Eric Kelly sports eight submissions among his 10 victories. | Photo: Martin Hocson/Sherdog.com
Editor’s note: In an effort to bring more attention to the global stage of mixed martial arts, this list does not focus on major North American-based promotions such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Bellator MMA and the World Series of Fighting.
One Fighting Championship featherweights are jockeying for position behind incumbent 145-pound titleholder Koji Oishi.
Eric Kelly and Rob Lisita will be at the forefront of the movement at One FC 18 “War of Dragons” on July 11 at the National Taiwan University Sports Center in Taipei City, Taiwan, as the two featherweight contenders duke it out with a possible title shot at stake. The event will air via online pay-per-view in North America.
A Universal Reality Combat Championship titleholder, Kelly started his career a perfect 9-0 -- his run included a technical knockout victory over former UFC lightweight boss Jens Pulver -- before he suffered a TKO loss to Honorio Banario in a showdown for the vacant One FC featherweight strap in 2013. He last fought at a URCC show in November, when he submitted Chinese kickboxer Jianbo Lu with a first-round armbar at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay, Philippines. The 32-year-old Filipino standout barely broke a sweat against Lu, as he corralled him on the ropes, moved to the ground and achieved mount before locking down the armbar. Kelly has secured eight of his 10 career wins by submission.
Lisita will carry a four-fight winning streak into the match. The 31-year-old Australian dazzled in his promotional debut at One FC 15, where he needed all of 28 seconds to take care of business against Yusuke Kawanago. A Phuket Top Team representative, Lisita in December became the first man to ever submit “Lion” Takeshi Inoue, as he dispatched the two-time Shooto champion with a second-round bulldog choke at a Rebel Fighting Championship event in Singapore.
The Kelly-Lisita clash is but one under-the-radar matchup worth monitoring during the month of July. Here are nine more:
Extreme Fighting Championship Africa 31
July 3 | Johannesburg, South Africa
Pena looks to become a two-division EFC Africa titleholder when he challenges Zulu for bantamweight gold. The youngest champion in EFC Africa history at 21, he relinquished the promotion’s featherweight crown in downshifting to 135 pounds. Now 24, Pena has rattled off eight straight wins to start his professional career. Zulu will enter the match on a five-fight unbeaten streak. The South African striker last fought at EFC Africa 27 in February, when he wiped out Charlie Weyer with punches 3:34 into the first round of their encounter.
The Hill Fighters 2
July 4 | Gramado, Brazil
Nearing the conclusion of a long and successful career that dates back to 1994, Gono will take his second turn inside The Hill Fighters organization. The 39-year-old Japanese veteran has won fights in the UFC, Pride Fighting Championships, Sengoku, Shooto and Pancrase, and he owns victories over onetime Bellator champion Hector Lombard and onetime Strikeforce titleholder Gegard Mousasi. Gono broke back into the win column for the first time in more than four years in May, when he choked Eduardo Garvon unconscious with a third-round arm-triangle in Brazil. De Jesus saw his modest two-fight winning streak grind to an emphatic halt in February, when he was felled by an Alex Sandro Alves head kick.
One FC 18 “War of Dragons”
July 11 | Taipei, Taiwan
Ando crosses over to One Fighting Championship following a productive stint in the Legend Fighting Championship organization. The 29-year-old Japanese judoka has won three fights in a row and six of his last seven. Ando last fought under the Legend FC banner in April 2013, when an ankle injury suffered by Jadamba Narantungalag resulted in a technical knockout victory for “The Commander” and brought him the company’s lightweight title. A promising Brazilian export, the unbeaten Nunes has finished his past nine opponents, five of them inside one round.
Grandslam MMA “Way of the Cage”
July 13 | Tokyo
Phan’s tenuous foothold in the Ultimate Fighting Championship finally gave way following his unanimous decision loss to Vaughan Lee at UFC Fight Night “Kim vs. Hathaway” in March. A semifinalist on Season 12 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” the 31-year-old Californian’s last eight fights, six of which have been losses, have gone the distance. Ito, 38, has spent the majority of his career competing within the Zst promotion. He last appeared in April, when he rebounded from a technical knockout loss to Koji Mori and submitted Seio Yamada with a second-round leg scissor choke in his native Japan.
Legacy Fighting Championship 33
July 18 | Allen, Texas
Garcia has made clear his desire to return to the UFC for its debut in Mexico later this year. Whether or not those wishes are granted remains to be seen. In the meantime, the Jackson-Wink MMA representative will put his Legacy Fighting Championship featherweight title on the line for the first time. Garcia has rattled off three consecutive victories since exiting the UFC on the heels of five straight losses in April 2013. Jackson, a 25-year-old Octagon MMA prospect, has finished each of his first eight professional foes, six of them by submission.
Xtreme Kombat 24
July 19 | Naucalpan, Mexico
One of MMA’s most decorated and respected grapplers, Magalhaes has yet to put it all together on center stage. He has gone 1-4 in his five Ultimate Fighting Championship appearances, losing to Ryan Bader, Eliot Marshall, Phil Davis and Anthony Perosh, the latter the result of an embarrassing 14-second knockout at UFC 163. At 29, the 2011 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist and former M-1 Global light heavyweight champion now returns to the regional circuit. Will the move prove beneficial? Gonzales has finished all six of his fights in the first round.
Resurrection Fighting Alliance 16
July 25 | Broomfield, Colo.
Once-beaten bantamweights meet in this title eliminator. Mercado, a 29-year-old Elevation Fight Team representative, wrestled collegiately at Northwestern University and cut his MMA teeth inside the Ring of Combat and Cage Fury Fighting Championships organizations. Mercado has banked seven of his 11 career wins by decision. Murphy last fought at a Fight Club OC event in April, when he walked away with a split decision over Victory Henry in Costa Mesa, Calif. He made one appearance under the World Series of Fighting banner a little more than a year ago, losing a unanimous verdict to Carson Beebe.
Road Fighting Championship 16
July 26 | Gumi, South Korea
Miranda won his first five fights before a submission loss to Jose Lucas Fabiano de Melo slowed his ascent in 2013. The 24-year-old Tiger Muay Thai representative dipped his toe in Road Fighting Championship waters for the first time in April, when he stopped Won-Gi Kim on second-round punches. A former Spirit Martial Challenge champion, Lee, 27, owns knockout victories over A-Sol Kwon (twice) and current UFC bantamweight Kyung Ho Kang but has fought just three times since 2008.
Deep “Nagoya Impact 2014: Kobudo Fight”
July 27 | Nagoya, Japan
A former World Extreme Cagefighting champion, Beebe has led something of a vagabond existence of late, as he has competed in 15 different promotions since exiting the WEC in 2008. The 29-year-old Jackson-Wink MMA export will debut in the Deep promotion with a troubling four-fight losing streak in tow. Beebe last fought in March, when his bid to capture Victory Fighting Championship gold failed in a unanimous decision loss to Ryan Roberts. Akao, 29, has been a fixture in Deep since 2007.