ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes thrives on challenges, and he is always seeking to test himself against the very best martial artists in the world.
For the 37-year-old Brazilian, that desire and passion has led him to an awe-inspiring 13-bout win streak, the most dominant run ever seen in the ONE cage, and a reputation as the greatest bantamweight martial artist of all-time.
While much has been told of his incredible life story from extreme poverty to success, we now take a look at how he made the jump from the BJJ mats to the cage.
If it were not for some arm-twisting from a longtime friend nearly 15 years ago, Fernandes may never have stepped foot inside the cage, and would have focused strictly on claiming more and more BJJ world titles.
“A long time ago, my friend was the Secretary Of Sports in Brazil, and in Brazil they have Jungle Fight (a cage promotion). He said, ‘Why don’t you try Jungle Fight?’ I said, ‘It’s not for me, I only want to do jiu-jitsu,” Fernandes explains.
The secretary did not give up. He kept pestering “The Flash” to leave his grappling comfort zone, and to test his skills in the all-encompassing world of martial arts. Eventually, Fernandes caved in, and accepted a bout against Luis Figuerora at Jungle Fight 3 in October 2004
It served as Fernandes’ official debut, and it ended extremely quick. “The Flash” lived up to his moniker, needing only 31 seconds to submit his adversary via rear-naked choke.
Despite the swift victory, the Brazilian martial artist was still uncertain about a future career inside the cage. It took a few more world titles, however, to change his mind.
“I still was not sure about it,” he admits. “After that match, I went back to jiu-jitsu, and I won the Mundials [twice more]. I said to myself, ‘I have won a lot of Mundials, and it has not changed my life.’
“I wanted to challenge myself, and [I realized] that was the only way I could. [So I decided] to challenge myself in the cage.”
Thrown To The Wolves
The challenges came immediately. Most martial artists get to slowly progress through the ranks, but Fernandes got thrown to the wolves right from the get-go.
Fernandes received call from a North American promotion to compete in October 2006. He was offered a match against one of the best martial artists to ever step inside the cage, and the Brazilian was still extremely new to the sport.
“That was when I faced Urijah Faber. It was the second match I had,” he recollects.
“I did not know who Urijah Faber was. I had no idea who he was. But I took his back, and then he cut me [with an elbow]. The referee said there was too much blood and that I could not continue, but I wanted to keep going. That day, I felt very, very sad [after the loss].
“That day, I also felt like I could be better. It was the best thing that happened to me, but also the toughest thing that happened. Every time, when I am training and when I spar, that is the match I think about.”
Just 11 months later, he faced Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto, one of the biggest Japanese martial arts legends ever, for his third professional bout. It was another tough challenge against another legendary competitor, but it was also a dream come true.
“That was my dream match,” Fernandes begins.
“At that time, if I could have faced anyone at bantamweight, it would have been Kid Yamamoto. He was the man at that time. And, if I were to win or to lose, I would still get good experience.
“Kid Yamamoto and Urijah Faber, my goodness. One was good at wrestling, and the other one very good at striking. I lost those two matches, and then later, started to win, win, and win. I understood how I could be better, so I improved myself, and I finally got it.”
Becoming A Complete Martial Artist
What brought about Fernandes’ startling improvement and solid understanding for the all-encompassing sport of martial arts was veteran advice from his teammates up north.
“The Flash” made the trek from Brazil to Canada, where he trained with some of the best athletes in British Columbia at Revolution Fight Team. Following that loss to Yamamoto, he had an epiphany, as one of his training partners and coaches gave him a piece of invaluable advice. This marked the beginning of his transformation from grappler to complete martial artist.
“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.”
Fernandes became as dominant inside the cage as he was on the BJJ mats. He won 20 of his next 21 bouts, captured a pair of DREAM Championships in two divisions, and claimed the ONE Bantamweight World Title.
Lately, the Brazilian seems unstoppable. He is riding a 13-bout win streak, and continues to decimate his opposition en route to becoming the most dominant force ever to set foot in ONE Championship. But he has not gotten complacent, and there is one thing that constantly drives him.
“For me, it is more for the challenge,” he says. “I love the challenge. Like right now, people are saying: ‘Martin Nguyen is going to knock Bibiano out.’ I say, let’s see if he can do it. It is the challenge that drives me.”
The next challenge happens this coming Saturday, 24 March. Fernandes will defend his bantamweight world title against ONE Featherweight and Lightweight World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen at ONE: IRON WILL in Bangkok, Thailand.
Not only will be it a historic match, but perhaps his toughest challenge to date, and that is just the way “The Flash” likes it.