The biggest bout in ONE Championship history will take place this weekend.
On Saturday, 24 March, ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes (21-3) will make a record-extending eighth title defense against ONE Featherweight and Lightweight World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen (10-1) at ONE: IRON WILL.
If Fernandes is victorious, he could set the record for the most wins in promotional history. However, if Nguyen defeats his nemesis, he will become the first, and only, three-division world champion ever to set foot in a cage.
Two Journeys, ONE Destination
Fernandes may be one of the most decorated grapplers in the world today, but before he became a five-time BJJ world champion, he had to endure tremendous adversity.
The Brazilian’s mother passed away when he was just 7 years old, which led to his father pushing him and his five siblings deep into Amazon Jungle to live with his aunt. There, he nearly died after contracting malaria, but his father soon brought into the city to live with him. “The Flash” then worked odd jobs in his native Manaus, Brazil, to help support the household.
While working an odd job as a car window cleaner, he stumbled upon his destiny. He noticed a local martial arts gym, and watched the students training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He was hooked instantly, and a young Bibiano managed to score a free gym membership in exchange for cleaning the gym. That deal set him on an amazing journey, which ultimately changed his life.
Nguyen has been on an amazing journey, too. In fact, it started before he was even born.
His family, along with their Vietnamese community, left the country as the Vietnam War came to a close in the 1970s. After navigating through Southeast Asia, they reestablished themselves in Australia.
There, Nguyen grew up with a bit of a mischievous streak. He initially shed it through rugby, and became a standout who played for a slew of junior clubs. But injuries and a loss of motivation led to his exit from the sport years later. In 2010, he turned to martial arts as a way to lose some weight. What he gained, however, was a new passion.
Fernandes earned his BJJ black belt in 2002, captured five BJJ world titles in the years to follow, and won even more honors following his cage debut in October 2004. His lightning-quick style even earned him the nickname of “The Flash.”
It would not be until he relocated to Vancouver, Canada, in 2008 that he truly underwent a transformation. Through his new camp at Revolution Fight Team, he added a stand-up element to his game and a cage awareness to his skill set, which led him to DREAM titles in two divisions.
“The Flash” then reached the pinnacle of his career when he claimed the ONE Bantamweight World Championship in 2013, which he has successfully defended an unprecedented seven times. Most recently, in August 2017, he tore through top contender Andrew Leone with speed and precision, getting him to submit in under two minutes.
Nguyen is also known for his ability to defeat opponents quickly.
Built from the ground up at KMA Top Team, “The Situ-Asian” has been an absolute terror inside the cage. Since his professional debut in July 2012, he has scored ten victories, and finished every single one of those opponents.
The Vietnamese-Australian’s greatest performances happened last year. In August 2017, he avenged his only loss by knocking out previously-unbeaten featherweight kingpin Marat “Cobra” Gafurov for the ONE Featherweight World Championship. Three months later, he repeated the feat, and took the ONE Lightweight World Championship off Eduard “Lanslide” Folayang, becoming the promotion’s first-ever two-division world champion.
Routes To Victory
Obviously, both men will not give away their respective game plans, but each warrior has provided a brief glimpse into their mindset.
For Fernandes, who spent some time training at one of his regular gyms, AMC Pankration, he plans to counter his opponent’s fierce striking. Also, from the sounds of it, “The Flash” wants to see how good his adversary’s striking actually is.
“I see what he has,” the 37-year-old Brazilian says. “I know he has the right hand, the left hook, and he throws some kicks. I know he will do this. I understand the way he plays. I have had tough matches for years, and I am excited for this match. He says he is going to knock me out, so let’s see him knock me out.”
Nguyen has watched plenty of tape on his bantamweight rival, and believes a massive weakness lies in his gas tank. While he will undoubtedly go for the early finish if the opportunity is presented, he may drag the bout on.
“I think he is the most vulnerable in the championship rounds,” the 29-year-old says.
“If you watch him compete, he tends to gas out pretty quick. He wants to finish everything in the first or second round, and if he does not get his way, he slows down dramatically. I think with my youth, athleticism, and cardio, this will go to the later rounds, and that is when I will start to play my game.”
Michael Schiavello, ONE Championship Lead Commentator
This has potential to be the most exciting match-up in ONE history. This is the type of match that is impossible to be boring. You are going to see some of the greatest martial arts action ever witnessed.
Bibi (Fernandes) has researched Martin (Nguyen) on video, and studied him more than any opponent before. Not only is Bibi a phenomenal martial artist technically and physically, but he is also a super smart strategist. This is what makes this match so intriguing. If anyone can solve “The Situ-Asian’s” overhand right, it is the phenomenal Brazilian.
Martin has to play both a physical game, and a psychological game. It will be extraordinarily hard to catch the Brazilian with his overhand right. The Brazilian is the most gifted, and well-rounded, martial artist Martin has competed against yet. Martin is going to have to bring something that we have never seen before.
Mitch Chilson, Broadcast Commentator And Former ONE Athlete
Bibiano is timeless. His accomplishments have said it all. If the veteran wants to prevent the changing of the guard, he will need to put on another great performance.
For this match-up, I think he would want to take the action to where he should have a clear advantage: the ground. By threatening the takedown and making Nguyen wrestle, he can wear out the arms of Nguyen, and try to reduce the power in later rounds. Most importantly, if Bibiano wants to remain as the champ, he will need to move that head.
I doubted Martin when he beat Marat. I said the power would not carry over to lightweight. Now he has dropped a weight class, and plans to take out the most dominant champion ONE has ever seen.
He has five rounds to touch the chin of Bibiano with that hand grenade of a right hand. Not only does he have knockout power, but I also believe he will have a speed advantage. With good movement, and footwork, he might be able to add a third world title to his resume.
Reece McLaren, Top Bantamweight And Flyweight Contender
What a match! This is history in the making! Martin possibly becoming the world’s first three-division world champion, and simultaneously, is unprecedented.
The keys to victory for Bibiano, I believe, are to take this match to the ground, and grind it out. His jiu-jitsu is world-class, and very slick. Keeping Martin on the ground will be what wins.
For Martin to get the nod, he will need to push his pace, and use his speed. He is super fit, and hits hard. If he is taken down, he needs to get up, and put pressure on Bibiano. Martin is very hard to keep down, so if taken down, he has the ability to stand, and the right hand can find its home.
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