Bibiano Fernandes has compiled a 12-1 record in his last 13 fights. | Photo: Taro Irei/Sherdog.com
Former two-division Dream champion Bibiano Fernandes has zeroed in on another prize: the interim One Fighting Championship bantamweight title.
Fernandes will meet onetime Shooto kingpin Koetsu Okazaki for the interim strap at One FC 9 “Rise to Power” on May 31 at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, Philippines. The 33-year-old Brazilian remains one of the sport’s most sought-after talents at 135 pounds. In fact, last summer it was announced that Fernandes had signed with the Ultimate Fighting Championship and would make his promotional debut at UFC 149. However, Fernandes never fought for the UFC, and to this day, he denies a contract was ever in place.
“I was never in exclusive negotiations with any particular company, and I was as surprised as everybody when reports emerged that I had a fight lined up when I had not even signed the contract yet,” he told Sherdog.com. “I had many offers on the table, and after thoroughly considering all of them, I decided that One FC provided me with the best opportunity.
“They are firmly established as the best promotion outside of the United States, and the coverage they get is phenomenal,” Fernandes added. “I was blown away by how many journalists there were at One FC’s press conferences. It’s more than anything that I’ve been a part of. It was also easy for me to decide to fight in Asia since I’ve fought there so many times and always received a lot of support from the fans.”
Fernandes’ roots in martial arts can be traced to Manaus, Brazil, where he spent his childhood in desperate poverty -- he was homeless for a time -- and stayed alive by begging in the streets and foraging for food in the forest. He spent hours at stoplights in town, offering to wash car windows for whatever he could get in return. That was how Fernandes first crossed paths with some locals who trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. They invited him to watch them train and to see what the discipline was all about. Fernandes attended classes regularly and tried to learn what he could by watching because he could not afford to pay for the training. When a philanthropic woman noticed his interest, she became his sponsor and paid his monthly fees. Fernandes took the opportunity and ran with it, winning his first competition two weeks later. He went on to carve out quite a name for himself, becoming a five-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion and three-time Pan American champion.
As tends to happen with world-class Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners, Fernandes soon became interested in mixed martial arts.
“When I took my first mixed martial arts fight, I just wanted to test Brazilian jiu-jitsu against other disciplines,” he said. “At that time, I did not train any standup at all.”
Fernandes won his first professional fight against Luis Figueroa, sinking a rear-naked choke submission in just 31 seconds inside the Jungle Fight promotion. In his next outing, he challenged Urijah Faber for the King of the Cage bantamweight championship, but “The California Kid” utilized his well-known ground-and-pound, opened a cut on Fernandes’ forehead and elicited a doctor’s stoppage in the first round.
“After my first loss,” he said, “I realized that, no matter how good my Brazilian jiu-jitsu is, I would need to improve my striking.”
Fernandes was determined to excel in all facets of MMA and began training with various coaches in order to improve his versatility. A few years ago, he dropped anchor at AMC Pankration in Kirkland, Wash., to study under Pancrase veteran and respected trainer Matt Hume. Fernandes has suffered only two defeats since: a September 2007 loss to Norifumi Yamamoto and a December 2010 setback to Hiroyuki Takaya, both under the K-1 banner and both by unanimous decision.
“I’ve had many good striking coaches over the years, first in Brazil and now in Canada,” Fernandes said. “Now I train extensively with [UFC flyweight titleholder] Demetrious Johnson at AMC Pankration because he’s a world champion and we’re similar in size.”
Ferandes and Okazaki are former featherweight champions who have brought significant power and versatility down to the 135-pound division.
The 33-year-old Okazaki has spent his entire career within the Shooto promotion, earning recognition for his striking and endurance; all eight of his wins have come by knockout or decision, and he has only been submitted once. Fernandes has also demonstrated a comprehensive understanding of MMA, with seven wins by decision, five by submission and another by knockout. However, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt admits he does not spend much time analyzing opponents.
“I don’t believe in game plans,” Fernandes said. “I go in to fight, and if I fight better than the other person, then I’m going to win. If not, then I’m going to lose. I’ve seen some of his fights, and Okazaki is a very good mixed martial artist. He’s very well-rounded, with good striking and a good ground game, but I’m better than him at every aspect, so I’m confident that I can emerge victorious wherever the fight goes.”
If Fernandes does indeed take the interim One FC bantamweight title, his only immediate plan is to defend it, despite the fact that there have already been calls for a super fight with One FC lightweight champion Shinya Aoki. While Fernandes does not sound opposed to the idea, he wants to keep his options open.
“I will want to defend the title,” he said. “If [reigning One FC bantamweight champion] Soo Chul Kim is ready to fight, then I would want to fight him next. If not, then I’ll fight whoever they give me. To me, a fight is just a competition, and I don’t really think about who I want to fight. If One FC tells me they want me to fight Shinya, then I will, but I won’t ask to choose my opponents.”
Fernandes’ life revolves around fighting, training and family.
“I don’t have much time to really do much else,” he said. “Even when I’m not in a training camp, I’m still at the gym most of the day working out and staying in shape. I don’t believe in having an offseason, and I don’t need it. My family is the world to me, and I want to spend as much time as I can with them while I’m not in the gym.”
On occasion, he returns home to Manaus.
“I spent most of my life there, so of course it’s special to me,” Fernandes said. “I didn’t have many friends or family there, but I do go visit the people who have been good to me growing up. I would love to compete there one day. I also go back to the jungle. It provides me with some peach and tranquility that I’m not able to find in the city.”