ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes (22-3) has recovered from a devastating injury that kept him on the sidelines, and now, he will return to the cage for his record-setting ninth title defense.
Belingon is no stranger to Fernandes. The pair met in the cage at ONE: DYNASTY OF CHAMPIONS (CHANGSHA) nearly three years ago, and the Brazilian is looking forward to renewing their rivalry on Friday, 9 November.
“Every match excites me. He has the power punch, he has the kick, and he sprawls very heavy, so [this bout] excites me,” the 38-year-old says.
“I know he’s going to try to make the fight stay standing up. I know the way he wants to fight me, and that’s a big thing.
“The only thing that will surprise me is if he tries to use jiu-jitsu against me. I know he’s going to try to [use his] stand-up, but I still beat all the people that try to do that with me. I’m very excited because I want to see how much I’ve improved from the last fight.”
Their first contest in January 2016 ended in a first-round submission victory for Fernandes.
Although he recognizes the Filipino has improved since then – as shown in his six consecutive wins – “The Flash” is confident he can repeat his success.
“He’s a pretty good fighter, but when I look back when I fought him last, I won within five minutes. He didn’t touch me. I kicked him, I punched him, I took him down, and I finished him,” the Brazilian explains.
“For sure, he improved, but I improved too, and I understand the improvement. I respect Kevin, but I don’t think his jiu-jitsu is going to be on my level.”
Fernandes’ last bout was against then-ONE Featherweight and Lightweight World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen at ONE: IRON WILL in March, and he defeated the Vietnamese-Australian by split decision.
Despite his victory, the Brazilian picked up an injury after throwing a number of heavy kicks, which kept him from defending his belt at ONE: REIGN OF KINGS in July against Belingon.
Instead, he was forced to sit on the sidelines while the Team Lakay representative defeated Nguyen for the interim belt in Manila, Philippines.
“The injury was my foot, but the recovery did not really take that long. After I hurt myself, ONE Championship wanted me to fight right away, two months later,” he recalls.
“I said I could not do that. I still needed to let my foot heal, and I had a letter from my doctor in Canada. They then did the interim title for Kevin and Martin, but I am happy that I get to fight the winner.”
“The Flash” was cageside to see Belingon’s success against Nguyen, so he got a close look at the improvements “The Silencer” has made in the past two and a half years.
Fernandes is wary of the Filipino’s world-class striking, as well as his ability to stay on his feet. However, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt believes his own stand-up skills are on par with his rival’s, and he will have a game plan to get the better of him.
“When I watch him, the only thing I think he really improved on was his sprawl. He now has a big sprawl,” the Brazilian says.
“He has that, and he comes with the nice punches and nice kicks. He’s good, but I know everything he’s going to try to do right now. If I look at the past, I hit him with more punches than he hit me in the last fight.”
If one thing is for sure, any time Fernandes and Belingon enter the ONE cage, excitement is practically guaranteed.
With stakes higher than ever for them in this World Champion versus World Champion title unification rematch, Fernandes knows – despite his previous success against him – he will not be in for an easy ride against his challenger, who has proved he is one of the world’s best mixed martial artists.
However, “The Flash” is confident he will be ready for whatever the interim titleholder throws at him.
“I’m ready for a good fight. I am ready for anything, but inside the cage, things can change,” he says. “We don’t know how the fight will go, so I will be ready for everything.”