Bibiano Fernandes’ five-year run as the One Championship bantamweight titleholder came to an unexpected end in November. Now four months removed from his controversial split decision loss to Kevin Belingon, “The Flash” has designs on avenging the loss in a trilogy bout with the Lakay MMA star at One Championship “A New Era” on March 31 in Tokyo.
Fernandes, 38, remains perplexed by the result of his rematch with Belingon. Over five competitive rounds, he landed seven takedowns, attempted several fight-ending submissions and thinks he held his own in standup exchanges with the Filipino Wushu champion. Fernandes believes a pro-Belingon crowd could have swayed the judges’ scorecards.
“Every time he did something, the people went crazy,” he told Sherdog. “I almost finished it three times, but the people would go crazy because he escaped. The fans on that day affected the judges, in my honest opinion. Was it a close fight? Yes. I’m not saying it [was not] a close fight, but I did more to win. I pushed the fight. I tried to make the fight happen. If you watch the fifth round, he ran a lot.
“He’s a good fighter -- very tough [and] a strong kid -- but I watched after the fight. He could not leave the cage. People had to help him,” Fernandes added. “I lost the fight? How?”
Not only was his five-year reign as champion halted, but the defeat snapped a 14-fight winning streak that spanned nearly eight years. Still, the setback did nothing to shake Fernandes’ confidence, as he chooses instead to see it as just another moment in a long career.
“It [hasn’t] affected me,” he said. “I have to understand that I lost. I have to move forward. I have to be strong, mentally [and] emotionally. That’s the life. [Someone] has to win, and [someone] has to lose. I understand that. The thing is, it doesn’t matter the skills you have, it doesn’t matter what you do, if your mind’s not [right]. The most important [thing is my] mind right now, how I feel [and] my motivation. For this [third fight against Belingon], I am very motivated.”
As Fernandes and Belingon close in on their third meeting, the former champion has spent his training camp correcting the mistakes he believes led to his first defeat since December 2010. Having submitted Belingon in their first encounter in 2016, Fernandes was impressed with the strides his counterpart made in the grappling department. It was clear from his performance in the rematch that Belignon had shored up some weaknesses.
“He held me very well, [and] every time I tried to move, he escaped,” Fernandes said. “The [timing on] transitions he did very well, but now I understand what he’s doing.”
The AMC Pankration representative also feels as though he gained an understanding of Belingon’s striking style -- an opportunity he was not afforded the first time they fought.
“Now I understand the way he fights standup,” Fernandes said. “He throws the kick, and he runs away. He’ll throw the right hand, and he’ll run; and I tried chasing him too much. [There are a few] adjustments I have to do [so] I can mix it better for the next fight.”
When reflecting on his strategic errors, Fernandes points to the need for a more measured approach.
“In a fight, you have to have patience, and on that day, I did not have patience,” he said. “In the next fight, I think I am going to have more patience, for sure, because I did everything right [with my] jiu-jitsu. I almost finished it like three times, but I think I rushed a little bit. My timing was a little off.”
Fernandes trains to push the fight aggressively in all phases -- a tactic that worked for him in his first bout with Belingon but seemingly worked against him in the rematch. Though he plans to make the necessary adjustments, the Brazilian will turn 39 the day before One Championship “A New Era.” If Fernandes were to suffer a second straight defeat, it would mark the first time that has occurred since 2017, when he lost consecutive bouts to former World Extreme Cagefighting champion Urijah Faber and Japanese legend Norifumi Yamamoto. While age figures to become more and more of a factor, the multiple-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion has no immediate plans to retire.
“I don’t see the end of my career anytime soon, but everything in life is about how motivated you are [and] how you train with the young [fighters],” Fernandes said. “If you’re still training in the gym and still good there, why stop?”
A veteran of 26 professional mixed martial arts bouts, he enjoys plying his trade under the One Championship flag in Asia, a market in which he has spent the majority of his career competing. Despite being offered a three-fight deal by the Ultimate Fighting Championship prior to agreeing to terms with his current employer, Fernandes preferred the Singapore-based organization’s promotional style -- a style based on traditional martial arts ideologies, not the self-promoting ways often exercised by fighters in the UFC.
“I wondered what direction I wanted to go,” he said. “I don’t want to talk s--- about my opponent. I come from jiu-jitsu, and our sport [is about] respect. I don’t want to play up the drama. I like on the day of the fight to say, ‘You’re good? Let’s see how good you are.’ I know I don’t need to sell myself, because I know I always put on a good fight. Money is good. Money helps me pay my taxes and helps me take care of my kids, but in life, you have limits, and [there are] some limits you don’t want to cross.”