. His focus as of now is to recover from the nose injury, but once it heals, he says he will be back in the gym and will train hard for his title challenge some time this year.
With the win, Kelly improved his record to 11-1 (9 submissions, 1 TKO, 1 decision) and proved he has the heart and finishing capabilities to put him at the top of the ONE FC featherweight division.