Bibiano Fernandes claimed his second Dream title on Saturday. | Photo: Taro Irei
SAITAMA, Japan -- One year to the day after losing the Dream featherweight title in a close, contentious fight with Hiroyuki Takaya, Bibiano Fernandes holds gold once again.
Like his run through Dream's featherweight tournament in 2009, when he became the promotion's first 138-pound titlist, Fernandes repeated the feat in Dream's world bantamweight tournament. He dispatched UFC and WEC veteran Antonio Banuelos to become the promotion's inaugural bantamweight champion in the more traditional 135-pound division inside Saitama Super Arena at Dream’s “Genki Desu Ka! New Year’s Eve! 2011” on Saturday.
In the opening moments, "The Flash" came out from his corner with evil intent in his eyes, walking the American into a corner before unleashing with a high kick and a flurry of punches. As Banuelos circled out to escape, a big right hook from the Brazilian clipped him on the temple, sending him stumbling backward into the ropes.
Seeing the end and the belt within his reach, Fernandes lunged then to drop a punishing barrage of punches as Banuelos covered up. It only took a few punches to slip past Banuelos' guard to further scramble his brains and cause him to turn to his side, a sign that more or less tipped off referee Kenichi Serizawa to jump in for the save and call the bout at 1:21 of the first round.
The newly crowned bantamweight king took to the mic then, thanking friends, family and Japan before claiming, "This time, the belt come back for Canada. Thanks to Antonio Banuelos. He's a good opponent, but that's life."
The knockout, the first of the 31-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion’s MMA career, moves his mark to 11-3 in his seven-year campaign. Banuelos falls to 20-8 with the defeat.
Before making his way to the finals, Fernandes earned a solid unanimous decision over tough fellow Brazilian Rodolfo Marques Diniz in the semis. Despite not being helped by a longer-than-expected weight cut the previous day after coming in at 137.1 pounds, Marques was surprisingly resilient against the former Dream featherweight champion. Although he spent the majority of the first frame on his back eating short punches after a Fernandes double-leg takedown, Diniz was able to stay on his feet in the second, connecting with punches and high kicks on the on-rushing "Flash."
However, constant pressure with knees in the clinch, big left hands and takedown attempts from Fernandes were more than enough to seal the fight for him in the eyes of judges Hikaru Adachi, Gen Isono and Kenichi Serizawa.
Banuelos punched his ticket to the finals with a split decision win over former Deep champion Masakazu Imanari. The UFC and WEC veteran utilized a conservative but effective counter game, staying at range to potshot with punches while the "Ashikan Judan" lunged with kicks at varying levels without much success.
Banuelos was wary to allow the Japanese fighter near his legs or to pull him into guard. Imanari stepped up the aggression in the final frame, diving to pull Banuelos into guard; however, the American was successfully able to drop punches and stay out of the superlative grappler's rubber guard and lone leg lock attempt. As such, the San Luis Obispo, Calif., native netted decisions from Hikaru Adachi and Akira Shoji, with judge Isono being the lone and odd dissenter for Imanari.
The most breathtaking part of the bantamweight tournament finale came in the first bout of the evening, as Yusup Saadulaev swiftly dispatched Dream’s Japan bantamweight grand prix winner Hideo Tokoro with a thunderous suplex-slash-slam in the opening moments of their reserve bout.
The feisty Tokoro dove for takedowns and leg locks from the opening bell, but the outstanding Dagestani wrestler quickly secured the rear waistlock, from which he unleashed the ragdolling slam and planted Tokoro on his face. Saadulaev dropped a handful of academic punches on the inert Tokoro before referee Oshiro noticed the unconscious Japanese fighter, calling the fight at a scant 42 seconds. Tokoro was taken from the ring on a stretcher and was taken to local hospital as a precautionary measure.