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Bibiano Fernandes on Picking ONE FC Over UFC: Family Before Career

MMA Fighting
MMA Fighting

Bibiano Fernandes does not care what you think. It's of no concern to him that you might believe picking upstart international promotion ONE FC over the UFC was a risk, a move that would affect his place in the divisional rankings, or a step down in competition level. It's not that he's dismissive of fans; it's just that he has his own criteria for making decisions, and they have nothing to do with you. In fact, they have little to do with him, or more directly, his own selfish feelings. If that had been the case, then maybe he would have made the choice that everyone expected him to. If that had been the case, it wouldn't have been so easy to spurn the world's biggest promotion.

But it wasn't about any of that. The real truth is deeper than money, more important than legacy.

In a 30-minute conversation that largely centers on his surprising choice, Fernandes repeatedly discusses the situation with some bit of frustration. After all, it's hard to put into words a decision that bypasses many measures of reason and comes straight from the heart.

Finally, he asks a question of his own.

"Do you have kids?" he asks.

"Yes," I say. "I have a baby daughter."

Fernandes is in Seattle, almost 3,000 miles away from where I sit, but I can almost feel him smiling over the phone. He has already explained that he has a son on the way, with a due date of Sept. 23. It will be his third boy, joining Elijah and Gabriel.

He has also explained that from an athletic standpoint, he's lived his dream, which was to be a world champion in jiu-jitsu. At 32 years old, he is mature enough to realize that his roles as husband and father dictate the reality that he can no longer live for just himself.

"To me, fathers are heroes," he says. "I see when guys fight, people say, 'Man, this guy has a lot of courage.' The guy who wins the fight, who wins every sport, people say he has courage. But I think fathers have courage. I want to be a champion with my family. I don't want to only be a good athlete. I want to be a good father for my sons. I have to do a balance."

And there it is. It's that simple, a decision that best addressed his family's needs.

For a time, it didn't seem like it would end this way. In early June, the UFC announced that they'd won the Fernandes bidding war, and that he would debut the next month. About a week later, the news broke that he actually had not signed, and was still actively weighing offers.

The original announcement was made prematurely, he said, as he was going back and forth with the promotion. When ONE FC trumped the UFC deal, he asked the American organization to sweeten their terms. When they declined, he made his decision. Afterward, they changed their minds, but it was too late.

"I know a lot of people hear a lot of things, but I'm sorry, I'm a true guy. Everything I do, I try to make the correct decision for my family," he said. "I don't want to be famous. I just want to fight and take care of my family. Everything I do is for them."

Fernandes (11-3) doesn't hold any anti-UFC feelings as a result of the negotiations or clumsy announcement. He acknowledges it is a strong organization with an excellent talent pool. In the end, after contract talks with both sides, the ONE FC offer was simply more attractive, more lucrative.

And the rest was simple. He says that there were no considerations for him past how the deal would best help the people he loves most.

As far as his worldwide ranking goes (he's ranked inside the top 10 of most, including No. 7 by MMA Fighting), he has no concerns about it.

"No," he repeats four times. "I'm sorry to say something, but I don't give a s---. It doesn't matter. Maybe you're No. 1 today and one year from now they put another guy there. Great. Awesome. I don't think about that. My goal is training hard and fighting good.

"Before, if you didn't fight in PRIDE, you were no good," he continues. "Now, it's UFC. People say, 'You're only good if you fight in the UFC.' That's a lie."

The numerical ranking aside, most fighters desire the title of "best in the world." The move to ONE FC means that Fernandes will have a difficult time convincing MMA observers of that, mainly because while ONE FC is loading up on talent, they are still relative newcomers to the fight world and have yet to amass the collection of potential opposition to boost Fernandes' stock.

For example, at an August 31 show in Manila, Philippines, Fernandes' first ONE FC fight will come against Brazilian Gustavo Falciroli, who is 12-3-2 with 10 finishes, but not well known by many of the sport's fans.

"For me, I don't look at that," he says. "If fighters think they're the best, that's great. If you think like that, go for it. But I'm going to tell you something. When we step in the ring, I'm No. 1."

It's a mentality that likely mirrors the institutional excitement inside ONE FC. The promotion, headed by top former Asian sports businessman Victor Cui, was only launched about one year ago, but has quickly grown, signing names like Shinya Aoki, Renato Sobral, and a trio of Gracies (Rolles, Gregor and Igor.) A major broadcasting deal with ESPN Star Sports gives the promotion major clearance throughout Asia, and they've also secured sponsorships from major companies like Sony, Schick and Energizer batteries.

Fernandes, who has fought much of his career in Japan's DREAM -- where he had reigns as both the featherweight and bantamweight champ -- cites the growth potential as an attractive drawing card for luring future talent.

But in the end, that really didn't matter. The only considerations were his two boys and the one on the way. What was best for them was ultimately best for him.

"I made my choice," he said. "It's not because the UFC isn't good. I had another choice. One day my body is going to tell me, 'OK, Bibiano, it's time to stop.' And I'll have to stop. It's a short time you have. That's it. You have it, you finish, and bye-bye. Nobody is going to take care of me. If I don't work for myself, nobody will. It's a business for me, for UFC, for ONE FC. But my mission is my family."

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