Trilogies aren’t rare in major MMA promotions. But two athletes facing off four times? That’s unheard of.
On Sunday in Tokyo, Bibiano Fernandes and Kevin Belingon are set to meet a fourth time for the ONE Championship bantamweight (145-pound) crown, and “The Flash,” who’s 2-1 against “The Silencer,” jokes that they are breaking world records.
“I think we are in the Guinness Book already,” Fernandes laughs. “And if I have to fight him one more time in another title defense, I will. It’s all good. It’s business, it’s my job.”
Fernandes fought the Filipino bantamweight for the first time in Jan. 2016, defending his belt with a kimura finish in the first round. Belingon earned a rematch after six straight victories, including an interim title win, and he bested Fernandes in a controversial split decision this past November.
The trilogy took place four months later, and once again, it ended in controversy after Belingon landed several illegal elbows to the back of the head. Fernandes couldn’t continue, and “The Silencer” was disqualified.
Days after the contest, Fernandes told MMA Fighting he didn’t remember anything from the fight due to the illegal blows, and he wasn’t sure if he would agree to face Belingon a fourth time.
But they will fight again, and Fernandes said the location is perfect.
“I’m happy to be fighting him in Japan, especially with the way the last fight ended,” Fernandes said. “I think fans wanted a better ending for that fight. I’ve evolved more than him for this fight. I’ll come back a new fighter, with new skills.”
Bringing something new every time you have to face the same opponent is tricky. Doing it for the fourth time just adds more pieces to the puzzle. And yet, the Brazilian looks back at his jiu-jitsu days for inspiration.
“I come from the jiu-jitsu world, where you had to face the same guys over and over again,” Fernandes said. “There’s a guy in Manaus that I fought seven times, there’s a Japanese guy I fought three times, (and) there’s another kid I fought four times. This mindset of competing the same opponent again and again makes it easier for me. It’s easier for me to adjust (for a rematch), you know?
“I’m not a one-dimensional guy that only goes one direction. I can adjust well in a fight, because I can use my hands, my kicks. I can take you down, or defend myself. I’m going there with a whole new skill set. I have that already, and I can use it. Kevin doesn’t. He has his skill set on the feet, trying to knock you out. But I don’t think he’ll try to submit me. I can. I’ll submit him if he makes a mistake, and I’ll knock him out if he makes a mistake.”
Even though he feels he deserved the win in the second bout, Fernandes doesn’t consider himself to be 3-0 against Belingon. After reigning as the Dream featherweight champion, with wins over the likes of Joachim Hansen, Joe Warren, and Hiroyuki Takaya, “The Flash” embraces the added pressure.
“Fighting here again is special,” Fernandes said. “I love the pressure. I was born to fight. I was born to do this. Fighting in a huge event like this is like competing in a state jiu-jitsu tournament for me. I love pressure, the adrenaline. That only makes me stronger. I’m happy to be part of such a huge card like this.”
Victorious in 22 of his last 24 fights since 2008, Fernandes doesn’t rule out facing Belingon one more time in the future. But another title contender could emerge in the division later this month when UFC veteran John Lineker makes his ONE Championship debut against Muin Gafurov on Oct. 25.
“That’s good for him and for ONE,” Fernandes said, “but there are guys here that are really tough matchups. I think he’ll do well, but a fight is a fight. He’s a good kid. Let’s see what they throw at me. I’m focused on this guy ahead of me.
“Will (Lineker) win? Gafurov is a tough fight, too. We don’t know. Let’s see what happens in the future. Whoever that is, I’ll fight anyone they put in front of me. I’m a professional mixed martial arts fighter with many skills. I’m not just a jiu-jitsu fighter, and I have a high fight IQ.”