There was an air of anxiety just last night when Eric Kelly (11-1) locked horns with Rob Lisita (14-6) in the main event of ONE FC 18: War of Dragons in Taipei, Taiwan.
The swell of momentum was clearly in Lisita’s stride. He was widely regarded as the best Featherweight fighter in Asia, and all he needed to do was go into a fight with a dormant Kelly and knock him out senseless. While Kelly did rise up to be a formidable opponent, the sheer thought of Lisita losing seemed about as realistic as an Ed Wood film.
Kelly had only fought once in seventeen months, after an eye injury prematurely ended his tussle with then champ, Honorio Banario. Lisita, on the other hand, had won three-straight fights during that spell with all the bouts ending in stoppages.
Everybody had their pennies nicely tucked onto the 31-year-old and for good reason – he was the odds-on favorite to get the victory.
And mind you, everyone were proven right in the first round when Kelly struggled to come to terms with Lisita’s style. Lisita’s combination of precision, output and power overwhelmed his Filipino counterpart and that seemingly had him ahead on the field.
Kelly ate two partially blocked soccer kicks and even found himself defending a North South Choke at one point, but did enough to escape. The Australian had a heel hook attempt midway through the stanza, only for Kelly to defend it once again. As the fight progressed on their feet, Kelly still came second best in all the exchanges. The only time the 32-year-old had any proper offense going was the close Rear-Naked Choke maneuver he had on Lisita at the end of the round, but time was lamentably against him on that occasion. Lisita might have thought he was cruising, knowing he had the fight in the bag if he continued to keep up the pace.
Early in the second round, the frantic action continued with both fighters heading into the clinch, but a striking exchange left Kelly bleeding profusely, possibly because of a broken nose. Lisita, though, showed no signs of slowing down.
At this stage, understandably, a lot of people felt it was just inevitable, that we had to sit out for one more round before Lisita got his hands raised and was announced as the number one contender to champ Koji Oishi’s 145-lbs throne. Kelly was still being outpointed with power shots and survived yet another submission scare when Lisita had his back.
Referee Yuji Shimada then drew a halt to the contest, for the cageside doctors to assess the extent of Kelly’s nose injury. This gave the Filipino fighter a much needed break from his opponent’s continuous onslaught, although he knew all too well he needed to conjure a Hail Mary to walk away from the tilt with a victory.
Then after the reset, something crazy happened. Lisita timely stuffed a takedown attempt and found himself in side control, before maneuvering to Kelly’s back. But the Filipino fighter dodged yet another bullet, managing to escape and taking the Australian’s back in the process instead. Now, it came down to a matter of whether Lisita had enough in the tank to defend the choke. Kelly, though, neatly slipped his right hand beneath Lisita’s neck, before clasping hard onto his left hand. This was insanity, as Lisita tried hard to escape but couldn’t. And then, he tapped. Bathed in blood and battered with a broken nose, Kelly took to his feet and raised in hands, rightly so, emphatically.
There was just pure disbelief in the venue, and the masses worldwide were stunned. Everyone gasped, their hands in the air, mouths agape because up until that point, Lisita never looked like losing.
The truth was that the thought of impossibility never crossed Kelly’s mind once. Lisita had waves of impetus under his belt and was rising well to the top of the food chain, but Kelly overcame what seemed to be the impossible and against all odds, garnered himself a well deserved victory.
He even notched himself a hefty US$50,000 cheque as part of the ‘ONE Warrior Bonus‘ for his ‘Fight of the Night’ worthy performance which was, in my humble opinion, rightfully warranted.
“For me, I just come here to test my skill,” Kelly said in his post-fight interview. “If I can push myself to [defeat] Rob, he’s a tough guy but I’m a fighter. I will try to do my best even if I cannot punch, I cannot walk, I cannot fight, but I can still get punched, still kick, so I’ll still be fighting.”
For full ONE FC 18: War of Dragons results, click here.