Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Eric Kelly: Natural Born Fighter

This appears on

Eric Kelly: Natural Born Fighter

by rick olivares

Eric Kelly has been fighting all his life. If it isn’t some foe inside the octagon, it’s that biggest foe no one can ever seem to lick – poverty.

Rick: Why do you fight?
Eric: I fight to put food on the table. For my family to live a life.

On February 2, Kelly will be fighting for the One Fighting Championship Featherweight title at the Putra Indoor Stadium in Kula Lumpur, Malaysia. It will be his third mixed martial’s arts fight in seven months. Only this one is against fellow Filipino and URCC lightweight champion, Honorio Banario. And it’s going to be the main event of the evening.

Kelly initially balked at the match-up for a couple of reasons. First, he refuses to fight a fellow Filipino. However, when he learned that Banario readily accepted the challenge, he then signed up for it. He is also banking on Banario’s octagon rust. Banario’s last fight was in August of 2012. Kelly has had two fights in that time.

Second, he wanted to take some time off and let his body heal. After all he fought twice in the last five months.

But he needs to put food on the table. He has a family to feed and children to send to school.

Eric fights in the featherweight division while Banario is a lightweight. And Banario is taller, heavier, and has a longer reach. Furthermore, Banario is seven years Kelly’s junior.

But Kelly is used to difficult odds.

He started out as a boxer. He won his first fight before he switched to wushu after his manager left with much of his initial earnings. Only on the wushu national team, it was more of the same – treated like some street dog and left to fend for himself. Kelly got injured but there was no support whatsoever from team management. It taught him a valuable lesson to put his faith in no one but himself. As for the hard times? They only made him more resilient. Kelly vowed never to go back to those dark days when even hope was in short supply.

Rick: What do you think of when you see Luneta Park?
Eric: I used to sleep there. On the bench with discarded newspapers to serve as a blanket and a mattress. In the cold and in the summer heat.

Kelly learned how to ride a jeep or a bus and not pay for the fare. He ate at carinderias and when he finished, he apologized for not having money to pay for the food. A few understood but most did not. He endured every insult, expletive, and dagger look that came his way. His swallowing his pride was sometimes enough to stave off his hunger.

Kelly drove a cab. Worked as a bodyguard. As a movie stuntman. He tried and did everything. “I’m a jack-of-all-trades,” he laughs at those distant memories. “You do what you can to survive. And oh, and I was a salad chef (at Shangri-La Hotel)”.

Rick: We should call you “The Chef”.
Eric: I’m okay with “The Natural”.

Rick: Why are you called “The Natural”?
Eric: The truth? I like the nickname. (laughs) Pero, puro mga natural lang na gamot para sa akin. Walang mga chemicals o mga preservatives. Hindi nakabubuti sa katawan yan.
Rick: Natural born fighter.
Eric: Gusto ko yan. (laughs) Natural born fighter.

The only thing not natural about Eric Kelly is his surname.

Born Eric James Killi, his father thought Americanizing his surname would make him more palatable for fight promotions. The lad agreed.

Eric: No, I am not a Fil-American. I am not a GI baby. I am 100% Pinoy.

At this point, his fight record is still 100% perfect. He has nine fights and nine wins. The man he is fighting is less than perfect but no less dangerous. Banario totes a 7-1 record.

Rick: The win streak, is there pressure keeping it going or do you take it one match at a time?
Eric: Syempre malaking bagay yung wala pang talo. May pressure manalo at ituloy yung streak. Pero tinignan ko sa mas simpleng paraan – yung kalaban ko ay hadlang sa aking pangkabuhayan.

His first six fights lasted only a round. Kelly’s last three? Either they went two rounds or the distance.

Rick: Opponents are now really preparing for you.
Eric: Yes. But all I see are people who are a threat to my livelihood. I will fight them and win.

Natural born fighter.

He likes the sound of that.

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