ONE FC boss explains Eric Kelly’s ‘frozen’ contract

Nissi Icasiano

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ONE FC boss explains Eric Kelly’s ‘frozen’ contract
ONE FC CEO Victor Cui says that the reason why Kelly’s contract has been frozen was his choice to retire.

MANILA, Philippines – Amidst the contract dispute between ONE Championship and homegrown talent Eric Kelly, company CEO Victor Cui has offered his side regarding the frozen fight contract of the Filipino fighter.

Cui, a Filipino-Canadian, says that the reason behind the decision of freezing Kelly’s contract was his choice to retire.

“He informed our matchmaker (Matt Hume) he wanted to retire. If a fighter wants to retire, he wants to retire, right? That’s fine! But what happens as in any contract in MMA, when you retire, your contract gets frozen. You still need to live up to your obligations if you decide to come back,” Cui told Rappler.

Kelly publicly stated that his ONE contract had expired in February, but he confided to Rappler in July that Asia’s largest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion did not terminate the deal as he was unable to fulfill the terms and obligations stipulated in his agreement due to inactivity.

“I really thought that my contract with them had expired and it’s done, but ONE FC told me that they froze my contract because of my inactivity. They told me to finish my contract,” Kelly revealed. 

The 33-year-old native of Baguio City was sidelined for 15 months, nursing injuries and dealing with fight purse discrepancies with the Singapore-based organization. 

Kelly, who is widely considered as one of the most successful products of the local MMA scene in the Philippines, pulled off a come-from-behind submission against Rob Lisita in July 2014 to cement his status as the rightful contender for the ONE featherweight championship.

Despite the impressive triumph over Lisita, Kelly’s nose was badly injured due to his refusal to relent against the hard-hitting Australian in the earlier proceedings of the match, leaving him with no other choice but to put his championship aspiration on hold as he was not medically cleared to square off with then-titleholder Koji Oishi in August of the same year. 

By the time he was next in line for the gold-plated strap, ONE had already enshrined a newly-minted 145-pound kingpin in Jadamba Narantungalag, but the collapse in the negotiations for the championship clash that was originally penciled to be the main event of the “Warrior’s Way” card in front of a hometown crowd in December 2014 did not lie on having a new champion.

According to one source, the fallout was triggered by a low fight purse as Kelly would supposedly get $3,000 in a title tilt versus Jadamba, comparatively below par from what ONE’s other top fighters receive. 

The insider also added that beginner’s contract starts at $1,500 with a guarantee of 5 fights, plus an additional $1,500 if the fighter wins. 

Kelly has been strutting his wares under the ONE banner since September 2011 when he submitted Mitch Chilson with a rear-naked choke in the first round.

After his stellar ONE debut, Kelly had four more bouts, including a tough loss to compatriot Honorio Banario via technical knockout for the inaugural featherweight crown in February 2013.

Cui dismissed the notion that money was the issue in an interview with Rappler in December of last year and claimed that Kelly remained irresolute when ONE matchmaker Matt Hume made the offer to face Jadamba. 

Kelly never opted to hang up his gloves during that period as he became one of the hottest free agents in the Asian MMA circuit when his ONE contract expired in February, but he was held in abeyance as his frozen deal prohibited him from sitting down and talking with other MMA organizations, including Pacific Xtreme Combat.

The 5-foot-7 submission specialist was left with no choice but to satisfy the conditions that he entered into with ONE and accepted a three-round match with Japanese stalwart Hiroshige Tanaka this past October.

“He is still under contract with us. We gave him a fight in Malaysia and continue to give him more fights. I think he’s an exciting fighter,” Cui expressed.

Kelly eventually made a successful return inside the ONE cage by scoring a controversial decision victory over Tanaka.

When asked about how many more fights Kelly has left in his contract, Cui admitted that he has no idea and pointed out that Hume has more knowledge regarding the details.

“I am not sure. Matt [Hume] always handles the details of that. I would like to see him fight a lot more times,” he shared.

Rappler tried to reach Kelly for comments, but he has not released a statement as of this article’s publication. –

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