ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes has earned a reputation for taking on and beating the best, and the challenges keep coming. He faces another elite contender at ONE: IRON WILL this weekend in Bangkok, Thailand.
The 37-year-old Brazilian will take on ONE Featherweight and Lightweight World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen in a main event bout that has huge implications.
If Nguyen wins, he’ll become the first three-division world champion in the history of the cage, but victory for Fernandes would see him extend his legacy as the most dominant ONE champion ever.
Fernandes is riding a 13-bout win streak at the pinnacle of his career, continuing a legacy that kicked off when a Brazilian politician suggested he jump from the BJJ arena to the cage.
“A long time ago, my friend was the Secretary Of Sports in Brazil, and in Brazil they have Jungle Fight (a cage promotion),” he told ONE Championship.
“He said, ‘Why don’t you try Jungle Fight?’ I said, ‘It’s not for me, I only want to do jiu-jitsu.”
Despite Fernandes’ initial lack of interest, his friend kept pressing him to push his boundaries and try his skills in the wider arena. Eventually, Fernandes agreed, stepped into the cage at Jungle Fight 3 in October 2004, and submitted Luis Figuerora in 31 seconds via rear-naked choke.
Despite that quickfire debut victory, Fernandes still wasn’t convinced about pursuing a career in the cage, and instead continued to chase titles on the mats.
“I still was not sure about it,” he admitted
“After that match, I went back to jiu-jitsu, and I won the Mundials [twice more]. I said to myself, ‘I have won a lot of Mundials, and it has not changed my life.’
“I wanted to challenge myself, and [I realized] that was the only way I could. [So I decided] to challenge myself in the cage.”
Unlike most newcomers to the cage, Fernandes’ BJJ world titles saw him thrown in at the deep end almost immediately, when he took on a legend of the sport in only his second bout.
“That was when I faced Urijah Faber. It was the second match I had,” he recollects.
“I did not know who Urijah Faber was. I had no idea who he was. But I took his back, and then he cut me [with an elbow]. The referee said there was too much blood and that I could not continue, but I wanted to keep going. That day, I felt very, very sad [after the loss].
“That day, I also felt like I could be better. It was the best thing that happened to me, but also the toughest thing that happened. Every time, when I am training and when I spar, that is the match I think about.”
The challenges kept coming for Fernandes, who faced another legend, Norifumi ‘Kid’ Yamamoto, in his next bout 11 months later.
“That was my dream match,” Fernandes begins.
“At that time, if I could have faced anyone at bantamweight, it would have been Kid Yamamoto. He was the man at that time. And, if I were to win or to lose, I would still get good experience.
“Kid Yamamoto and Urijah Faber, my goodness. One was good at wrestling, and the other one very good at striking. I lost those two matches, and then later, started to win, win, and win. I understood how I could be better, so I improved myself, and I finally got it.”
Following that loss, he received a valuable piece of advice from coach and training partner Bill Mahood, who told him not to go chasing finishes during bouts. It helped Fernandes relax in the cage and his form improved hugely as a result.
“If Bill never said that to me, maybe I would have tried to rely on my jiu-jitsu forever,” he said.
“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.”
Fernandes went on a tear, winning 20 of his last 21 bouts, including DREAM titles in two weight classes and the ONE Bantamweight World Title.
The Brazilian heads into ONE: IRON WILL riding a 13-bout win streak as the most dominant champion in ONE history. He knows he faces a significant test in the form of two-weight champion Nguyen, but’s a challenge he says he’s relishing.
“I love the challenge,” he said.
“Like right now, people are saying: ‘Martin Nguyen is going to knock Bibiano out.’ I say, let’s see if he can do it. It is the challenge that drives me.”