Filipino mixed martial arts (MMA) veteran Eric “The Natural” Kelly has been competing as a featherweight since he started his prizefighting stint eight years ago in the flourishing Philippine combat scene.
After spending most of his career as a featherweight with 15 professional bouts, Kelly decided to venture into a new territory as he moves up in another weight class.
The 35-year-old native of Baguio City, Benguet makes his lightweight debut against Japanese MMA legend Kotetsu “No Face” Boku on the undercard of ONE: KINGS & CONQUERORS, which takes place at the glamorous Cotai Arena of The Venetian Macao in Macao, China.
Kelly sees his jump to ONE Championship’s 77.1-kilogram weight class as a new chapter in his illustrious run as a world-class MMA athlete.
“It’s a new beginning for me. It’s somehow a permanent move since this is my walking weight. We have to abide by the weigh-in rules of the company. I am comfortable with the weight,” he said.
“I am excited to be in this new journey. I hope everything will turn our great for me as a lightweight,” Kelly added.
Although Kelly’s last two outings as a featherweight competitor resulted to throbbing setbacks inside the ONE Championship cage, he looks to erase the painful memory by picking up a statement-making victory over Boku in his maiden assignment as a lightweight.
“It’s been a year since the last time that I fought. I am looking forward to put on a great performance for my beloved country. I have been training hard and going through strategies. I hope to give my 110 percent inside the ONE Championship cage in Macao. I am coming to win,” he stated.
Fighting fire with fire
Even if Boku presents too much danger in the striking department, Kelly has no qualms when it comes to trading kicks and punches with the highly-touted Japanese combatant.
With more than 30 professional matches on his resume, Boku has the experience of a seasoned veteran and has seen it all whether it is inside the cage or the ring.
Always a crowd pleaser, Boku utilizes his dynamic boxing background with well-regarded grappling arsenal to subdue his opponents.
“To tell you honestly, I am in a very tough fight. It’s nerve-wracking in a sense, but I am ready to accept the challenge,” Kelly said about the marquee match-up. “I want to trade strikes with my opponent. He is dangerous in that aspect, but I can see some loopholes.”
Kelly asserted that he has a fair share of knowledge in terms of delivering blows from a toe-to-toe stance.
“I might be known for my submission wins, but I also have striking in my skill-set,” he reminded.
Before becoming an MMA fighter, Kelly was first introduced to Yaw-Yan, a Filipino style of kickboxing with emphasis on hip-torquing motion and delivering attacks from long range as well as the downward-cutting nature of its kicks.
After mastering Yaw-Yan, Kelly then transitioned to Wushu Sanshou, where he represented the Philippines in various international tournaments from 2001 to 2004.
When Kelly started his MMA career in 2009, he has been heavily regarded as a submission specialist, owning nine triumphs by way of forcing his foes to tap.
Kelly seeks to test his leverage over Boku, who tasted five of his 11 career losses by way of submission.
“I am prepared wherever the fight goes. If there’s chance to submit him, I will submit him. If there’s an opportunity to knock him out, I will go for it,” he bared.
Resorting to his bread-and-butter is stylistically the obvious option for Kelly, but he sets his sights on a knockout win.
The last time that Kelly knocked out an opponent was in August 2012 when he stopped former UFC lightweight titleholder Jens Pulver in the second round with a left roundhouse kick to the body.
“I am looking for statement win this time around. Knocking him out will be an accomplishment because he is a good fighter and a tough opponent,” Kelly stressed.
While championship gold has always been his ultimate goal, he does not want to rush into it like he would when he was younger.
Instead, Kelly wants to earn it one match at a time, and that quest begins on 5 August by defeating Boku at ONE: KINGS & CONQUERORS.
“A world title can wait. Right now, I have to redeem myself in front of my countrymen and cement my status as one of the best lightweights on the planet today. I might be 35 years old, but I am not giving up. I am here to stay,” he ended.