On the verge of the biggest fight of his career, Eric Kelly is
man with perspective. Once without even a proper place to sleep or
money to buy a meal, Kelly now stands just one victory away from
becoming the first
One FC featherweight champion.
“The Natural” will lock horns with Honorio
Banario Saturday in the main event of One
FC 7, which streams live on pay-per-view following a
preliminary card stream on Sherdog.com. The event takes place at
Putra Indoor Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Born in Baguio City, Philippines, Kelly traveled to Manila years
ago to pursue his dream of becoming a professional fighter.
“Before, it was really, really hard. I had no money, but I tried to
find a way. Then I got injured, and I went home,” Kelly recently
told Sherdog.com of his first trip to his country’s capital. “I
wanted to be a wushu fighter so bad, but they just threw me away.
They didn’t help me to heal my injury, and they totally cut off my
allowance. I had a kid, and I was very sad at that time. I went
home, and I couldn’t train anymore, but I always knew that when my
injuries healed that I would go back to Manila.”
Kelly indeed returned to the capital but not to his first love of
wushu. Poor and trying to make ends meet, he took several jobs
before finding a position as a bodyguard for Pablo Glean, security
aide to the mayor of Makati City. Two attempts on Glean’s life were
made in 2006 while Kelly was in his employ. Kelly was present for
the first, unsuccessful hit. During the second attempt -- which
resulted in Glean’s death -- Kelly was off duty, spending time with
his family for his son’s birthday.
Kelly quit the bodyguarding business and turned his full attention
to mixed martial arts, making his pro debut in 2009 and winning the
Universal Reality Combat Championship featherweight title in just
his fifth bout. His performances in the Philippines-based
organization caught the eye of One Fighting Championship brass, who
signed the fighter in 2011.
Three straight wins would follow for Kelly in the One FC cage, as
he topped Mitch
Chilson, Bae Young
Kwon and former UFC lightweight king Jens Pulver
before returning to the URCC this past December to submit Brad
Terry with an eleventh-hour armbar on Dec. 1.
With nine victories under his belt, Kelly, who now lives and trains
in Malaysia, will next fight to become One FC champion. Despite the
inherent pressure of such a situation, Kelly says the large stage
has only served to focus him further.
“I feel a little bit nervous, because I’m afraid to lose. That’s
why I’m doing my best to train hard for this fight now. I’m going
in to show myself that I can fight, and I will do my best to try to
get that belt,” said Kelly. “I just try to do my thing and try to
defeat my opponent [inside the distance]. I’m not worried. I just
want to prove myself.”
Though Kelly has dedicated himself to the task at hand, he is also
open about his hopes of one day fighting the best featherweights in
“I think that [UFC champion] Jose Aldo is
very skillful. That’s my dream opponent that I want to fight. I
like watching his fights, and I want to test my skills against him
and see what would happen.”