Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon always wanted to influence his Filipino countrymen, but his inspiration to do so was born in perhaps the most unlikeliest of places.
The Team Lakay bantamweight will never forget that one fateful evening during his adolescence which completely altered his life forever.
Belingon was raised miles away from Baguio City, in a small village situated in the rugged mountainous terrain of Kiangan, Ifugao, in the Philippines. The young Igorot warrior grew up in a secluded area known for its slow-paced rural farm life, and picturesque natural views.
However, due to the area’s thick brush and forest landscape, it is also notorious for being a hideout for bandits and militants.
“Clashes between militants and local authorities were frequent, so even though we generally enjoyed a quiet, peaceful life, there was always the possibility of trouble,” the 30-year-old recalls.
“The people living in the area are always on alert, because you want to get to safety right away, should anything happen.”
Those clashes mostly avoided civilians. However, there were some moments when the heat of the battle was unavoidable, and innocent people would get caught in the crossfire.
For the bantamweight, that moment would come when he was just 4 years old.
As Belingon and his family were enjoying a relatively peaceful evening, his father came rushing home with a worried expression. There was a large group of militants heading towards the village, and would arrive in a matter of minutes.
A clash with authorities was imminent, and their home would serve as the battlefield. Yet before the family could flee, the battle and all its chaos ensued. To ensure everyone’s safety, Belingon’s dad snuck his family into a water tower.
“I was so small back then,” Belingon recalls. “My father carried me in his arms, and brought me, and the rest of my siblings and mother to safety.”
They would climb into in one of the empty water tanks to ride out the fight. It was the only place they could hide. It was dark and cramped, and everyone had to stick close together. They had no food, and very little water.
With danger in such close proximity, the Belingon family were left with no choice but to weather the storm in pitch darkness.
“It was one of the most terrifying moments of my life, and I can remember every detail so vividly,” the bantamweight continues.
“Peeking slightly through the cracks, I could see bullets zipping through the air, riddling our homes with holes. Some people fled with us, while others chose to stay. I could hear screams and shrieks. It was a war zone, and it was happening right before our eyes.”
Although Belingon’s mother and siblings spent the entire night hiding inside the water tank in silence, his father went back home to guard their belongings. They were not wealthy by any means, so everything the family owned was inside their house. His dad chose to watch over their house in case it was broken into.
“I was so scared for my father. We had no way of knowing whether he was okay or not, or if anything had happened to him,” Belingon continues. “I will never forget the experience for as long as I live. After all of it, we felt extremely lucky to be alive.”
When the dust settled, and the sound of people emerging from the rubble began to pierce through the deafening silence, Belingon’s father opened the water tank to tell them it was safe to come out. The fight was finally over.
“I was just a kid back then. I did not understand any of it. I was just scared. But when my father came out, and was safe, I was so happy. He was our hero,” the young Filipino says.
“As I got older, I came to terms with what had happened. Instead of fielding emotions of anger and hatred, it actually inspired me to pursue my dream of martial arts even more.”
With a burning passion to excel at the highest level of the sport, Belingon has emerged as one of the Philippines’ most well-known martial arts superstars. He is motivated to succeed on the biggest stage for martial arts, and prove that a kid who grew up in such tumultuous circumstances could come out alive, and help inspire his compatriots to stop fighting.
Belingon is riding an impressive four-bout win streak, and is coming closer to another shot at the ONE Bantamweight World Championship. If he can get past Leone, the Filipino could finally be granted his long-awaited rematch with reigning champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes.
Also, the bright lights could help serve as a platform for Belingon to continue his efforts to positively influence his nation.
“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.
“Winning is more than just winning for me, and the belt is more than just a belt – it is an opportunity to inspire my fellow countrymen. That is why I want to be a world champion.”