Bathed in his own blood and hampered by a badly broken nose, Filipino featherweight contender Eric Kelly nonetheless summoned the strength to overcome Rob Lisita, capping off ONE FC 18's main event with a gutty second-round rear-naked choke finish on Friday night in Taipei, Taiwan.
Kelly (11-1) did his best to keep pace with the Australian's high-pressure style throughout the opening five minutes, but things took a turn for the worse early in the second frame, as Lisita (14-6) cracked Kelly with a hard shot that burst open the floodgates from his nose. In dire straits, with blood pouring like a faucet from his battered face, Kelly managed to twist free from danger not just once, but twice, first sneaking out the backdoor as Lisita hunted for a rear-naked choke, then scrambling out of Lisita's side control to lunge onto a gorgeous no-hook rear-naked choke of his own.
Stunned by the sudden reversal of fortune, an incredulous Lisita had no choice but to tap out at 3:43 of the second round, giving Kelly a win in his first ONE FC appearance since an early-2013 eye injury prematurely ended his title bid against then-champion Honorio Banario.
"For me, I just come here to test my skill," Kelly said afterward. "If I can push myself to [beat] 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."
In the night's co-main event, Japanese lightweight Koji Ando (10-3-2) needed less than two minutes to topple Rafael Nunes (10-1) from the ranks of the unbeaten. Ando defended an early takedown attempt then scrambled onto Nunes' back, seamlessly locking in both hooks and sinking in a fight-ending rear-naked choke to put a bow on his ONE FC debut. The official time of the finish came at 1:43 of the opening round.
"I'm just so happy. ONE FC is the best promotion in the world," Ando said through a translator.
"I can't say that I'm ready for the championship. I'm just going to continue to win and the champion is going to see that he wants to fight me."
Elsewhere on the card, former bantamweight title challenger Koetsu Okazaki (10-3-1) made a strong case for another championship bid, stopping Yusup Saadulaev (12-4-1, 1 NC) via second-round TKO in a wild affair. Saadulaev took the early advantage in round one, scrambling into top control, nearly securing an arm triangle, then ending the period in full mount. But Okazaki kept the pressure on and snatched Saadulaev's back after a fantastic grappling exchange, then flattened his opponent out and rained down punches, coaxing a stoppage 4:21 into the second frame for his second straight win under the ONE FC banner.
American prospect Jake Butler (4-1) did what he does best in his light heavyweight tilt against Mohamed Ali (9-7), as Butler took the fight to the mat and methodically wore down his opponent before securing a third-round TKO stoppage. The former NNCA standout worked from top control for a majority of all three rounds, splitting open a wide gash below Ali's left eye in the first period then slowly painting the canvas crimson with the Egyptian's blood. The end came 1:21 into the final frame, as Butler held down Ali's neck with his right hand then rained down punches from mount with his left.
Local Taiwanese product and former CFL defensive tackle Paul Cheng (5-1) overcame a ridiculously damaged right eye to outlast Mahmoud Hassan (1-4), who retired between the second and third round of the pair's heavyweight contest. Both men looked to slug it out early, but Cheng got the worst of it and instead dove on a desperation takedown. He spent the remainder of the first round raining down progressively slower punches onto Hassan from back control, then followed the same exhaustive script from mount in the second round, ultimately forcing Hassan's corner to intervene between rounds and stop the fight.
"I was going to take Hassan down and pound him," said Cheng, whose right orbital bone was most likely shattered during the brawl. "He's tougher than I thought, dude. Give it up for him.
"He was getting tired. I was too. Tough guy, good match."
In a rematch of a May 30 contest that ended prematurely due to an accidental groin strike, heavyweight prospect and former professional basketball player Chi Lewis Parry (6-0, 1 NC) made short work of Alain Ngalani (1-2, 1 NC), stopping the sculpted Cameroonian late in the first round with a vicious series of elbows from half guard. Ngalani secured an inside trip early in the opening frame then immediately passed into mount, however Parry, the lanky 6-foot-9 former basketball bigman whose reach eclipses even that of Jon Jones', swept into half guard, postured up and knocked Ngalani's lights out with a relentless salvo at 4:11 of the first round.
For more on ONE FC 18: War of Dragons, check out complete event results here.