ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes has made quite a legacy for himself.
The 37-year-old Brazilian is riding a 13-bout win streak, has not lost a match since December 2010, and is constantly setting and extending new records in ONE Championship.
Most importantly, he will be involved in the most historic bout in the company’s history.
This coming Saturday, 24 March, he will make his unprecedented eighth ONE World Title defense against ONE Featherweight and Lightweight World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen at ONE: IRON WILL.
Fernandes, should he win, would own the sole record for most victories in ONE history at ten, and cement his legacy as the greatest bantamweight martial arts competitor of all-time.
“It is about challenges for me,” he says. “For me, Nguyen is a challenge, and I need more challenges coming to me. Let’s see how good he is, let’s see how tough he is, let’s see how good his skills are. I want to see that.”
Witnessing this match is a delight within itself. But also, witnessing Fernandes’ life journey to this moment is remarkable, too. Miraculous, even.
After all, he has endured more tragedy and heartbreak than any child ever should.
Discovering Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Fernandes’ childhood was tough, to say the least.
Growing up in Manaus, Amazonas, his mother passed away when he was just 7 years of age. His father could not provide for the family, so he pushed “The Flash” and his five siblings to live with their aunt deep in the Amazon Jungle, where they had to hunt and feed off the land to survive. There, he contracted malaria, and nearly died.
Although times were grim, he somehow maintained a positive outlook on life.
“In the jungle, I always thought, ‘I can do better,’” he explains. “I had to get water, I had to help my aunt, I had to get the food and check on the fish. I had to do my job. Am I better than everybody? No. But I saw things differently.”
Nearly three years after he sent his children away, Fernandes’ father would rescue “The Flash” from the jungle. He helped nurse his son to full health, and moved him back into the residence in Manaus.
Nonetheless, money was tight, and that led a teenage Bibiano to working odd jobs to help pay the bills.
One afternoon, however, his life would be altered forever. While cleaning car windows, he stumbled upon a nearby martial arts gym that was teaching Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Fernandes’ interest was piqued, and he instantly fell in love with the “gentle art.”
Unfortunately, he could not afford a gym membership.
“I told the coach, ‘Listen, I do not have any money for training, I do not think I can train,’” he recollects. But fortunately, to his surprise, his coach understood, and made him a deal.
“He told me, ’It is ok, just clean the gym.’ I went every day, cleaning the gym and helping him. I focused on jiu-jitsu and I met a lot of people. It is a community. It is because of my past that I am here today.”
Fernandes excelled at the discipline, and earned his black belt in 2002. In addition to that, he became a decorated grappler, as he won several major titles during his BJJ career. This included three IBJJF World Championships and three Pan American Championships, all in the black belt division.
Simply put, the “gentle art” transformed him completely.
“Jiu-jitsu is very important for the mind,” he begins. “It is very important for the body. I believe that jiu-jitsu helped me a lot. It is self-discipline.
“You need to have confidence in life for everything — for you to drive your car, for you to walk on the street, for you to speak to a girl – anything in life, and jiu-jitsu can give you that.”
The Hunger For More
Another thing jiu-jitsu gave him was a terrific base for his transition into full martial arts competition.
Fernandes made a successful professional debut in October 2004 with a 31-second rear-naked choke victory. Despite stumbling in his next two bouts to a pair of legends, “The Flash” soon found a way to put all of his skills together.
He relocated to Vancouver, Canada, where he linked up with the Revolution Fight Team. There, he learned the importance of being a well-rounded martial artist, and added a stand-up element to his game.
“Bill Mahood helped me a lot. [He told me] when you are stuck in the cage, do not try to rush [the finish] and get out. You need to gain more knowledge inside the cage,” the Brazilian recalls.
“I said ok, when I get in there, I compete. I did not try to rush for the finish. I was also beginning to evolve my stand-up. But if Bill never said that to me, maybe I would have tried to rely on my jiu-jitsu forever. He told me that I needed to enjoy myself in the cage.
“Now when I go in the cage, I try to see what my opponent has. I can see the punches coming, and if I can finish him here, or there.”
That advice, and much needed improvement, led him to becoming a two-division DREAM Champion, and ultimately the ONE Bantamweight World Champion in 2013, a title which he flawlessly defends to this day.
Even at age 37, Fernandes continues to impress. In his most recent title defense last August, he made an example out of Bali MMA’s Andrew Leone. The Brazilian relentlessly attacked his rival, dropped him with powerful strikes, and submitted him with an airtight rear-naked choke in under two minutes.
Clearly, the bantamweight world champion has not lost sight of his mission.
“A lot of people, when they reach a different level, lose their focus. They think because they are a champion they can enjoy their life or slack off. I do not think like that. I think I can be better today, I can be better tomorrow, I can be better the next day,” he explains.
The Family He Always Wanted
Fernandes has maintained his focus, and is more motivated than ever before. But a big reason for that is four very special people — his wife and three sons.
“I know if I work hard and take care of myself, then I can take care of my family,” the champion says. “I am blessed because I got an opportunity to be a father. I can coach, and I can take care of my kids. That’s a blessing.”
His family is extra special to him, because his own life was never stable during his childhood.
When he reflects on his adolescence, Fernandes easily remembers how tough and difficult it was. Essentially, he was raised in a broken home. The family was poor, his mother passed away, he and his siblings were abandoned by their father in the jungle, and he mopped floors in exchange for jiu-jitsu lessons.
Now, as a dad and a martial arts world champion, the Brazilian can provide his children with the life he never had, and he is driven to make the world a better place for them.
“If your dad is an alcoholic, that does not mean you have to be an alcoholic. You teach your kids. Life is not built on the past – it is in the moment how you want to guide your kids,” he says. “We can be better. We can do better. We can keep improving each other, and we can evolve.”
Fernandes will attempt to show his evolution this coming weekend against Nguyen at ONE: IRON WILL. Not only is he defending the bantamweight world title, but also his legacy and livelihood.
“It is my job,” he says. “I go there and I have to work, because if I work, I can bring food home for my kids.”
Bangkok | 24 March | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onewill18