Bibiano Fernandes had one goal in mind at ONE FC 23: end his recent rash of decisions. And fortunately that's just what he did. In what was inarguably Fernandes' best ONE FC performance to date, the Brazilian defended his bantamweight title by submitting previously undefeated Dae Hwan Kim with a slick second-round rear-naked choke to cap off the night's main event in Manila, Philippines.
Frustrated by fighting to decisions in each of his first four ONE FC bouts, Fernandes (17-3) fished with renewed urgency for the takedown and got it early, scoring a trio of successful double legs in the opening frame. Kim (10-1-1) fired back with some hard strikes of his own, including a nifty double spinning back kick and a flurry of elbows to the back of the head -- the latter of which drew Kim a yellow card -- but Fernandes ended the South Korean's night before it could really begin, ducking under a Kim combination and effortlessly jumping aboard his back midway through the second round.
From there the finish came quickly. Fernandes sunk in both hooks, flattened Kim out, and squeezed out a hasty tap, bringing an end to the contest at 1:16 of the second frame to cement Fernandes' second defense of his ONE FC bantamweight title.
"I felt great. I know [Kim] was hungry for a win, but I fought smart and jiu-jistu saved [me]," Fernandes said. "I'm free. I'm the champion. I'm here."
In the night's co-main event, Brandon Vera (13-7, 1 NC) made his first fight outside of the UFC since 2005 one to remember, outclassing Ukrainian heavyweight Igor Subora (5-2) en route to a vicious knockout finish. Vera staggered Subora with a high kick early, and from there it was clear Subora had little to offer. Vera sealed the deal minutes later, crushing Subora with a picture-perfect straight left, then adding a trio of soccer kicks for good measure. The official time of the stoppage came at 3:15 of the opening frame.
"Fighting here in the Philippines for the first time, I've been wanting to do this since I first started fighting MMA," an elated Vera said. "Climb that ladder, take on all challengers, get that ONE FC belt."
Same as Vera, it'd be a bit of an understatement to say Russian lightweight Timofey Nastyukhin (8-1) had the promotional debut of a lifetime. The 25-year-old ended his contest against Filipino favorite Eduard Folayang (14-5) in swift and exceedingly violent fashion, catching the veteran flush with a flying knee early in round one, then following him to the ground with a brutal volley of soccer kicks. The official time of the finish came just 3:11 into the contest, as Nastyukhin pushed his remarkable streak of first-round finishes to eight straight.
Elsewhere on the card, decorated jiu-jitsu champ Roger Gracie (7-2) set a career milestone of his own in his ONE FC debut, snatching his first recorded KO/TKO victory with a third-round barrage on James McSweeney (14-12) after the Englishman appeared to injure his ankle.
The light heavyweight contest was back and forth throughout as McSweeney took control early with an array of head and body kicks from the outside, but Gracie, fighting for the first time since July 2013, turned the tide in the second round by splitting a wide cut open above McSweeney's right eye. McSweeney appeared to have twisted his ankle midway through the fight, and though he battled through it, the injury resurfaced later in the third. McSweeney landed awkwardly off a high kick, staggered backward, and got promptly dropped by an opportunistic flurry from Gracie.
Referee Olivier Coste gave McSweeney a chance, but ultimately he called a stop to the contest at 3:15 of the third round, awarding Gracie his first win since his Strikeforce days.
Rounding out the rest of the main card, Kevin Belingon (13-4) and Koetsu Okazaki (10-4-1) overcame a slow start, which included a warning for inaction from referee Yuji Shimada, to close out their bantamweight contest in style. Belingon, the 27-year-old hometown favorite, nearly knocked out Okazaki in the closing seconds of round one with a big counter right hand, then went hard on low kicks until Okazaki's lead leg finally gave out midway through the third frame.
Belingon jumped on his fallen foe and proceeded to rain down a suffocating procession of punches and elbows from half guard, bringing the Filipino crowd to its feet inside the MOA Arena. Okazaki held on until the final horn, but all three judges scored the contest for Belingon, who advanced his ONE FC record to 4-4.
Herbert Burns (5-0) was promised a title shot if he could keep his undefeated record intact, and despite missing weight, he proved himself worthy. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu wizard utterly dominated former ONE FC featherweight champion Honorio Banario (8-5), seizing the Filipino's back in an early scramble, locking up a body triangle, then methodically working towards a rear-naked choke finish. Banario defended valiantly for a majority of the first round, but Burns ultimately was just too crafty, securing the submission at 3:59 of the opening frame to hand Banario his fourth consecutive loss.
Given a chance to avenge the only loss of his career, American prospect Jake Butler (4-1) made good on the opportunity, grinding out a unanimous decision over French light heavyweight Sylvain Potard (7-5) in the opening match of the night's pay-per-view card.
Potard scored a surprising second-round knockout of Butler back in Oct. 2013, but this time it was all Butler. The former colligate wrestler slowed the rematch's pace to his liking and notched takedowns in all three rounds, highlighted by a dizzying second-round salvo of unanswered blows from mount that nearly ended the fight. Potard was unable to get anything going, and while he appeared to be the fresher fighter in the final round, Butler strayed far enough from danger to capture the judges' nod.