Despite growing up in dire circumstances, Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes has become the most successful mixed martial artists in ONE Championship history.
The record-breaking ONE Bantamweight World Champion endured poverty and tragedy as a child, but through hard work and determination, he made a better life for himself, made history on the global stage, and provided a secure future for his family.
This is his story of survival through hard times to become a martial arts icon.
Poverty And Critically Ill In The Rainforest
Fernandes was born in Manaus, Brazil, and was part of a big family, but he had a tough childhood.
His mother died when he was just 7 years old and his father struggled to provide for his six children, so he sent “The Flash” and his five siblings to live with their aunt, deep in the Amazon Jungle, where they had to live off the land to survive.
Though Fernandes did not mind his way of life in his new home, he maintained a positive outlook on life.
“Life is tough for everybody, you know what I mean?” he says.
“Back out there, life is tough, but I always kept moving forward, always made sure my mind is okay, made sure I’m good. Some may say life is not easy, but [I kept] going.”
However, positivity alone could not help him with malaria, which he contracted a few years after his move into the rainforest. Fernandes’ father had to take his son back to the city so he could receive the medication and care he needed to return to full health.
Once he was better, he stayed in Manaus, but money was tight at home so he had to work odd jobs to help pay the bills.
Discovering Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
One afternoon while he was washing car windows at the age of about 13, Fernandes’ life changed forever when he stumbled upon a martial arts gym that was teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Fernandes’ interest was piqued, and he instantly fell in love with the “gentle art” as he watched the students practice their techniques. At first, however, he could not afford to pay for a membership and join in, but the generosity of the people at the school presented a quick solution to that problem.
“I told the coach, ‘Listen, I do not have any money for training, I do not think I can train,’” he recalls.
“He told me, ’It is okay, just clean the gym.’ I went every day, cleaning the gym and helping him. I focused on jiu-jitsu and I met a lot of people. It is a community. It is because of my past that I am here today.”
“The Flash” excelled on the mats and earned his nickname during his early days of competition because of his habit of scoring quick submissions. He went on to earn his black belt in 2002 and then became one of his generation’s most decorated grapplers as he won three IBJJF World Championships.
BJJ gave him the skills to become a world-famous athlete, but just as important, Fernandes says, was that it helped him to grow as a man.
“Jiu-jitsu is very important for the mind, it is very important for the body,” he says.
“I believe that jiu-jitsu helped me a lot. It is self-discipline. You need to have confidence in life for everything – for you to drive your car, for you to walk on the street, for you to speak to a girl – anything in life, and jiu-jitsu can give you that.”
Revolution & Evolution
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu also gave Fernandes a terrific foundation of skills to transition to mixed martial arts. He made an instant impact in his pro debut with a victory via rear-naked choke after just 31 seconds.
After that, “The Flash” was thrown into the deep end against two legends of the sport and realized he needed to learn some more skills to compliment his grappling. He relocated to Vancouver, Canada, where he linked up with the Revolution Fight Team and started to evolve into the dominant athlete he is today.
“Bill Mahood (coach) 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, ‘Okay, 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. 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.”
That advice helped him to become a two-division DREAM World Champion. In 2012, he joined The Home Of Martial Arts and won the ONE Bantamweight World Championship the following year.
Since then, the Brazilian superstar has become the most dominant athlete in ONE history with more wins in World Title bouts than any other athlete – including a win against Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen and three against Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon.
Fernandes credits his success to his unwavering work ethic and determination to always improve.
“A lot of people, when they reach a different level, lose their focus,” he says.
“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.”
Motivation To Be The Best
Fernandes is still as motivated as ever so he can provide for his wife, Amanda, and three sons.
“I know if I work hard and take care of myself, then I can take care of my family,” the champion says.
“I am blessed because I got an opportunity to be a father. I can coach, and I can take care of my kids. That’s a blessing.
“[Being the World Champion] is my job. I go there and I have to work because if I work, I can bring food home for my kids.”
He has already provided a childhood for his boys without any of the hardships he faced, and now he is also committed to raising them in the right way. By passing down all the knowledge and values he has learned through martial arts, he hopes he can do his part – and help them – to make the world a better place.
“You teach your kids. Life is not built on the past – it is in the moment how you want to guide your kids,” he says.
“We can be better. We can do better. We can keep improving each other, and we can evolve.”