Life is good for ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes. The Brazilian is riding a 12-fight win streak, has not lost a match since December 2010, and has become one of the greatest bantamweight mixed martial artists of all time.
However, times were not always so kind for the 37-year-old competitor, who endured more tragedy and heartbreak than any child should while growing up.
Growing up in Manaus, Amazonas, with five siblings, Fernandes’ mother passed away when he was only 7 years old. His father could not provide for the family, so he forced them to move into the jungle where they had to hunt to feed themselves. There, he contracted Malaria, and nearly died.
Although times were grim, he maintained a positive outlook on life that has carried him throughout his decades-spanning martial arts career.
“In the jungle, I always thought, ‘I can do better,’” he explains. “I had to get water, I had to help my aunt, I had to get the food and check on the fish. I had to do my job. Am I better than everybody? No. But I saw something different.”
Fernandes saw a better life in the future, and through pure hard work, perseverance, and the power of martial arts, he found the means to prosper. The road was not easy, as he even had to clean the gym in order to pay for his Brazilian jiu-jitsu training.
It would not be in vain. Today, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt resides comfortably in Canada, and owns five BJJ world championship gold medals, DREAM championship belts in two weight classes, and most importantly, the ONE Bantamweight World Title.
Despite all his accomplishments, “The Flash” does not do it for personal glory. Every minute he spends in the gym and the cage is dedicated to four people – his wife and three children.
“I know if I work hard and take care of myself, I can take care of my family,” says the champion. “I am blessed because I got an opportunity to be a father. I can coach, and I can take care of my kids. That’s a blessing.”
As he trains to face the challenge of Andrew Leone on Saturday, 5 August at ONE: KINGS AND CONQUERORS in Macao, he reflects on his own childhood, and how it made him determined to make the world a better place for his children.
“If your dad is an alcoholic, that does not mean you have to be an alcoholic. You teach your kids. Life is not built on the past – it is in the moment how you want to guide your kids,” he says. “We can be better. We can do better. We can keep improving each other, and we can evolve.”
With three young boys – who are 11, 6 ,and 4 years of age – running around the house, most athletes would have a difficult time getting in the right mindset to train for something as difficult as a world championship bout.
However, Fernandes is able to separate what happens at home and what happens in the gym. It is all about striking a balance, and the titleholder is a phenomenal striker.
“Right now, I am training my Brazilian jiu-jitsu. After this, I will go and do strength and conditioning. After I finish everything, I go home, be a husband and father, and discipline my kids,” he says, while taking a break at Revolution Martial Arts and Fitness in Langley, Canada.
“Fight camp with the family is easy, but family is hard in general. I have three kids, and each one has a different personality. That sometimes can affect you in the camp. But I am very smart with my kids. I say, ‘Listen to me, daddy has a fight coming up, and you can help me get through this.’ My kids would agree, and I would remind them never to forget that promise.”
Knowing how much martial arts has given him, all three of Fernandes’ kids also train in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and it is something he actively encourages.
“Jiu-jitsu is very important for the mind. It is very important for the body. I believe that jiu-jitsu helped me a lot. It is self-discipline,” he says. “You need to have confidence in life for everything — for you to drive your car, for you to walk on the street, for you to speak to a girl – anything in life, and jiu-jitsu can give you that.”
BJJ has given “The Flash” something else, that being a long-lasting career. The “gentle art” is his martial arts discipline of expertise, and he has been able to build upon that and become one of the greatest bantamweight mixed martial artists of all-time.
On Saturday, 5 August, Fernandes will look to further that claim when he defends the title against Leone at ONE: KINGS AND CONQUERORS in Macao. And when he steps in the cage, he is not only defending the title, but he also his legacy and livelihood.
“It is my job,” he says. “I go there and I have to work, because if I work, I can bring food home for my kids.”