MANILA, Philippines – Filipino fighter Eric Kelly admitted that the one-year layoff played a pivotal factor in arriving at his decision to set aside his personal and professional differences with ONE Championship.
A mixed martial arts competitor since 2009 and a longtime practitioner of Wushu, the 33-year-old native of Baguio City believes that a long hiatus can be detrimental to the performance of a prizefighter.
“Fighters don’t like to take long breaks. Definitely, it ruins the drive and the performance. The bad part about it is dealing with ring rust. Sometimes, it takes a toll on a fighter by the time he steps into the ring or cage,” he stated.
Kelly (11-1), who is widely considered as one of the most successful products of the local MMA scene in the Philippines along with Eduard Folayang, was last seen in action when he pulled off an impressive 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 Manila this past December did not lie on having a new champion.
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 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 4 more bouts, including a tough loss to compatriot Honorio Banario via technical knockout for the inaugural featherweight crown in February 2013.
“I have been with the company for almost five years, and MMA is my passion and my source of income as well. But I felt underappreciated as a fighter. I believe I’m not alone in this case,” said Kelly, who presently takes the role of a cab driver in Baguio City as his day job to earn a living.
ONE chief Victor Cui dismissed the notion that money was the issue in an interview with Rappler last December and claimed that Kelly persisted with issues and remained irresolute when matchmaker Matt Hume made the offer to face Jadamba.
Although he publicly stated that his ONE contract had expired in February, Kelly confided to Rappler that Asia’s largest MMA promotion did not terminate the deal as he was not able to fulfill the terms and obligations stipulated in his agreement due to his 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. My manager and I are still looking at its validity,” he revealed.
With the current situation at hand, Kelly is left with no choice but to satisfy the conditions that he entered into with ONE.
Kelly and his manager Christopher Romine could not understand how the contract was held in abeyance, prohibiting them from sitting down and talking with other MMA leagues.
“We knew the contract expired in February, so we could not understand why or how it got frozen with the condition that I still have to fulfill the rest of the stipulations therein,” Kelly quipped. “Because of these, I cannot offer my services to other MMA organizations.”
The 5-foot-7 submission specialist divulged that his camp approached the Ultimate Fighting Championship for a possible inclusion at the organization’s first Philippine live event last May 16 but was turned down.
However, Pacific Xtreme Combat expressed its interest to buy him out of his ONE contract to pair him with PXC featherweight champion Yusuke Yachi, said Kelly.
“We spoke with the UFC, and we’re told that there is no vacancy at the moment. But PXC expressed its interest to buy me out of my contract and put me into a title fight,” Kelly disclosed.
“Honestly, I do not know how many fights I still have to fight and up to when. We are still reaching out to ONE FC to see the actual contract and settle it once and for all,” Kelly said.
Kelly indicated that he does not intend to burn bridges and is not interested in pursuing legal action, but he is willing to reach an amicable settlement.
“I just want to finish what I need to do, so that ONE FC can say I have done nothing wrong and we have left with respect and dignity,” he ended.
Rappler tried to reach Cui for comment regarding the issue, but he has not released a statement as of this article’s publication.
On the other hand, PXC CEO EJ Calvo has chosen to keep mum on comments concerning Kelly. – Rappler.com