When Kevin Belingon and Bibiano Fernandes stepped into the cage to battle for the ONE Bantamweight World Title at ONE: A New Era in Tokyo, Japan, the expectation was that their fight, no matter how it ended, would settle their long-time rivalry. Fernandes had won their first fight by submission. Belingon had won their second by decision. And there, under the bright lights of Ryōgoku Kokugikan Sumo Hall in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward, we finally had our tie-breaker.
Much like their second fight, which occurred in November, this third fight looked like it would be a fun one from the get-go. First, Belingon rocked Fernandes. Then, Fernandes rocked Belingon. All signs pointed to a riveting, back-and-forth war.
Unfortunately things took a disastrous turn in the third round. The trouble occurred when Bibiano Fernandes landed a takedown, and Kevin Belingon returned fire with a series of elbows from bottom position. Unfortunately, several of these elbows (the exact number is a subject of much debate) landed in the forbidden zones on the top and back of Fernandes’ head.
The referee then stopped the action, and separated the fighters. Fernandes spent several moments writhing on the canvas in pain, and several more conferring with his coaches through the chainlink. It was ultimately decided Fernandes could not continue, and Belingon received a red card. This meant that he was disqualified.
The title was then returned to Fernandes, and this storied bantamweight rivalry was left without closure.
Now a little over a week removed from this disappointing trilogy fight with Bibiano Fernandes, and back home in Baguio City in the Philippines, Kevin Belingon is understandably still trying to wrangle his disappointment.
“I’m very disappointed,” he told BJPenn.com late on Monday night. “It’s very tough for me and my team. Things happen inside the cage. I didn’t mean to do that. I didn’t mean to elbow his head at the back.”
Contrary to the recent comments of Fernandes, Belingon is adamant he did not intentionally throw any fouls. He also maintains that not all of the elbows he threw were illegal.
“I think I gave him seven or eight elbow strikes, and only two were illegal,” he said. “Bibiano is claiming that all the strikes were illegal, but for me, only two were illegal.”
Belingon added that the strikes that did land in foul zones only did so because Fernandes’ head was moving.
“As I was doing the elbows, his head was moving,” he said. “I didn’t mean to hit the back of the head.”
Because he did not believe he had committed a serious foul, Belingon initially thought the fight would continue after the referee paused the action.
“I was expecting that we would continue the fight,” he said. “But when the referee came close to me and said that Bibiano cannot continue. He gave me a red card. I felt very disappointed when the referee told me that.”
Sensing the growing heat between the long-time rivals Bibiano Fernandes and Kevin Belingon, ONE Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong recently took to social media in an attempt to defuse the situation. He reiterated that there will soon be an automatic rematch between the two bantamweights. He also assured that Belingon did not throw any illegal strikes intentionally, and that Fernandes did not “game the system” by simply accepting a DQ win.
Belingon was glad to read this comment from the ONE boss.
“I feel relieved that he said that,” the former champion said. “He announced that there will be an automatic rematch. We’re happy for that news. We’ll just wait for the announcement on when we’re going to get the fight.”
The notion of fighting the same opponent three times in a row — and four times overall — might frustrate some fighters. Yet Kevin Belingon feels that a fourth fight is the only way he and Bibiano Fernandes can work things out.
“I’m very happy that Chatri announced the automatic rematch,” he said. “It’s hard, but we need to do it so that we can see who is the real champion.
“It’s very important for me to reclaim the title. I want to prove that I’m better and tougher, and prove that I’m the champion.”
At present, the score-settling fourth fight between Belingon and Fernandes has not yet been announced. Once the fight is announced, Belingon plans to devote all of his focus to defeating Fernandes emphatically and putting an end to their rivalry.
“I’ll try my best to finish him,” he said. “I’ll try my best.
“I’m going to win this rematch, and it will be good for me and for my team. This is the best way to end the issue, so we’re just waiting for the announcement.”
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 4/9/2019.