The last 12 months have been good to Eric Kelly. This time last year he was a relatively unknown Filipino fighter preparing to make his ONE FC debut, since then wins against Mitch Chilson and Bae Young Kwon have established him as the foremost featherweight on the ONE FC roster.
It could get even better because his bout with Jens Pulver at ONE FC: 'Pride of a Nation' in Manila falls exactly 353 days after his fight with Chilson in Singapore and if he wins that and improves his record to 8-0 in the process he will be able to reflect upon an absolutely stellar year's work.
Kwon is the best featherweight still operating in Korea and was coming off wins against two of the top 145 lbs fighters in the region in Brian Choi and Honorio Banario. Beating the Korean really established Kelly as the forerunner to challenge for the ONE FC featherweight title when it is eventually introduced but he was far from happy with his performance,
"I feel like it was not a good fight, even though I won. He seemed like he was scared to fight me at stand up, his Judo was very good but I have never been to decision before and I wanted to win by submission or knock out. I thought I had a rear naked choke but Kwon was able to escape and I did not get the chance to show the fans what 'The Natural' can do so I was not happy with how I performed in this fight."
Kelly is the reigning champion of the URCC, the longest running promotion in the Philippines, but even for someone who has enjoyed so much success his next fight is a little bit special because he is taking on former UFC champion Jens Pulver.
It will be the first time that the Filipino has taken on an established international fighter with so much experience and he admits that nerves might play their part,
"I remember watching Pulver in the UFC before and I have known who he is for a long time so I do feel like there is more pressure for me to win. Bae Young Kwon is a very good fighter, one of the best in Asia, and Mitch Chilson is very tough too so I am used to fighting good fighters but they are not as famous as Pulver so maybe I am a little bit nervous because of that."
A win over a former UFC champion would improve Kelly's record to 8-0 and show the world what people in Asia have been saying for quite some time, that he has the potential to be one of the best featherweights anywhere. It would also be a moment to savour for a Filipino because the fight is taking place in the same venue where Ali fought Frazier in Manila, something which Kelly is well aware of,
"Well I am too young to remember that big boxing fight but it is still very famous in the Philippines and I hear people talk about it a lot. I know there will be nearly 20,000 fans watching me fight and I want to win for the Filipino people because I am proud to be Filipino and now there are a lot of problems in Manila with the floods so I want to give everyone in Manila something to cheer about."
If he does win Kelly's ONE FC record will be 3-0, the best in the division which would presumably put him in contention for a title shot. While there has not been too much title talk with the organization apparently not in a rush to introduce belts the thought is never far from the Filipino's mind,
"I want to be the ONE FC champion. Before there was only the UFC and to be UFC champion was my dream but now for Asian people I think ONE FC is more important than UFC and now I dream of being a champion for ONE FC."
One thing which has become abundantly clear is that Kelly will fight absolutely anyone who stands between him and realizing that dream,
"I want to test myself against the best fighters, I wanted to fight Tatsuya Kawajiri at ONE FC earlier this year and I asked for that fight but it was not given to me. I will fight anyone who Sir Victor or Sir Alvin ask me to."
'Sir Alvin' is URCC owner Alvin Aguilar and while Kelly is looking to take on the best fighters in the region in the ONE FC cage he is still holds the featherweight strap for that organization and is open to the idea of defending it,
"Now I think there is also an interim champion because I did not defend my belt for a long time and if the URCC want me to fight him I can do that. Being champion of the URCC is the same as being the champion of the Philippines, I am very proud of that belt and if I could get the ONE FC belt too I would be even more proud."
ONE FC: 'Pride of a Nation' is set for August 31st at the Smart Araneta Coliseum and to view the entire card online costs 10 USD. More information here: http://www.onefc.livesport.tv/