Kevin Belingon and Bibiano Fernandes have a long and complicated history together. The two stars will look to write a decisive final chapter to their shared story when they collide for the ONE Championship bantamweight title at ONE: Century – Part 2 on October 13 in Tokyo, Japan.
This Tokyo showdown will mark the fourth time they share the cage together.
The pair first met in 2016, when Belingon challenged Fernandes for the ONE Bantamweight World Title. On that night, Fernandes retained his belt with a first-round kimura.
Two years later, in late 2018, they met again. With six straight victories in his wake, including a defeat of Martin Nguyen, Belingon had earned a shot at redemption. This time around, the result was much different. After five, frenetic rounds, Belingon captured the title with a split decision victory.
Given their 1-1 tie, and the competitive nature of their second fight, Fernandes and Belingon were scheduled for a score-settling third fight in March of 2019. Unfortunately, this fight ended in chaos. Mid-way through the third round, Belingon badly rocked Fernandes with a series of inadvertent, illegal strikes to the back of the head. When Fernandes could could not continue, Belingon was disqualified, which meant the title once again changed hands.
“We were very disappointed with the DQ decision,” Belingon told BJPenn.com, looking back on this disastrous third fight with Fernandes. “I didn’t expect that. I believe I was winning the fight, and I believe I was going to finish him, but things happen.”
Belingon didn’t have to stew in his disappointment for too long. Almost immediately after the fight, ONE Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong announced that Belingon and Fernandes would meet for a fourth time to battle to a more conclusive end.
Belingon was understandably “very happy” when Sityodtong announced this automatic rematch.
As this fourth fight draws ever nearer, Kevin Belingon is making his final preparations at Team Lakay in Baguio City, high up in the mountains of the Philippines. He says his everything is coming together nicely.
“Training is getting better and better every day,” he said. “We’re very focused right now.”
Given that Belingon has fought Fernandes three times before, he can prepare for this next fight from a pretty unique vantage point. He is incredibly acquainted with his rival, and in many ways, already knows what to expect from him.
“I think I’m more familiar with his strategy now, going into this fourth match,” he said. “I know him better now. I know what he’s capable of. I know his caliber.”
Fernandes’ bread and butter, of course, is his grappling. The Canada-based Brazilian is a decorated BJJ blackbelt with wrestling ability to boot. As such, Belingon is once again spending time shoring up this part of his own game.
“I’m focused on wrestling and grappling,” he said plainly.
No fighter plans to fight the same opponent four times, and you might expect motivation to deflate for a fighter under those circumstances. Yet Belingon says his desire to put a decisive end to his rivalry with Fernandes is keeping him focused.
“I have to finish this business with him,” he said. “I’m always motivated, and I know Bibiano has made me a better fighter, because to fight someone like him you have to really train hard. He’s a good fighter — he’s one of the best. He’s made me a better fighter. I’m always motivated, even if it’s the same opponent.”
While Fernandes is sure to have other plans, Kevin Belingon is confident his efforts will pay off in Tokyo, and that Sityodtong will once again wrap the ONE bantamweight title around his waist.
He has a hard time describing how satisfying this moment will feel.
“If I win this match, there’s going to be relief, because I’ve had to fight Bibiano four times to prove that I’m better than him and that I’m king in the bantamweight division,” he said.
“I cannot explain the feeling of Chatri putting the belt on me,” he added. “I’ll be very happy and motivated to train hard and defend the belt.”
As Belingon suggests, the plan, should he get past Fernandes in Tokyo, will be defend the belt. One of the more compelling potential challengers available at present would be John Lineker, who will debut with ONE Championship opposite Muin Gafurov on October 25.
Belingon likes the sounds of a matchup with Lineker, and will welcome it if it’s what ONE Championship wants.
“John is a great fighter,” he said of Lineker. “I’ll fight anyone who earns a title shot.
“I think I can go with him, go with his experience. I think I can go better than him. If they book that fight, I’ll be ready for it and I’ll train hard for it.”
The priority for Kevin Belingon, of course, is defeating Bibiano Fernandes once and for all. He plans on doing everything he can to put a clear and final end to his longstanding rivalry with the Brazilian.
“It’s hard to predict this fight, but I’ll do everything I can to get a knockout win,” he said. “I really want to finish him with a knockout to get a clear win, so there’s no doubt.
“If I win this match, it will end my business with him.”
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 9/23/2019.