Filipino ONE Championship star Kevin Belingon is looking to get things right second time against Bibiano Fernandes at ONE: HEART OF THE LION.
Belingon faced off against Fernandes in a battle for the ONE Bantamweight World Title back in 2016, but “The Silencer” lost out via first-round submission as the Brazilian World Champion retained his title.
Now the ONE Interim Bantamweight Champion, Belingon is back, looking to put things right in the rematch in Singapore on 9 November as he bids to unify the titles and conquer the long-reigning champion.
“I’ve waited a long time for this moment, ever since I lost to Bibiano the first time. This is without a doubt the most important match of my career,” the 31-year-old states.
“It’s a World Champion going up against another World Champion. Anytime you have two guys who both have belts fighting each other, you know it’s going to be epic.
“To be able to unify these titles and to do it with Bibiano is both an honour and a challenge that I will rise to face.”
Belingon’s first-round submission defeat at the hands of Fernandes back in January 2016 sparked a run of form for the Filipino that has taken him all the way back to a second title shot.
Belingon defeated Muin Gafurov, then went on to beat Toni Tauru, Reece McLaren, Kevin Chung and Andrew Leone as he surged back into title contention once again.
And, with Fernandes on the sidelines injured, Belingon captured interim championship gold by defeating Martin Nguyen, who at the time held both the lightweight and featherweight titles.
His win over a multiple world champion like Nguyen cemented Belingon’s claim for a rematch against Fernandes. Belingon himself admits it was the most important victory of his mixed martial arts career.
“I didn’t have to fight Martin the last time. My title fight against Bibiano was already guaranteed then, but I wanted to prove to the world that I never back down from any challenge, and that I always rise to the occasion,” Belingon explains.
“Claiming the interim title has been one of the most important highlights of my career. The only thing that can beat that now is if I am able to successfully unify the titles. That’s priority number one for me, and I am laser-focused on making that happen.”
Belingon was unable to impose his wushu-based striking skills on Fernandes in their first encounter, as Fernandes scored an early takedown on the Filipino challenger, advanced position and locked up a Kimura to force the first-round submission.
For Belingon, it was almost as if his chance had gone before he had given himself a chance to win.
It is a memory that remains vivid in his mind ahead of the rematch, and one he and his coach at Team Lakay, Mark Sangiao, are determined to ensure does not repeat itself in the second bout.
“I admit, when we first fought Bibiano, Kevin was still a little green,” Sangiao says.
“But we used that loss to find out where Kevin needed to improve the most, and now he is a completely different animal. You don’t want to give Kevin any opening, because he will close the distance abruptly and finish you.”
Since that bout, Belingon has showcased noticeable improvements to his game, including significantly improved takedown defence.
His hard work on the mats at the Baguio City-based Team Lakay gym has paid dividends, with “The Silencer” looking a far more well-rounded competitor in recent bouts.
Now, armed with the ability to keep the action in the stand-up realm, Belingon believes he can unleash his striking to defeat Fernandes and unify the belts.
“I think this time around, things will be different because I am more prepared for what he brings to the table,” Belingon says.
“I am ready to take this belt and bring it back home to Baguio City. I have complete respect for Bibiano as a man and as a martial artist, but it’s my time to shine.
“I am confident in my abilities, and I want to put on a show in Singapore. Although I will fight intelligently, make no mistake, I am gunning for the finish and I won’t hesitate to take it if I see an opening.”