ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes will finally make his illustrious return to the cage.
The Brazilian will defend his prestigious title against top contender Reece “Lightning” McLaren in the co-main event of ONE: AGE OF DOMINATION, live on Friday Night, 2 December, at the Mall Of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines.
Fernandes respects his Australian opponent, but maintains a high self-confidence in his own abilities, and thinks he will continue his monumental reign atop the bantamweight division.
“I believe in myself. I believe if I train right and do everything right, I am going to do my best, and when I do my best, the outcome is victory,” the 36-year-old titleholder says. “I always have confidence with my training.”
McLaren, who trains out of the Gold Coast’s Potential Unlimited Mixed Martial Arts, is a former XFC Bantamweight Champion, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, and has become something of an upset king.
The 25-year-old “Lightning” holds a respectable 9-3 record and is on a four-fight win streak, which includes an immaculate rear-naked choke victory over Evolve MMA standout Mark Striegl and a unanimous decision victory over previously-undefeated Tajikistani contender Muin Gafurov.
“He is a young guy. He wants to fight. He is going to bring the fight,” the Brazilian acknowledges of his opponent. “He is very good at jiujitsu. He has very good takedowns. His stand up is ok.
“I think I will be surprised if he wants to fight stand up with me, but I believe he will try to take me down. A fight is a fight. You have to go there and feel him out.”
Training out of AMC Pankration, Fernandes is a multi-time World and Pan American Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt gold medalist who holds an astonishing 19-3 MMA record. Even more impressively, he holds an 11-fight win streak and has not lost a match in six years.
In fact, just holding the ONE Bantamweight World Championship is a constant reminder of his means to live and provide for his loved ones.
“I see a lot of guys who, when they win the belt, say it is just a piece of metal. For me, it is not. It is different. That piece of metal allowed me to meet people. That belt built my family. That belt built who I am. That is why I respect having the belt,” he explains.
“Every belt is important. It does not matter what organization — Muay Thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, whatever. It is the discipline and the time you give for that thing. You give up a lot of things to stay focused.”
Fernandes has certainly gone without a lot.
Growing up in poverty, the Brazilian was dealt one of the toughest blows in his life at the age of seven, when his mother passed away. His father, unable to provide for his family, pushed Fernandes and his siblings further into the Amazon rainforest. While there, the Brazilian contracted malaria and nearly died.
He survived, and his life changed soon thereafter. He met a BJJ trainer who taught him the gentle art. Fernandes instantly fell in love with the martial discipline, but was afraid he would lose that too, like he did his mother and everything else.
“I told the coach, ‘Listen, I do not have any money for training, I do not think I can train,’” he recalls sadly. But to his surprise, his coach understood, and wanted him to continue mastering his technique regardless.
“He told me: ’It’s ok, just clean the gym.’ I went everyday, cleaning the gym and helping him. I focused on jiujitsu and I met a lot of people. It is a community. It is because of my past that I am here today.”
That passion for BJJ, as well as his ability to excel at it, was the means which brought him from the rainforest to the championship arena, paving the way for him to win multiple medals in the World Jiu-Jitsu, Pan American, and Brazilian National Championships.
“Jiujitsu helped me a lot. It gave me discipline,” Fernandes says, proudly. “If you want to help somebody, help yourself. If you help yourself, people are going to look after you. The best way I can give back is being a good human being.”
Building upon his already glitzy resume, “The Flash” successfully transitioned his BJJ to MMA and added a furious striking game to his arsenal. Since his debut in 2004, he has racked up even more titles, including the ONE Bantamweight World Championship in 2013, and has since established himself as arguably the best bantamweight mixed martial artist in the world.
Now living in Vancouver, Canada, with a family of his own, life is very different for the Brazilian compared to his own childhood. No longer living in poverty, he is able to give his kids a stable living environment and more opportunities than he was ever afforded.
“I have three kids at home. I am a father. I try to stay focused, though. I drop the kids off at school, then I go to training,” Fernandes explains. “When I became a champion, I do not think I changed a lot.
“My son always says: ‘My daddy’s a champion.’ My oldest son is doing wrestling in school. He is also doing soccer. I want to let the kids be kids. I do not want to tell them what they have to do. I want to tell them to do their best and that is it.”
Fernandes will have to follow his own advice and put it to use on Friday Night, 2 December, when he defends the belt against McLaren in Manila. But as anyone can see, he is not fighting to stroke his own ego. He is looking to provide for his family well into the future and be the best fighter he could possibly be.
“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.
Knowing everything that is at stake, the champion had choice words for McLaren, stating: “You want to come get my belt? No problem, come get it. But I’m going to give you hell.”