Features

Bibiano Fernandes Overcame Extreme Poverty To Become A Legend

December 15, 2017

Life is good for ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes.

The Brazilian is riding a 13-bout win streak, has not lost a match since December 2010, and has become the world’s best bantamweight martial artist, possibly of all time.

He can add another milestone to his legendary career by defending his title against two-division world champion, Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen, at ONE: IRON WILL in Bangkok, Thailand, on 24 March 2018.

The epic World Champion showdown was announced by ONE Championship Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong during a recent press conference in Vietnam, and in a Facebook post.

However, times were not always so kind for the 37-year-old Fernandes, who endured more tragedy and heartbreak than any child ever should.

Abandoned In The Jungle, But Found On The Mats

Growing up in Manaus, Amazonas, with five siblings, Fernandes’ mother passed away when he was seven years of age. His father could not provide for the family, so he forced “The Flash” and his siblings to live with their aunt deep in the Amazon Jungle, where they had to hunt and feed off the land to survive. 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.”

Soon after his father rescued him from the jungle and helped him win his bout with malaria, Fernandes would discover a better life.

As a teenager, he worked odd jobs to help his dad pay the bills. But one afternoon, his life was changed forever when he stumbled upon a nearby martial arts gym that was teaching Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Fernandes’ interest was piqued, and he instantly fell in love wth the “gentle art.”

There was one issue, however – he could not afford a gym membership.

“I told the coach, ‘Listen, I do not have any money for training, I do not think I can train,’” he recollects. But fortunately, to his surprise, his coach understood, and made him a deal.

“He told me, ’It is ok, just clean the gym.’ I went everyday, cleaning the gym and helping him. I focused on jiu-jitsu and I met a lot of people. It is a community. It is because of my past that I am here today.”

Fernandes excelled at the discipline, and earned his black belt in 2002. In addition to that, he became a decorated grappler, as he won several major titles during his BJJ career. This included three IBJJF World Championships and three Pan American Championships, all in the black belt division.

Simply put, the “gentle art” transformed him completely.

“Jiu-jitsu is very important for the mind,” he begins. “It is very important for the body. I believe that jiu-jitsu helped me a lot. It is self-discipline.

“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.”

A Constant Thirst To Improve

Another thing jiu-jitsu gave him was a terrific base for his transition for martial arts competition in the cage.

Fernandes made a successful professional debut in October 2004 with a 31-second rear-naked choke victory. Despite stumbling in his next two bouts, “The Flash” soon found a way to put all of his skills together, and his career took off from there.

The Brazilian had added a dynamic striking element to his world-class submission game, captured the DREAM Featherweight Championship in 2009, and then moved down a division to claim the DREAM Bantamweight Championship two years later.

When he brought his talents to ONE Championship, the submission master quickly become a staple in the organization. Fernandes won the ONE Interim Bantamweight World Championship in May 2013, and then beat then-titleholder Soo Chul Kim later that October to become the undisputed best bantamweight in the world.

Even though he has reigned over the bantamweight division with an iron fist for over four years, “The Flash” has not lost sight of his mission. In fact, he is on a never-ending quest to constantly improve and continue winning.

Following a five-round split decision victory over Reece “Lightning” McLaren in December 2016, Fernandes was determined to make a definitive statement in his next bout, which he did.

This past August, at ONE: KINGS & CONQUERORS, he made an example out of Bali MMA’s Andrew Leone. The Brazilian relentlessly attacked his rival, dropped him with powerful strikes, and submitted him with an airtight rear-naked choke in under two minutes.

Evidently, the bantamweight world champion has not lost sight of his mission.

“A lot of people, when they reach a different level, lose their focus. They think because they are a champion they can enjoy their life or slack off. I do not think like that. I think I can be better today, I can be better tomorrow, I can be better the next day,” he explains.

Family Is Everything

Clearly, Fernandes has maintained his focus and is more motivated than ever before, but a big reason for that is four very special people — his wife and three sons.

“I know if I work hard and take care of myself, then I can take care of my family,” the champion says. “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.”

His family is extra special to him, because in many ways, his own life was never stable during his childhood.

When he reflects on his adolescence, Fernandes easily remembers how tough and difficult it was. Essentially, he was raised in a broken home. The family was poor, his mother passed away, he and his siblings were abandoned by their father in the jungle, and he mopped floors in exchange for jiu-jitsu lessons.

Now, as a dad and a martial arts world champion, the Brazilian can provide his children with the life he never had, and he is driven to make the world a better place for them.

“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.”

Fernandes will have the chance to enjoy the holiday season with his family, who now resides in lovely Vancouver in Canada. But once the new year hits, he will be deep in training camp in anticipation of his big title defense against Nguyen.

When “The Flash” steps into the cage this coming March 2018, he is not only defending the title, but 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.”