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ONE FC 9: Bibiano Fernandes not ruling out 145-pound belt, but focused on bantamweight fight at 'Rise to Power'

Can Bibiano Fernandes replicate his DREAM success in ONE FC?

Bibiano Fernandes
Bibiano Fernandes

Bibiano Fernandes has already won the Dream Grand Prix at both bantamweight and featherweight and has the opportunity to add another belt to his collection in Manila on May 31 when he takes on Koetsu Okazaki for the ONE FC Interim 135-pound strap.

He is well on his way to becoming the most decorated fighter in the history of Asian mixed martial arts (MMA) and having been the Dream champion at two different weight classes he refuses to rule out the possibility of trying to replicate that achievement with ONE FC.

"It (challenging for the 145-pound ONE FC belt) would be interesting. My focus is my next fight but never say never."

The reigning 145-pound champion, Honorio Banario, will also be in action at ONE FC: "Rise to Power," defending his belt in the main event at the 20,000 capacity SM Mall of Asia Arena, but before Fernandes can even think about moving up a division he has business to attend to at bantamweight.

Okazaki is a former Shooto champion who has been a professional for over nine years and the Brazilian believes his opponent’s experience and skill set means that winning the interim belt will be no formality.

"I think he's pretty good. Good stand-up. It will be a good fight."

On his ONE FC debut Fernandes comfortably beat the Brazilian born, Australian based Gustavo Falciroli in the main event of "Pride of a Nation," which also took place in Manila. He is hoping that this time he won’t leave it in the hands of the judges but rejects suggestions that the eight month break prior to the Falciroli fight adversely affected his performance.

"I will do my best to finish, but it's not always easy. Sometimes your opponent is too strong. I just want to go and do my best at my job. Every fight is different, every opponent is different. I don't really think it was cage rust (against Falciroli), I've had long breaks before. Plus I'm always in the gym trying to keep on top of my game," he said.

He famously trains alongside the number one flyweight in the world, at Matt Hume’s American Martial Arts Centre (AMC). The ONE FC bantamweight title contender and UFC flyweight champion are known for putting on the sort of sparring sessions which people would pay to watch and Fernandes feels he benefits from getting to work out regularly with one of the best fighters in the world.

"I train in Vancouver, Canada and at AMC in Seattle. It always helps to have a high level training partner and I always look for the best coaches and people to spar with."

In his most recent outing, Fernandes turned on the style to show why he is rated by many in Asia as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world by submitting Maeda with a triangle choke early in the opening round at the joint Dream and Glory New Year's Eve card.

As well as the two Dream titles and Grand Prixs he has also numerous grappling competitions including the Pan American Championships (three times), the World Championships (five times) and the Brazilian National Championships (five times) and his 13-3 record includes five submission wins.

The reason an interim version of the bantamweight title is on the line on May 31 is that the ONE FC belt is currently owned by Soo Chul Kim who has been out of action since October with a shoulder injury. If Fernandes prevails against Okazaki his next fight will probably be against the Korean but there are plenty more bantamweights waiting in the wings.

Two of them will be facing off in Manila in one of the eagerly anticipated fights on the card as Masakatsu Ueda and Kevin Belingon meet in the final of the ONE FC Bantamweight GP. The winner is all but guaranteed a shot at the title and Fernandes says he hopes to get a chance to size up these two prospective future opponents,

"If I can I'd love to watch. But, like I said, my focus now is on the present and my next fight."

Last year it was Fernandes’ contractual situation which made the headlines as his decision to sign with ONE FC embarrassed the UFC who had not only made him an offer, but already announced the date he would be making his debut and the identity of the opponent.

With a title fight looming, the Brazilian is keen to focus on the future rather than dwell on the past but he says he has no regrets and is content with his current situation.

"I'm 100 percent happy with my decision. ONE FC is going to be huge and I'm happy to be a part of that organization."

Fernandes says he hopes to fight 'two or three' times this year and that will probably mean challenging Okazaki for the interim belt then, if he wins that, facing Kim in a unification bout and, assuming he can overcome the Korean, making the first defence of that title against either Belingon or Ueda.

If he can survive that schedule without registering a first loss in six years then Fernandes’ status as the best mixed martial artist operating in Asia will be all but secure, and a move to featherweight in search of a second ONE FC title shot might make sense.

There are many who believe the 33 year old to be the best bantamweight in the world. He already has an impressive array of titles and trophys and if Fernandes can register a sixth successive win in Manila on May 31 he will have a ONE FC belt to add to the collection.

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