On March 31, at ONE: A New Era in Tokyo, Bibiano Fernandes and Kevin Belingon met for what was expected to be a third and final time. Regrettably, this bout ended in controversy.
Mid-way through the third round, Fernandes completed a takedown on Belingon. Belingon responded by unleashing a salvo of elbows, most of which seemed to land in the forbidden zone on the back and top of Fernandes’ head.
In the moments after these illegal shots landed, Fernandes spent several minutes writhing on the canvas in pain, until finally the action was waved off. Kevin Belingon was handed a red card — which means he was disqualified — and the bantamweight title was returned to Fernandes in the most unfortunate fashion possible.
According to Bibiano Fernandes, these illegal elbows were incredibly damaging. In fact, it took him quite awhile to get his senses back and figure out what had happened after the elbows landed.
“I got a lot of elbows in the back of my head, like a lot … eight,” he told BJPenn.com. “One elbow doesn’t hurt, but many, on the back of the head, yes, that hurts a lot.
“They were very powerful,” he added. “I’ve done this for many years of my life. I’ve never had that situation ever in my life, never. When he gave me the elbows, I was in the ring with my body but my mind was not there. I was in the ring and everything was black. I saw the referee come for me. While the referee was coming, it was black. I said ‘what the heck.’
“Then I started to see my coaches. They said ‘calm down, calm down, stay there, stay there.’ Then I started to see something happened here, something happened. I didn’t know if I got knocked out, but something happened to me.”
Despite the damage he sustained as a result of these elbows, Fernandes was keen to continue fighting. In the end, however, his coaches could see that he was compromised and elected to stop the fight.
“My coaches made the decision, they said ‘no, you can’t continue the fight,’” Fernandes explained. “I had the conditioning to finish the fight, and I asked my coaches ‘coach, you sure I can’t continue?’ They said ‘you have too much damage.’
“He threw the elbow, many, and hurt me,” he added. “If I had come back, I wouldn’t have come back the way I was at the start of the fight. I will be hurt, and that’s what my coach said to me. He looked in my eyes and he said ‘you can not continue this fight.’
“Every MMA fighter has the warrior spirit. It doesn’t matter if you hurt me, I’ll go back in there. The coach has to make the call for the athlete. My coach, his name’s Kultar [Gill], he said ‘Bibi, this is one moment in your life. If I let you go, you’re going to hurt yourself, and you don’t know what will happen to you. After the fight, you still have a life.’
“I got upset a bit, but later I said ‘you made the right call.’”
Bibiano Fernandes says that he’s had a difficult time remembering things since this unfortunate turn of events — particularly the details of the fight itself.
“After the fight, when I went back to the hotel, I forget a lot of things,” he said. “Now my memory is beginning to come back, but I still forget a lot of things. I cannot still remember the first round.
“I don’t remember [talking to Belingon in the cage],” he added with a laugh, referencing the post-fight exchange he had with his foe. “A lot of things happened in the fight that I forget.”
While Fernandes had a difficult time piecing the events of the fight together in his mind, he was certain of one thing: he was disappointed with the way it ended.
“I don’t feel happy,” he said. “I don’t feel happy the way the fight went. Definitely not. I see I had the potential to finish Kevin.
“I feel very, very sad when I watch the fight. Not sad, I feel disappointed, like ‘the fight has to go that way?’ I have everything in that fight. I dropped him, I controlled him.”
Fernandes’ disappointment is amplified by his belief that Belingon’s elbows were not an accident. In his eyes, the former champion unleashed these illegal blows because he had run out of other, legal options.
“When I look at the fight now, it looks like he had no options. He ran out of options and now he has to do something stupid,” Fernandes said. “He was desperate. The only option he had was the elbow. He threw the elbows, so many.
“I respect Kevin,” he continued. “I do respect Kevin, I don’t like to do drama. Kevin is a good person, but the way he can beat me, he was trying to find that way. I’m a better athlete, I’m a better mixed martial artist. I have many options. I can knock out people, I can finish people. He had no options left, so what is he going to do? Ok now he’s like ‘I got dropped, he took my back, he had mount, he took me down again, I cannot stand up. What am I going to do now? Elbow.’ Bang, bang, bang. That’s it.”
All that being said, Bibiano Fernandes admits that Belingon’s lapse in judgement could be a result of the punishment he sustained in the fight. Fernandes, after all, has been somewhat loopy since the fight himself.
“It could be,” he said. “I agree with you. Let me tell you why. I did an interview, I don’t remember the interview. I don’t remember things. I buy something and I forget to pay…. If I can forget, then maybe [he can too]. When you get hurt, your brain changes.”
With this disappointing fight in the books, Fernandes is once again the ONE Bantamweight World Champion. Given the controversial nature of the bout, however, ONE Championship Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong has said he plans to book another fight between the pair.
Bibiano Fernandes isn’t so sure about that. He says he needs to do some thinking before he commits to another fight with Kevin Belingon.
“That’s a really good question,” he said. “I didn’t do nothing wrong [in our last fight]. The last fight before, I lost but I thought I should have won — I’ve been quiet and I let it go.
“I beat him the first time, I think I beat him in the second, I think I was beating him this time. So, for fighting him for a fourth time, I’m going to have to go home and think about that.
“I wish I could have another challenge, but if I have to fight with Kevin again, I have to go home and think about it and make my decision. If you ask me ‘do you want to fight Kevin one more time?’ I could, but I don’t think I want to fight Kevin one more time right now.”
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 4/7/2019.