Soo Chul Kim will be a massive underdog when he takes on Bibiano Fernandes in a bantamweight championship unification bout at ONE FC: Total Domination on Friday, Oct. 18, but it is a role that the 21-year-old Korean revels in.
He was not expected to dominate top Filipino bantamweight Kevin Belingon in Manila last August, and he was definitely not expected to become the inaugural ONE FC 135-pound champion by winning a rematch with Leandro Issa in Singapore last October.
The victory was his third in succession and led him to win the Fighter of the Year award from top Korean MMA website M-Fight. The bout with Fernandes will be his first in 12 months, but Kim is adamant he will be able to upset the Brazilian.
“People always expect me to lose, so I am used to it. Bibiano is 12 years older than me and I respect everything he has accomplished fighting for DREAM and ONE FC, but I don’t think he has the same stamina as me and in a five-round fight that is a big disadvantage,” he said.
Fernandes won the interim version of the belt with a decision win over Koetsu Okazaki in May. Kim said the Brazilian’s performance that night did not give him too much cause for concern.
“Actually, I wanted to fight Bibiano in May, but I had only just come back from my shoulder injury and ONE FC thought I needed more time to prepare. I plan to be more aggressive than Okazaki was and to fight fearlessly,” he said.
Kim had initially been scheduled to face Japanese veteran Takafumi Otsuka at Road FC 12 in June, but the match-up was cancelled due to some confusion with his ONE FC contract.
“The ONE FC Network means that fighters can fight for a lot of different promotions, including Road FC, which is a big benefit because it means you can stay busy and fight all the time. However, ONE FC champions can only fight for ONE FC. At the time the fight was announced, we did not realize this,” he said.
The second-round stoppage win over Issa was rendered even more impressive because Kim sustained a serious shoulder injury beating Belingon the previous month. While he turned his career around with three wins in five months, this hectic schedule would ultimately take its toll and force the Korean to take a lengthy break from fighting.
“I was rehabilitating my injuries and doing some coaching, so I did not stop training completely, but it took nearly seven months before I was able to train properly,” he told MMAWeekly.com. “I should really have pulled out of the fight with Issa because of my shoulder, but I am definitely glad I didn’t.”
Despite winning the ONE FC title and breaking Issa’s seven-fight winning streak, Kim still feels that he has plenty to prove. A win over Fernandes would immediately establish him as the best bantamweight in Asia and give the 21-year-old the recognition he craves.
“Maybe some people think I was lucky to beat Issa, but our first fight went three rounds and was very close and I knew I would do better second time around. If I beat Fernandes and unify the belts, no one will be able to say I am not the best bantamweight in Asia. That is my goal and on Oct. 18 I plan to surprise everyone with my performance,” he said.
Kim has won his last three fights and his record stands at 7-4, but Fernandes has six straight wins, is 13-3 overall, and has been DREAM champion at two weights, courtesy of winning Grand Prix tournaments as both a bantamweight and a featherweight.
The Brazilian is also a decorated BJJ black belt and five-time world champion. It is an impressive collection of belts, trophies and titles, but Kim says he is not intimidated by his opponent’s resume.
“This will be my third fight against a BJJ black belt, so I am already used to that. Bibiano is a very good fighter, one of the best in the world, but he is not unbeatable. I am always improving, I have a lot of experience for my age, and I want to shock the world by beating Bibiano and unifying the ONE FC belts.”