The 29-year-old has no fewer than a dozen members of his family counting on him. He is a proud husband and father of one, as well as the oldest of nine siblings raised in rural Timor-Leste, and a grateful son.
Being the first member of his family to make it beyond their rural background, he embraces the duty of supporting his brothers and sisters to help them achieve their dreams, and in giving back to his hard-working mom and dad.
Before he steps back into the Circle to for his anticipated flyweight bout next Friday, 12 July, discover how the man from Solo, Indonesia emerged from humble beginnings to star on the global stage for martial arts.
Fernandes grew up in a small community in Luro, Timor-Leste, where most of the families made their living from farming.
His was no different, though the income his mother and father made did not go far in their large family.
“We are a very simple family. My parents worked hard in the fields to cultivate rice and corn,” he says.
“We did not have many things – I guess they were always just trying to make ends meet.”
As a child, “The Black Komodo” was mad about martial arts, and longed to be like his idol, Bruce Lee. When he was just 10, he began his combat education in silat and kempo tournaments in the Timorese capital, Dili.
He would also discover boxing and grappling, so it seems inevitable now that one day Fernandes would transition to mixed martial arts. But to do so, he had to leave his homeland for Indonesia.
“Previously, they only knew boxing [in Timor-Leste]. I left for Solo (Surakarta) because I wanted to study more, since I have always loved martial arts,” he explains.
“My parents used everything they had. They paid for the airfare using their savings. They would give everything for their children.”
It was a gamble for a family who “made just enough to get by” according to Fernandes, but in time, it would pay off.
A New Home And Mentor
Once in Surakarta, Fernandes honed his athletic prowess and his mind, as he enrolled at Tunas Pembangunan University, where he studied for a sports degree.
It was there that his competitive talents were spotted, and he took his first steps toward becoming a ONE Championship athlete.
“When I was studying in Solo, coach Yohan Mulia Legowo found out about my talent,” he says.
“The Ice Man” is a pioneer of Asian mixed martial arts who made his debut in 2002 and remains an active competitor on the ONE roster. He is also the lead mixed martial arts coach at Surakarta’s Han Academy.
When he invited Fernandes to spar with him, he was impressed with the young student.
“He said I was good, albeit only with a basic technique,” says the 29-year-old.
“I guess at that time, he saw my spirit and will, and he asked me to join [his team] because he thought I had potential. I became a professional after joining Han Academy in 2013, although I’d already had some official bouts in university.”
Another major moment in Fernandes’ life also came at the gym when he met his wife there, with whom he now has a baby daughter.
Leading The Charge
Fernandes’ dream, when he began mixed martial arts, was to provide a better life for his family.
When he got off to a successful start to his career and became Indonesian bantamweight champion, he invested some of the money he made into his brothers’ and sisters’ futures.
“I want to increase my family’s income and help my little siblings pursue their education and develop their own business,” he says.
“I realize that I have to provide for all as the breadwinner of my family. Now, they can all go to school, and since 2017, I have had a store selling sporting goods in my hometown, run by my [adult] siblings.”
He also hopes to use his skill and influence to help build his sport in his native community.
By passing on his knowledge, he hopes to help others follow the path he walked and go from rural anonymity to the global stage.
“There were no mixed martial arts athletes [in Timor-Leste] except for me, so I want the people to see what mixed martial arts is,” he says.
“I have set up a training camp in my hometown, and several people have joined. We want to start some small events. Initially, I was the only coach, so the students often practiced on their own. So far, they have little technique, but they are strong.”
The Global Stage
Fernandes made a phenomenal start to his professional career as he won his first seven contests – including three as part of an eight-man tournament.
He was one of the most exciting athletes on his regional circuit, and caught the eye of matchmakers in ONE thanks to five first-round wins, as well as a diverse range of finishes, including three by TKO and three via submission.
Now he has arrived in The Home Of Martial Arts, Fernandes hopes the exposure and income he receives will help him to support his family and students back home, but his ultimate goal is to become the first World Champion from Timor-Leste.
However, he knows he has a long road ahead of him to achieve that, but he can take a big step forward with a win against Mangat at ONE: MASTERS OF DESTINY.
“I’m prepared for the best version of Mangat. I’ve asked my coach and teammates to push me hard,” he adds.
Kuala Lumpur | 12 July | 6PM | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onedestiny19