Bibiano ‘The Flash’ Fernandes has already won the Dream Grand Prix at both bantamweight and featherweight and has the opportunity to add another belt to his collection in Manila on May 31 when he takes on Koetsu Okazaki of Japan for the ONE FC interim bantamweight belt.
The 33-year-old Brazilian is well on his way to becoming the most decorated fighter in the history of Asian MMA and, having been the Dream champion at two different weight classes, he refuses to rule out the possibility of trying to replicate that achievement with ONE FC.
“[Challenging for the ONE FC bantamweight belt] would be interesting. My focus is my next fight but never say never,” he told the Post.
The reigning ONE FC featherweight champion Honorio Banario of the Philippines will also be in action at ONE FC: Rise to Power, defending his belt in the main event at the 20,000 capacity SM Mall of Asia Arena, but before Fernandes can even think about moving up a division he has business to attend to at 135lbs (61.7kg)
Okazaki is a former shooto champion who has been a professional for over nine years, and the Brazilian believes his opponent’s experience and skills set means that winning the interim belt will be no formality,
“I think he’s pretty good. Good stand-up. It will be a good fight,” Fernandes said.
On his ONE FC debut last August, Fernandes comfortably beat the Brazilian-born, Australia-based Gustavo Falciroli in the main event of ONE FC: Pride of a Nation that also took place in Manila.
He is hoping that this time he won’t leave it in the hands of the judges but rejects suggestions that the eight-month break prior to the Falciroli fight adversely affected his performance.
“I will do my best to finish, but it’s not always easy. Sometimes your opponent is too strong. I just want to go and do my best at my job,” he said.
“Every fight is different; every opponent is different. I don’t really think it was cage rust [against Falciroli]; I’ve had long breaks before. Plus I’m always in the gym trying to keep on top of my game.”
Fernandes famously trains alongside UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson at Matt Hume’s American Martial Arts Center (AMC). The pair are known for putting on the sort of sparring sessions people would pay to watch, and Fernandes feels he benefits from getting to workout regularly with one of the best fighters in the world.
“I train in Vancouver and at AMC in Seattle. It always helps to have a high-level training partner, and I always look for the best coaches and people to spar with,” he said.
In his most recent outing, The Flash turned on the style to show why he is rated by many in Asia as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world by submitting Japan’s Yoshiro Maeda with a triangle choke early in the opening round at the joint Dream and Glory New Year’s Eve card in Saitama.
As well as the two Dream titles and Grand Prix’s, Fernandes has also won numerous grappling competitions including the Pan American Championships (three times), the World Championships (five times) and the Brazilian National Championships (five times). His 13-3 MMA record includes five submission wins.
The reason an interim version of the bantamweight title is on the line on May 31 is that the ONE FC world championship belt is currently owned by South Korea’s Soo Chul Kim, who has been out of action since October with a shoulder injury. If Fernandes prevails against Okazaki, his next fight will likely be against Kim, but there are plenty more bantamweight contenders waiting in the wings.
Two of them will be facing off in Manila in one of the most eagerly anticipated fights on the card as Masakatsu Ueda of Japan and Filipino Kevin Belingon meet in the final of the ONE FC Bantamweight Grand Prix. The winner is all but guaranteed a shot at the title and Fernandes says he hopes to get a chance to size up these two prospective future opponents.
“If I can, I’d love to watch. But, like I said, my focus now is on the present and my next fight,” he said.
Last year it was Fernandes’s contractual situation which made the headlines as his decision to sign with ONE FC embarrassed the UFC, who had not only made him an offer but had already announced the date he would be making his debut and the identity of the opponent.
With a title fight looming, the Brazilian is keen to focus on the future rather than dwell on the past, but he says he has no regrets and is content with his current situation.
“I’m 100 per cent happy with my decision. ONE FC is going to be huge and I’m happy to be a part of that organisation.”
Fernandes says he hopes to fight “two or three” times this year, which he hopes will include facing Kim in a unification bout and making the first defence of that title against either Belingon or Ueda.
If he can survive that schedule without registering a first loss in six years, Fernandes’s status as the best mixed martial artist operating in Asia will be all but secure, and a move to featherweight in search of a second ONE FC title shot may make sense.