A long-time rivalry comes to a head at ONE: A NEW ERA in Tokyo, Japan this weekend, as Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon and Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes look to settle the score in an epic trilogy match.
The two men have met twice before and have a win each in ONE Bantamweight World Title bouts. Their final match on Sunday, 31 March will decide who wins their series, and who is their division’s undisputed king.
Fernandes enters a World Title match as the challenger for the first time since 2013 following his record-setting run as World Champion, while Belingon is determined to solidify his status as the best bantamweight on the planet after a closely-contested victory back in November.
Here are the four key factors that could be the difference between these two warriors at the Ryogoku Kokugikan on Sunday.
“The Silencer’s” Sensational Striking Power
“The Silencer” is the most explosive athlete in the bantamweight division. He has shown that in the world’s largest martial arts organization with six knockouts and a string of other high-octane performances.
Even when he has not stopped his opposite number, they have all felt the power of his strikes – including Fernandes, who was sent to the canvas by a right hand at the tail end of their last bout in Singapore.
The Baguio City native learned how to deliver a dazzling array of strikes in his time as a wushu practitioner, so “The Flash” has to pay close attention to every movement to try and decipher what attack could be next.
Belingon has concussive punching power in each hand, spearlike side kicks, thudding low kicks, and a devastating spinning back kick.
The Team Lakay superstar can hurt his opponents from any angle, and at any point in a match-up – from the first second to the last – so the Brazilian has to stay switched on for the full 25 minutes.
“The Flash’s” Forward Pressure
Fernandes does not have the same dynamic striking repertoire as Belingon, but the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu specialist has worked diligently on improving his stand-up skills throughout his career.
Now, his boxing makes him a match for most mixed martial artists on the planet. His long reach and physical strength make his straight right hand his most dangerous weapon, and he combines it with unrelenting forward pressure to land punches while he waits for openings to attack for takedowns.
No man has ever been able to knock out “The Flash” in his 15-year career at the highest level, so he has the faith in his chin to walk his opponent down and wait for the right opportunity to unleash a flurry or shoot to bring the contest into his world.
Belingon’s Explosive Defense
Like many of his Team Lakay stablemates, Belingon is a compact and muscular specimen, who has worked hard on his defensive wrestling and grappling.
His stocky frame and strength make him well equipped to sprawl and stop takedowns. When his opponents struggle to put him on the mat, they often try to clinch, where he uses his strength to dig for underhooks and negate their advances.
Even when he is grounded, “The Silencer” is difficult to contain. Though his escapes are not subtle, they are effective – he explodes and bridges or rolls to force a scramble.
That means even when he is caught in a submission, he can break free. His heart and durability push him through the most difficult moments before he bursts back into a bout. Fernandes was the last man to submit him way back in 2016, but Belingon foiled all of his attempts in their second encounter.
Fernandes’ Overwhelming Top Game
“The Flash” is a cerebral martial artist who dominated the ONE bantamweight division for five years by outsmarting his opponents, and doing his homework on their threats.
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion found a way to subdue Belingon for significant portions of their last battle by knowing when to control and when to attack.
When he grapples with his opponents, rather than go all-out for a finish, he will usually make small adjustments to maintain position and negate his foe’s movement – advancing inch by inch until he is in the best place to strike or submit.
Last time out against Belingon, he kept his rival on the mat for long periods by trapping his legs and slowing him down using leg rides. When he had him mounted, he crossed his feet underneath Belingon’s hips to make sure his own hip pressure was low and heavy.
That strategy took him to within a whisker of hanging onto the ONE Bantamweight World Title in November. This time, he will know the small adjustments to make that could give him the edge if it comes down to the judges’ scorecards again.