The ONE Bantamweight World Champion – who will return to action for his fourth ONE Bantamweight World Title bout with Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon at ONE: CENTURY Part II – overcame every challenge he encountered, both in life and on the mats.
That included the prospect of having to give up his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training almost as soon as he began.
The man from Manaus began to practice “the gentle art” when he was 14 and paid for lessons with money he earned by washing cars. However, the meager amounts of money he made meant he struggled to pay the fees.
He was passionate about the sport and did not want to give it up. Luckily, his first coach, Ulisses Paixão, noticed his enthusiasm and talent, and gave him a lifeline.
“When I started training, I had no money to pay for the gym, but I loved jiu-jitsu. I learned that it gave me something inside – discipline, and seeing life in a different way,” he explains.
“I told him, ‘Coach, I don’t have any more money to pay the gym.’ He said, ‘Come training, clean the gym, and when people leave, turn out the lights and lock it up.’
“I loved jiu-jitsu, and this was the way I was able to continue my training.”
At the time, the teenager only saw it as a means to an end. It was his time in exchange for the mat fees. However, he has since realized that it had a more profound impact on his martial arts career, and his success in life.
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“He was a very tough coach and he made you work hard in training, but he was a good man, and what he gave me was an opportunity,” adds “The Flash.”
“Many people helped me a lot and gave me opportunities. The opportunities will come. You have to believe you’ll succeed. If you don’t believe it, success won’t be there for you. So, I believed.”
As Fernandes continued his training with Paixão, he excelled on the mats and in competition, but all the promotions and gold medals he racked up could not inflate his ego because he was still the same kid that had to mop the mats after every session.
His experiences kept him grounded and, perhaps just as importantly in those crucial adolescent years, they kept him in the gym.
“It taught me to be humble, and it taught me the value of hard work – doing what you need to do to get the things you want,” says Fernandes.
“It also kept me focused. My friends were going out and doing different things while I had to stay and turn off the lights and lock the doors every night in the gym.
“Because of this, I stayed focused and I was the one that became a [BJJ] World Champion.”
Fernandes’ exceptional skills and commitment meant that his role in the gym expanded, and he began to teach some of the kids’ classes. He was eventually relieved of his cleaning duties altogether so he could concentrate on coaching and training.
This was another opportunity from Paixão that allowed him to thrive in the sport he loved.
“I started to teach the kids and I made a lot of champions. My coach put his trust in me to do that. He was a very good coach with good knowledge, and he helped me with this,” states the Brazilian.
Fernandes had to put in the effort to prosper, but without the chances Paixão gave him, it is unlikely he would have ever become the most dominant World Champion in ONE history.
Even though he has been at the top of the mixed martial arts world for a decade, he is still grateful for the kindness and encouragement he was given as a teenager. Without them, this life may not have been possible.
“Now, I have a good life. I do not have to clean the mats of the gym to train, but it taught me good lessons that made me a better person,” says “The Flash.”
“I learned to be strong and not to complain about life. People complain about everything – not me! I’m just thankful. I see the opportunity in everything today.”
ONE: CENTURY is the biggest World Championship martial arts event in history with 28 World Champions featured across various martial arts. No organization in history has ever promoted two full-scale World Championship events on the same day.
The Home Of Martial Arts will break new ground as it brings multiple World Title bouts, a trio of World Grand Prix Championship Finals, and several World Champion versus World Champion matches to the famous Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, Japan on 13 October.