Eric Kelly (right) during one of his fights. Photo grabbed from Eric Kelly's Facebook page
MANILA – Filipino fighter Eric “The Natural” Kelly admitted he was surprised but also pleased to hear he will be fighting at the main event of ONE FC: War of Dragons in Taipei this month.
The Benguet-born fighter hasn’t fought in ONE FC for over a year, and is looking forward to give a good fight when he steps into the cage against Australian brawler Rob “Ruthless” Lisita.
“Nung una, sinabi nilang lalaban ako tapos na-sorpresa ako nung inilagay sa main event... matagal kasi akong hindi lumaban sa ONE FC tapos comeback fight ko, bigla akong inilagay sa main event,” Kelly told ABS-CBNnews.com.
He confessed he is feeling the pressure, knowing he’ll have to perform at the main feature of the event. But it's a good kind of pressure, he said.
“OK naman ‘yung na-pressure ako…lalong nadagdagan ang sipag kong mag-training, gusto kong manalo kaya ginagawa ko ang lahat sa training,” he said.
Contrary to what his surname suggests, Kelly is not a foreign-bred fighter. He was born 32 years ago in Benguet to an Igorot couple.
But why Kelly?
“Yung family name ko talaga ay Killi,” explained the Pinoy fighter. “Pero nung nag-aaral ang tatay ko nung Grade 1 daw, maraming mga foreigners dito sa Baguio. Sinabi ng teachers nya, gawin na lang Kelly ang apelyido nya.”
“So, noong pinanganak ako, Kelly na ang apelyido ko.”
Years later, he became a wushu fighter and eventually made it to the Philippine Wushu National team. There, he honed his skills as a striker until he suffered injuries in 2004.
Kelly said that despite his efforts to bring honor to the country, he was turned away by the federation. This prompted him to try mixed martial arts instead.
“Nung nagheal ang injury ko, pumunta ako sa Manila, nag-try akong mag-martial arts. Hindi ko na binalikan ng wushu,” he said.
He got his biggest break as a fighter in 2013 when he was pitted against fellow Filipino, Honorio Banario, for the ONE FC featherweight title.
Kelly said he decided to accept the fight despite having a heavily bruised shin and an eye injury.
“Sabi ng duktor, hindi ako dapat lumaban after six months, kasi yung my bone fracture ako sa ilalim ng mata,” recalled Kelly.
“Nung fight ko, nung nag-jab siya, hindi ako makasipa noon kasi masakit ang paa ko. Tapos nung nag-jab ulit siya, na-block ko naman kaso yung kuko ko tumama sa injury ko sa mata, saktong tamaan yung injury, hindi ko maibuka ang mata ko.”
Banario eventually won via a fourth-round stoppage and became the first Filipino world MMA champion.
Now that he’s healthy, he’s making sure that he’ll come prepared against the heavy-handed Lisita. Whoever wins the fight scheduled on July 11 will battle Koji Oishi for the ONE FC featherweight title.
“Sa striking, sa grappling, sa wrestling, doon ako nagfocus sa training,” said Kelly. “Sa boxing, sa grappling pinaghahandaan ko sya. Isa syang brawler kaya inaayos ko ang boxing ko, lahat ng aspeto ng laro ko inaayos ko.”
Kelly said that Lisita is a dangerous fighter as proven by his first-round knockout of Yusuke Kawanago last May. One thing that Kelly wants to avoid is being hit by Lisita’s potent left hook.
“You can see sa mga laban niya, ‘yung mga hook nya ang panlaban niya,” he said.
When asked about the prospect of possibly fighting for the title again, Kelly said he has temporarily blocked that away from his mind. His task at hand is to beat Lisita, he said.
“Sa ngayon, hindi ko pa iniisip yung laban kay Oishi, ang iniisip ko yung laban ko kay Lisita… ang mindset ko kay Rob Lisita talaga,” he said.
Although he refused to predict the outcome of their fight, Kelly promised there’s one thing he will do when he steps into that cage.
“Gagawin ko po lahat ng makakaya ko,” said The Natural.