As a four-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) world champion, DREAM bantamweight and featherweight champion and interim ONE FC champion Brazil’s Bibiano Fernandes is used to finding himself in the sights of up-and-coming contenders looking to make a name for themselves at his expense.
At 33 years old, it comes with the territory. But he can seldom have faced an opponent more determined or hungry than Soo Chul Kim.
The South Korean is just 21 and, despite holding the regular ONE FC bantamweight world title, knows he has it all to prove when he takes on Fernandes in Singapore on October 18.
Their unification bout will be the main event of ONE FC: Total Domination at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. And for all his experience, Fernandes believes he could well be in for the fight of his life,
“He is young, he is tough and he has crazy stamina,” the Brazilian said of his opponent Kim.
“I saw his fight with Kevin Belingon in Manila [in August, 2012], and for three rounds he fought at a crazy pace. He doesn’t seem to get tired. I have good stamina too, so it should make for a very exciting fight.”
Fernandes, whose nickname ‘The Flash’ hails from his early reputation of being able to finish a fight quickly, is the most dominant bantamweight in Asia and he has also beaten many of the top featherweights in the region, winning the DREAM Grand Prix in both divisions.
Adding to this staggering achievement are ONE FC wins over BJJ black belt Gustavo Falciroli last year and shooto champion Koetsu Okazaki in May.
It is no coincidence that ONE FC’s October event is titled Total Domination, with the Singapore-based organisation enjoying a virtual monopoly on the market courtesy of a ground-breaking network of gyms and promotions and signing up 90 per cent of the top fighters in Asia.
Fernandes knows that if he wants to remain at the pinnacle of the sport he will need to fight off increasingly fierce competition. But he says this is one of the reasons he decided to sign with ONE FC, despite strong interest from rival promotions,
“Since very early in my career I have been fighting in Asia and people here always support me. There are some tough fighters and I know my next opponent is more than 10 years younger than me. But I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I sleep well every night, he said.
“I can carry on fighting for a long time, and I want to unify the ONE FC titles and then defend them many times.”
The unification bout became necessary because Soo Chul Kim suffered a serious shoulder injury in the process of becoming the inaugural ONE FC bantamweight champion last October. He was unable to defend the belt for nearly a year as he recovered and rehabilitated, so Fernandes was given the opportunity to fight for an interim version in May.
Two bantamweight belts is one too many and either Kim or Fernandes must surrender their strap on October 18. It has been touted as the Asian MMA Fight of the Year and both will bring a lot of momentum into it with the Brazilian riding a six-fight win streak and the Korean having registered three straight victories.
The prospect of headlining cards of this magnitude inspired Fernandes to sign for ONE FC in the first place and he is looking forward to fighting in front of the Singaporean fans for the first time, “I have fought in Japan maybe nine or 10 times and I love the fans there, but now with ONE FC I get to go to many different countries. There were 20,000 fans at my last fight in Manila. It was crazy, and I am very happy to fight in Singapore for the first time.
And I promise the fans there this will be a very good fight.”
ONE FC yesterday announced three further matches on their Total Domination card, all of which feature Singaporean MMA fighters facing off against Malaysian rivals.
Ann Osman is set to become the first Malaysian female to step into the ONE FC cage against Singapore’s Sherilyn Lim.
Juan Wen Jie, the 2011 Manhunt Singapore winner, will make his eagerly anticipated debut against Malaysian welterweight Alex Lim while Singaporean Stephen Langdown will battle bantamweight Mark Marcellinus.
Fight fans across Asia can view all the action live on STAR Sports.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DAN RILEY