Bibiano Fernandes and Kevin Belingon share one of the best rivalries in ONE Championship.
The pair first met in China in January of 2016. On that night, Brazil’s Fernandes dispatched of his Filipino rival with a kimura in the first round, defending the bantamweight belt in the process.
Their second meeting occurred at ONE: Heart of the Lion in Singapore in November of 2018. This time around the fight was much more competitive, as the pair battled for five, razor close rounds, culminating with a split decision win for Belingon.
This decision loss to Belingon was Fernandes’ first since a loss to Hiroyuki Takaya almost eight years earlier.
That being said, he says that not much surprised him about Belingon’s performance.
“The only thing he did that surprised me was the spin kicks,” Fernandes told BJPenn.com. “I knew it was coming but the timing for the spin kick, he did very well. That’s the only thing that surprised me in the fight.”
In the moments after his razor-close loss to Belingon, Bibiano Fernandes was the picture of class. While he remains complimentary of his foe, he admits that, having rewatched the fight several times, he truly feels that the judges got the decision wrong.
“[At the time] I respected what the judges did, but when I watched I said ‘that’s not right.’ But I can’t do anything. It’s not in my hands,” he said.
“If me and you go and watch the fight together, you can say I did more to win the fight, but he had the flashy spin kicks,” he continued. “The flashy spin kicks don’t win the fight. That’s the only thing.
“I did more to win the fight with MMA. I don’t fight Muay Thai, I don’t fight boxing, I fight MMA. In MMA, you say ‘let’s put this all together, let’s see how everything goes’. I almost finished him three times, and that made my score [in the fight] go very high. He hurt me one time. When you get [tagged], and when you almost finish [via submission], in ONE Championship, the points are the equal. It’s the same amount of points.
“I almost finished three times. I got six or seven takedowns, I took the back, I passed the guard, I controlled the grappling.”
In addition to his multiple near finishes, Bibiano Fernandes feels that his aggression in the fight should have scored higher in the judges’ eyes.
“I also pushed the whole time,” he said. “I made him fight. He ran a lot in the fight. Especially the last round, I had to chase him.
“He would come and go, he’d tried to pick his punches. He tried to get the punch and run. He didn’t want to stay and fight, because if he stayed, I might take him down. That was his mentality.”
Fernandes also feels he did much more damage to his foe than he received himself.
“He hit me with a very good shot, but I left the cage with no [damage]. If you watch, his friends had to help him out, his coach had to walk with him,” Fernandes said. “The next day, his face was beat up. I looked normal.”
While Bibiano Fernandes believes he did enough to earn a decision victory in his rematch with Kevin Belingon, he also feels that there’s no sense lingering on this setback.
“Let me tell you something,” he said sagely. “It’s very important for you, for your life, and for everybody on this planet: The fight is one little thing in this life. I’ll say it again. A fight is only a little thing. Life is much bigger. I don’t go crazy [about the loss], because for sure I want to win the fight, I did everything I could, I’m sad, but what can I do? That’s life. Somebody has to win, somebody has to lose. I did my best to win.”
Furthermore, Fernandes will soon have the chance to right this perceived wrong. He and Belingon are scheduled for a bantamweight title rematch at the stacked ONE: A New Era card on March 31 in Tokyo.
Fernandes plans to make a few key adjustments as he looks to reclaim the bantamweight title from Belingon.
“I have to be patient this time,” he said. “I still have to go out there and do the job, but I have to be patient. I want to finish that guy, but my coach says ‘calm down, let things come to you, don’t force it, don’t try.’ That’s what I’m going to do.”
Bibiano Fernandes is also happy he’ll have to endure less travel time to get to this fight. He lives and trains in Vancouver, and Japan is much closer to his home than Singapore.
“I wanted to fight Kevin and I would have waited for Kevin [if the fight happened somewhere else], but Japan is the best for me,” he said. “It’s a short flight. It’s only nine hours, I don’t have to fly all the way to Singapore, I don’t have to fly all the way to Thailand. That’s like 18 hours. To Japan it’s a straight flight, like nine hours. I’m glad it’s in Japan.”
Once he’s settled in Tokyo, Fernandes can focus on the task at hand: reclaiming the ONE Bantamweight Title. That being said, he claims that he’s more motivated by redemption than he is by the chance to reclaim his belt.
“I win a lot,” he said. “I’ve won a lot of tournaments. I win, win, win, win. At some times in my life I’ve thought ‘f**k, I win too much’ [laughs]. It makes you wonder what’s next? You win, win, win, [people ask] ‘do you want to go fight at 155 [pounds]?’ I don’t want to go to 155 and fight the bigger guys there. You know what I mean?
“When I lost to Kevin, it gave me a boost,” he added. “Thank you Kevin. Everything in my brain, my body, it changed. This is only my view: bad things are opportunities for you to grow. The moment the judge took the belt from me, I was like ‘ok, that’s the way it is.’ I went home, cleared my mind, healed my body. Now, it’s given me a boost. Now I feel ok, I feel motivation. I want to do this. I want to be champion again, but I don’t want to be the champion for myself, I want to be champion to prove to myself I can be the champion.”
Heading into his trilogy fight with Kevin Belingon, Bibiano Fernandes is reluctant to make a concise prediction. But he says he’ll be gunning for a finish — even if Belingon makes it difficult for him.
“I always want to finish,” he said. “But if the guy always tries to evade, it’s very difficult to catch the guy.
“He always tries to pick punches, run, pick punches, run… but it works, he convinced the judges,” he added. “For me, I go out there to fight. I want to fight, but I can’t chase the guy for five rounds again. I won’t accept that.
“I’m going to pace myself and see what he gives me.”
No matter how the fight unfolds, Fernandes is adamant that it’s one fans should definitely tune in for. His last fight with Belingon, a 2018 Fight of the Year contender, is all the proof of that fact that’s required.
“Our last fight was the best fight for 2018 in ONE Championship,” he said. “Every time I compete, I bring a good fight. Every time, if you watch me, I’m the champion, but I still go fight the guys. I want to give a show for myself, and for the people watching on TV.”
If Bibiano Fernandes defeats Kevin Belingon, he’ll reclaim the ONE bantamweight belt, and move to 2-1 over his rival. While he believes this will likely put an end to their rivalry, he says he’d be willing to fight Belingon again under the right circumstances — perhaps in a ONE Super Series Muay Thai fight.
“I could go 2-1 over him, but I could still fight Kevin in Muay Thai if he wants to,” he said. “If he wants I could do a Muay Thai fight with him.”
Watch Bibiano Fernandes and Kevin Belingon fight for a third time on March 31 in Tokyo, Japan. The bout airs on B/R Live in the United States.
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 3/21/2019.