ONE Fighting Championship's inaugural show last September was a night when reputations were won and lost and Eric Kelly emerged with much more to show from his night's work than a $5,000 USD submission of the night bonus. In beating the undefeated Mitch Chilson he proved conclusively that after running up a 5-0 record in the Philippines he was ready to take on the world.
Kelly came into that bout as the URCC featherweight champion who had never been beaten and had submitted every opponent he had ever faced. Despite these credentials there were question marks over his credentials; Could he be as effective at an international level? Would his submission skills be as effective on the international stage?
The 30 year old Filipino answered those questions in emphatic style when he silenced the Singapore crowd by choking Chilson into unconsciousness midway through an action packed first round. That performance rendered Kelly perhaps the most exciting property in the entire featherweight division in South East Asia.
For reasons beyond his control Kelly found himself sidelined while other fighters overtook him but, on June 23rd at ONE Fighting Championship: 'Destiny of Warriors' in Kuala Lumpur, he will be back and he is determined to keep his perfect professional record intact.
The win over Chilson (which you can see here) left Kelly with the world at his feet but it was followed by one of the lowest points of his entire career,
"I took advice from the wrong people and pulled out of a couple of fights which I realize I should have taken. Beating Mitch Chilson opened a lot of doors for me and helped my MMA career a lot but after that I made some bad decisions which I regret."
The URCC champion had a 6-0 record at this stage and had submitted every opponent he had ever faced but by holding out for a huge fight he allowed others to overtake him. Among them was URCC Lightweight Champion Honorio Banario who got the call to drop down to 145 lbs to take on Bae Young Kwon at ONE FC: 'Battle of Heroes' in Jakarta.
The highly rated Korean won by submission early in the opening round to improve his record to 7-2 and hand Banario the only loss of his entire career. Kelly was a frustrated spectator, biding his time until he could gain revenge for his fellow Filipino.
That wait has now ended because it was announced this week that Kelly and Kwon would clash at ONE FC: 'Destiny of Warriors' at the 10,200 capacity Stadium Negara in Kuala Lumpur. For the Filipino, who lives and trains in Malaysia, it will be the culmination of months of waiting,
"It has been frustrating because I am proud to represent the URCC and to show what Filipino fighters can do. Ever since my last fight I have never stopped training, every day I am in the gym working with my family at Muayfit and I want to take out all that anger and all that frustration on Bae Young Kwon on June 23rd."
Kelly is now a full time member of the fight team at Muayfit in Kuala Lumpur and is preparing alongside ONE FC fighters Arnaud Lepont, Peter Davis and Allamurad Karayev for his fight at ONE FC: 'Destiny of Warriors'.
Kwon is coming into the contest with a lot of momentum having defeated three of the top fighters in the region in Banario, Brian Choi and Kyung Ho Kang, in his last three fights. He is regarded as one of the most exciting prospect in Korea but Kelly remains distinctly unimpressed,
"I don't think Bae Young Kwon is the best opponent I ever fought, he's not as good as Mitch Chilson. I think I can handle him but in MMA anything can happen so I will just go there to do my job and I hope I will win."
Kelly was so confident coming off the win over Chilson that he volunteered to fight top ranked Japanese featherweight Tatsuya Kiwajiri at the last ONE FC show,
"I wanted to fight Kawajiri to test my skills against him, Mitch Chilson is a blue belt in BJJ and a Muay Thai champion. No-one had beaten him before me and I don't think anyone else will beat him soon because he is a very good fighter, that win gave me a lot of confidence and I feel I am ready to fight anyone."
He is not making any predictions for his fight against Kwon, which is part of a stellar card featuring the likes of Renato Sobral, Phil Baroni, Roger Huerta and Masakazu Imanari, but he is happy to be inside the cage doing what he does best,
"I just follow my life and what God plans will come to pass. If I have no fight then so be it but I am very happy to be fighting again. Kwon is fast and strong and he is a very good fighter but he has never fought anyone like me, it's going to be a good fight."