Eric Kelly eager to fight for ONE Championship again
MANILA, Philippines – After spending a year on the sidelines due to his rocky relationship with Asia’s largest mixed martial arts promotion, Filipino fighter Eric Kelly has expressed his desire to strut his wares once more inside the ONE Championship cage.
Kelly (11-1), one of the most successful products of Philippine MMA, has won 9 of his 11 professional bouts via submission, including a come-from-behind victory over Rob Lisita in July 2014 that earned him the right to vie for the ONE featherweight championship.
Bathed in his own blood, the 33-year-old native of Baguio City overcame significant difficulty to latch on a rear-naked choke to force Lisita to wave the white flag in the second round.
Despite the impressive triumph against 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 face then-titleholder Koji Oishi in August of the same year.
Mongolian kickboxer Jadamba Narantungalag took Kelly’s spot to square off with Oishi and successfully walked away with the 145-pound division’s top prize by routing the Japanese veteran via unanimous decision.
Kelly was eventually penciled to challenge the newly-minted featherweight champion in the main event of the “Warrior’s Way” card this past December in front of a hometown crowd, but the championship clash never materialized as negotiations between his management and ONE fell apart.
According to a reliable 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 the company’s other top competitors receive.
In an interview with Rappler last December, ONE chief Victor Cui dismissed the notion that money was the issue and claimed that Kelly had received a bonus of $50,000 after pulling off an impressive performance in his bloody scrap with Lisita.
“Eric Kelly is the highest paid Filipino MMA fighter as he received a $50,000 bonus on top of guaranteed prize and his win bonus. He deserved and earned it. He put a fantastic fight in Taiwan and emphasized the true spirit of martial arts. He should have lost that fight, but he didn’t give up,” he said.
In addition, the head honcho bared that ONE FC matchmaker Matt Hume made the offer to face Jadamba, but Kelly persisted with issues and remained irresolute.
“When Matt Hume puts together a match, the only answer that we ever want to hear is ‘Yes, I am ready. Yes, I’m willing to fight.’ That’s the answer that we should always hear. However, that’s not the answer we got from Eric Kelly. We heard bunch of hesitations on his part,” Cui said.
After the back-and-forth verbal jabs between both camps, Kelly had a change of heart as he is willing to move on and continue his career under the ONE banner.
“I plan to fight again in ONE Championship. I’m not getting any younger,” Kelly told Rappler
Kelly’s ONE deal is not yet expired
Kelly became one of the hottest free agents in the Asian MMA scene when he publicly confirmed that his multi-fight agreement with ONE had expired in February.
However, Kelly clarified that ONE did not terminate the deal as he was not able to fulfill the terms and obligations stipulated in his contract due to his inactivity.
“I really thought that my contract with them has expired and it’s done, but ONE FC told me that they freeze my contract because of my inactivity. They told me to finish my contract. My manager and I are still looking at it,” he revealed.
ONE has announced 6 upcoming events in 6 different countries, including a year-end affair in the Philippines dubbed “Spirit of Champions” on December 11.
Kelly stressed that his comeback bout does not necessarily have to take place on Philippine shores and that he is prepared to fight overseas.
“Right now, I feel great because I’m no longer dealing with any injury. I’m ready to fight if ONE offers me a bout on any fight card in the future,” he said.
Kelly has no qualms on whether the title shot is given to him or not upon his return, but it is beyond doubt that he is eager to work for the privilege to go for it again.
“I can fight for the belt if they will offer it to me again. If not, I can fight anyone who’s next in line for the belt,” he stated.
With the current situation at hand, the weight class underwent a major shake-up as Herbert Burns, Marat Gafurov and Timofey Nastyukhin moved up in the rankings during Kelly’s absence, but a win over one of the three aforementioned featherweights could catapult the Pinoy MMA bet into another championship opportunity.
Meanwhile, Jadamba was last seen in action when he captured the ONE featherweight gold-plated strap from Oishi in August 2014.
Kelly admits that he is not getting any younger, but he asserts confidently that his glory days are far from over.
“I am not getting any younger, but I still have a lot to prove in MMA. But so far, I am proud with what I have accomplished and contributed to Philippine MMA,” he ended. – Rappler.com