ONE Interim Bantamweight Champion Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon has stormed back to the top of his division.
The Filipino lost in a title tilt against Brazil’s Bibiano Fernandes back in 2016, and his initial reaction to the defeat threatened to set his career back significantly.
However, the experience soon gave him the kick he needed to supercharge his mixed martial arts skills.
“When I first fought Bibiano, it was a realisation for me. I was confident that my striking would pose problems for him, but I was shocked that I wasn’t able to hit him with a clean punch,” the 31-year-old says.
“His grappling and defence were levels above what I expected, and as a result, I was beaten rather easily.
“It was at that moment that I realised just how big the gap was between us. I was standing across a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, but I didn’t understand what that meant.
“After the fight, I knew I had to work on my grappling if I wanted to challenge him again someday.”
Belingon resolved to come back a better, more well-rounded martial artist, and he set about improving his skill set at the Team Lakay gym, with a particular focus on his grappling. It paid dividends almost instantly.
Belingon defeated Muin Gafurov in his comeback bout, then went on to have a stellar 2017 as he finished Toni Tauru, stopped Reece McLaren and outpointed Kevin Chung.
“The Silencer” then surged into title contention with a stunning stoppage victory over Andrew Leone in April, and then captured the interim belt with a victory over then-two-weight World Champion Martin Nguyen in July.
After his interim title win, Belingon’s credentials for a rematch were beyond doubt.
Six bouts, six wins and a victory over a double World Champion in a title bout meant “The Silencer” had to face Fernandes for the second time, and the pair will now meet at ONE: HEART OF THE LION in Singapore on 9 November.
“Now, we’re here. The rematch with Bibiano is finally happening, and I can show him just how much I have improved since our first meeting,” he says.
“I can proudly say that the biggest difference has been my grappling. Because I upgraded this area of my game, I am more confident now in unleashing my strikes. Improving my grappling has made me a better striker.”
Belingon has taken a long road back to a second title shot. His two-year journey back to the top has ended with him arriving at his destination a significantly better martial artist, and he has no intention of suffering the same fate in the rematch.
“It has been a long wait for me. The rematch has been the only thing on my mind for the past two years.
“In many ways, Bibiano is still the dangerous black belt, and I have to be careful. But this time, if he wants to take me down, he’ll have to walk through fire to get close to me.
“I don’t plan on just standing there and letting him dictate the pace. I’ll fight with fury, and this time, I will connect.”