FILIPINO Eric Kelly was only part of the undercard, but put up a performance worthy of a main event.
The 30-year-old Kelly aced the toughest test of his career, outclassing mixed martial arts legend Jens Pulver in the One Fighting Championship: Pride of a Nation Friday night before a full-house crowd at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The Baguio-born fighter remained undefeated in eight fights as he scored a stoppage due to strikes with one minute and 46 seconds into the second round of his fight against Pulver, the first-ever United Fighting Championship lightweight champion.
Majority of Kelly’s seven victories were by way of submission, but on this night, the promising Filipino fighter showed the other facet of his game by flaunting his superior striking skills to the delight of the sizeable partisan crowd at the Big Dome.
“Nahiya ako matalo dito eh,” Kelly said in the post-match press conference.
Kelly also earned the respect of his opponent, who went as far as mentioning him in the same breath with the Philippines’ greatest athlete.
“He might be the Manny Pacquiao of MMA,” said the 37-year-old Pulver, who plans to move a weight class down in his next bout and is just two fights away from retirement.
The compliment was a huge honor coming from an MMA legend, but Kelly said he still has a lot to prove before being compared to a fighter of Pacquiao’s caliber.
“Siyempre Manny Pacquiao `yun. Malaking honor. Pero wala pa akong napatunayan para i-kumpara ako sa kanya,” he said.
With the impressive victory, the former taxi driver and stuntman immediately earned his first title shot in the featherweight division, curiously against another Filipino in Honorio Banario.
Banario also saw action in the first match, beating compatriot Andrew Benibe via a third-round knockout decision.
In the main event that was fought way past midnight, Bibiano Fernandes defeated Gustavo Falciroli via unanimous decision in a sleeper.
Also warming the hearts of the Pinoys was the same unanimous decision pulled off by local bet Eduard Folayang against Felipe Enomoto. Folayang, a former Southeast Asian Games gold medalist in wushu, improved his record to 12-2-2.
Folayang lived up to the hype of being the main Filipino attraction of the night as he knocked down his taller Swiss-Japanese opponent with a left kick late in the second round. The Filipino continued to pummel Enomoto with punches on the floor before the latter was saved by the bell.
Folayang faded a bit in the third, but did enough to earn the triumph, and a shot at the welterweight crown on Oct. 6 in One FC 6: Rise of the Kings in Singapore.
“He (Enomoto) was tough. The time wasn’t enough to finish him off,” Folayang said.
Meanwhile, the highly-anticipated showdown between heavyweights and former UFC champions Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski ended up in a no-contest following an illegal kick delivered by Arlovski to Sylvia's head before the end of the second round.
Brazilian Roles Gracie won via submission over Australian Tony Bonello at the 1:33 mark of the third round, Gregor Gracie also defeated Nicholas Menn via submission in the first round, but Igor Gracie lost to Korean Jung Hwan Cha via stoppage due to strikes in the third round as the Gracie family, whose predecessors founded the Brazilian jiu jit-su, failed to complete a sweep.
Phil Baroni, the `New York Badass', made short work of Rodrigo Ribiero in another technical knockout with a minute gone in the first round.
Korean Shannon Wiratchi scored a technical knockout over American Mitch Chilson two minutes into the second round. Another Korean, Soo Chul Kim beat hometown bet Kevin Belingon in a unanimous decision.
Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos