Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon has thrived as one of the most exciting bantamweight warriors to have ever stepped inside the ONE Championship cage.
Since making his promotional debut in March 2012, the bright lights, the big crowds, and the television cameras have not seemed to faze the 30-year-old veteran. With his hard-hitting style, he constantly gives crowds something to cheer about.
Getting used to the spotlight is never easy, and growing up amidst the forests and the hills in the Filipino village of Kiangan did not really prepare him for it. But what brought him to this point was a burning desire to reach the pinnacle of martial arts, and that has been cultivated by the trials he had to overcome in this environment.
A Much Simpler Time
Friends, family, and nature – these were all well at hand during his younger years.
“My life was like an adventure because I used to hang out with my friends, and we would always go fishing, hunting, and swimming at the river banks every weekend,” Belingon recalls. “Sometimes, I would help my father in the rice field.”
Belingon was introduced to the traditional wrestling style of bultong at an early age, as this was the game of choice of the kids in the area.
While younger martial artists from the Philippines nowadays are inspired by the rise of Manny Pacquiao, Belingon grew up during a time when information was not as easily accessible. Even if it were, he may have been more likely to be inspired by the Filipino boxing greats of his youth, like Luisito Espinosa, Dodie Boy Penalosa, and Rolando Navarette.
Instead, his hero was another cultural icon.
“I used to watch all the Bruce Lee movies when I was a kid, and he inspired me so much that every time I played bultong with my friends, I would always try what Bruce was doing in his movies,” he says.
The simple province life is not without its dangers, however.
The vast forest area of his hometown was a safe haven for bandits and militants, and clashes with the military were frequent.
At age four, Belingon survived one of these clashes together with his family. It was a pivotal moment in his life that helped fuel his desire to pursue martial arts, and use his voice for the greater good.
Investing In Dual Treasures
While martial arts was a hobby growing up, it became a passion by his college years. At 17, Belingon found wushu in Baguio City. He was guided by a man named Mark Sangiao, and “The Silencer” would later become a key member in Sangiao’s Team Lakay, one of the best stables in the Philippines.
One of Belingon’s goals ever since his childhood was to rise up the ranks in order to become an inspiration that his compatriots can rally behind, the definition of a common hero.
However, this was not always the end goal for him. He trained hard to hone his martial arts skills, all while studying to complete his degree in Criminology at the University Of The Cordilleras.
“My ambition was to become a police officer, so I went to a university. But after graduating and passing the board examination, I pursued my martial arts career,” he explains. “I came from a place where few people went to university, so for me, education is a treasure that is never lost. It is the same with martial arts because I always have them forever.”
Making It To The Global Stage
After turning professional in 2007, Belingon tore through the competition put before him, amassing an impressive 9-0 record over four years.
ONE recognized his potential, and in 2012, he made his debut in the promotion against leg lock legend Masakazu Imanari. The Japanese icon lived up to his moniker, submitting the Filipino in the opening round via heel hook.
Belingon would fail to redeem himself in his next bout, as he lost by unanimous decision against Korean contender Soo Chul Kim, who went on to become the inaugural ONE World Bantamweight Champion two months later.
These losses did not discourage him, however. “The Silencer” avenged himself with back-to-back stoppages against Yusup “Maestro” Saadulaev, and “Aladdin” Than Vu of Australia. And after scoring a huge victory against former contender Koetsu Okazaki in December 2014, he was granted an opportunity to challenge for the world championship against current kingpin Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes.
Unfortunately for Belingon, the Brazilian immediately grounded him, and forced him to submit via kimura with barely a minute left in the opening round.
“It felt awful to lose like that, after all the hard work I had put in to reaching that point. I made some crucial mistakes,” Belingon admits. “After the bout, there was nothing I wanted more than to get right back in there with him, and do things differently.”
The Road To Redemption
Following his loss, Belingon became obsessed with getting a second crack at the ONE Bantamweight World Championship, and he has been putting in the work to achieve that.
The Filipino started his climb back to the top of the contenders’ ladder with a unanimous decision victory over Muin Gafurov in October 2016. He followed it up with a pair of explosive first round stoppages of former world title contenders Toni Tauru, and Reece McLaren in 2017, before capping the year off with a unanimous decision win against Kevin Chung.
Belingon now finds himself on a four-bout win streak, and was recognized as one of the top Warriors of the Year in 2017.
“The title is within reach, I can see the path clearly. I have to keep winning,” he says. “After winning four straight, I know every victory from here will bring me closer to my goal. I am ready for the title, but I will beat whoever ONE Championship puts in front of me.”
On Friday, April 20, the main event of ONE: HEROES OF HONOR will feature Belingon facing off with another former world title challenger in Andrew Leone, and a victory could be the final push the Filipino needs to be granted a second championship opportunity at Fernandes.
“The Silencer” has worked his whole life for moments like these. The boy who grew up in the small village is now a man who thrives under the bright lights of the cage, driven by the trials he overcame.
“I never want anyone else to go through what I did. If my position in martial arts can help bring my people closer together, then I will continue to fight for my country, and to fight for our future,” he states.
“When the lights go out and the cage door closes, I am back where I belong. Fans will not be disappointed.”