Bibiano Fernandes has won nine fights out of nine for ONE Championship. He hasn’t lost since 2010 and will be looking for his 14th straight victory this Saturday, but the Brazilian faces a threat unlike any he has encountered before.
Martin Nguyen has been laying waste to the promotion’s champions with his devastating right hand. He is eight years younger than the Brazilian and Fernandes knows he is in for a real test at ONE: Iron Will in Bangkok.
“Nguyen is a challenge, and I need more challenges coming to me. Let’s see how good he is, let’s see how tough he is, let’s see how good his skills are. I want to see that.”
Under normal circumstances fans might regard a Fernandes fight as a foregone conclusion. It’s not that his opponents are bad, the records of fighters like Kevin Belingon and Masakatsu Ueda speak for themselves. It’s just that the Brazilian is too good.
However, Nguyen has been confounding expectations for quite some time now. The knockouts of Eduard Folayang and Marat Gafurov were preceded by similar stoppage wins over the experienced Kazunori Yokota and the previously undefeated Christian Lee.
All four were fights Nguyen might have been expected to lose, and he defeated all four opponents in devastating style. So anyone suggesting that he might do the same to Fernandes at the Impact Arena in Bangkok is unlikely to be laughed out of town.
The champion needs no reminding about what Nguyen brings to the table. He’s seen the fights in question and knows exactly what to expect.
“I see what he has. I know he has the right hand, the left hook, and he throws some kicks. I know he will do this. I understand the way he plays. I have had tough matches for years, and I am excited for this match. He says he is going to knock me out, so let’s see him knock me out.”
Fernandes has been stopped once, in 2006. But it was only his second ever MMA fight and he was thrown in with Urjah Faber, who already had 15 wins to his name and had claimed titles with both King of the Cage and WEC.
Since then, no fighter has finished the Brazilian. Established veterans like Norifumi Yamamoto, Masakazu Imanari, Joe Warren, Joachim Hansen, and Masakatsu Ueda have all failed, as have young and hungry contenders such as Andrew Leone, Reece McLaren, Kevin Belingon, Dae Hwan Kim, and Soo Chul Kim.
But Fernandes’ longevity is not down to luck. He has the BJJ black belt and has also demonstrated some devastating striking skills in recent fights, but it is the lifestyle which the Brazilian leads that has helped him remain a dominant champion until the age of 38.
“I wake up, I sleep, and I train. I try to improve myself every day and that is my life. I have the chance to take care of my body and take care of my mind, and just improve my skills. That is what I do for a living.”
Although Fernandes’ ONE Championship purses are not disclosed, his career earnings can be measured in the millions. However, you are unlikely to see him embarking on any lavish spending sprees or epic nights out.
“I do not party and I do not go out. I stay at home, I am with my family, and I drive my kids to school. After that, I am at the gym, and I am trying to improve myself every day.”
This dedication and discipline is reflected in Fernandes’ recent results. He keeps on winning, but the style of his victories has become increasingly impressive with four finishes in his last five fights, two of them in the opening round.
The most recent came at the expense of Andrew Leone last August and Fernandes says he was determined to finish that one without the judges’ intervention.
“For that match, I wanted to push myself. I said to myself that I could finish that guy, and I was going to push the pace. At the beginning of that match, I tried to take him down. He sprawled, and when he came up, I hit him with a left hook. I then fought him in the clinch, and I felt he was very strong in the clinch. Then I finished him with the knee.”
It will go down as a submission win because, having hurt Leone with a knee to the body, Fernandes finished the fight with a rear-naked choke. However, it was his striking that made the difference, which is testament to how the Brazilian has continued to evolve, even as he approaches his 40th birthday.
Nguyen’s evolution has been much more rapid. At ONE: Iron Will, a man who has been at the top of the MMA mountain for a decade will meet an opponent who has only reached those heights in the last year.
It’s the sort of fight which many an aging champion has lost. But Fernandes says this is exactly the type of challenge he needs to stay motivated after 14 years in the sport.
“It is about challenges for me. If I was always in my comfort zone, then I would never evolve.”