Eric Kelly stopped “Ruthless” Rob Lisita with a rear naked choke 3 minutes, 40 seconds into the second round of their bout to position himself for a shot at the ONE Fighting Championship’s featherweight title, while Taiwanese heavyweight contender Paul “The Typhoon” Cheng emerged victorious from a grueling war with Egypt’s Mahmoud Hassan at ONE FC’s first event in Taiwan on Friday night.
The fights were watched by a boisterous, near-capacity crowd at the 4,200-seat National Taiwan University Sports Center in Taipei and broadcast to more than 70 countries.
The two other Taiwanese fighters on the card also posted victories, with Hsinchu-based mixed martial arts pioneer Sung Ming-yen returning to the cage for the first time in two-and-a-half years to choke out Singapore’s Nick Lee 1:10 into the first round, and Taipei’s Jeff Huang scoring a first-round TKO over seven-time Indian national Muay Thai champion Bela Shetty.
In the co-main event, Koji Ando handed Brazil’s Rafael Nunes his first defeat, stopping the fight only 1:43 into the opening round by rear naked choke.
The main event featherweight clash between Kelly, of the Philippines, and Australian Lisita was a compelling, closely fought, back-and-forth affair.
There was no feeling-out process, with the aggressive Lisita getting off to an explosive start by connecting with a lead right hand only seconds after the bell and following it up with a left hook.
The fighters clinched and traded knees before going to the ground, where Lisita dominated through much of the round.
Near the end of the round, Kelly came on, taking Lisita’s back, where he attempted a rear naked choke, the technique with which he had won five of his 10 victories before this fight. Lisita escaped the choke and regained his feet, and the round ended with the two again trading knees in the clinch.
The second round began as aggressively as the first, with the two trading punches before going to the ground, where Lisita took Kelly’s back. Blood began pooling beneath the fighters, with Kelly having suffered an apparent broken nose. Kelly seemed to be in trouble, but managed to slip back through Lisita’s legs and reverse the position, taking the Australian’s back. Referee Yuji Shimada called time out to allow the ring physician to examine Kelly’s nose, which had both fighters and the canvas covered in blood.
Action resumed with the fighters put back in position, with Kelly on Lisita’s back, but Lisita worked his way free, made his feet and landed a front kick that snapped the Filipino’s head back.
The fighters clinched, trading knees until Kelly took Lisita down with a leg trip. Lisita gained side control, then took the Filipino’s back, but Kelly engineered a stunning reversal, moving into a half-mount before taking Lisita’s back and sinking a rear naked choke to submit the Australian.
The win improved Kelly’s record to 11-1-0, while Lisita’s fell to 14-6-0. Kelly also earned a US$50,000 bonus that ONE FC chief executive Victor Cui has started offering to the outstanding fighter of the night.
The main event disappointed no one, but for many of those in attendance, the real main event was probably Taipei-born Taiwanese-Canadian heavyweight Cheng’s epic battle with former Egyptian national boxing champion Hassan.
Cheng, who is vying to become the first-ever Asian heavyweight world champion, electrified the crowd as he made his entrance, with he and his team wearing “Made in Taiwan” T-shirts and bearing the national flag on his trunks, although they did not carry a large flag with them to the ring as Cheng had originally envisioned.