By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
SINGAPORE — Top mixed martial arts bantamweight action headlines ONE Championship’s “Heart of the Lion” event today with the unification bout between reigning world champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes of Brazil and interim champ Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon of the Philippines.
To happen at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, the unification fight is a rematch of the fighters’ 2016 encounter but something Messrs. Fernandes and Belingon both see providing a whole new dynamic.
Mr. Fernandes (22-3) is out to stay on top of the heap in ONE’s bantamweight division, a place he has been at since 2013 when he seized the title.
He has taken all-comers and has successfully defended his belt seven straight times to date.
The Brazilian champion met Mr. Belingon in January of 2016 where he practically had his way, concluding the fight in the opening round by way of submission (kimura).
But while he had the number of the Filipino champion in their first meeting, Mr. Fernandes recognizes that he should know better than taking Mr. Belingon lightly considering how the latter has evolved significantly since they last fought.
“Kevin Belingon has improved immensely. I have seen him grow as a competitor over the past few years. I know that in our rematch, Kevin will be a completely different fighter,” said Mr. Fernandes as a word of caution even as many have him as a favorite to win anew.
He went on to say that he will come in for today’s title fight the only way he knows how to — a winner.
“I have held this world title for a long time, and I’m not about to give it up now. I am ready to go the full five rounds, but I am also ready to finish the bout by knockout or submission when the opportunity presents itself. I look forward to putting on a show this Nov. 9,” Mr. Fernandes said.
Having successfully bounced back since he lost to Mr. Fernandes, Team Lakay’s Belingon now views his rematch as “the most important bout of my career.”
Baguio native Belingon (19-5) has racked up six straight victories since he was tripped by the Brazilian and he said the defeat taught him a lot and served as one of the inspirations for his ongoing ascent.
“This is the most important bout of my career. I have worked very hard for this. It has taken me years to reach this level, and I have learned so much as a martial artist and as a competitor since I first met Bibiano in 2016,” said Mr. Belingon.
“Since that loss, I have kept my focus on improving my skills and working to erase my weaknesses. Right now, I can confidently say how much I have improved. One of the biggest improvements is my ground game. I know he is a BJJ black belt, I have had the privilege of experiencing his grappling firsthand before. But now, I am better equipped to handle anything he throws at me. I am looking to end matters early, and I vow to become the undisputed ONE Bantamweight World Champion,” he added.
Incidentally, both Messrs. Fernandes and Belingon are coming off victories over a similar foe in world featherweight champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen.
Mr. Fernandes narrowly beat Mr. Nguyen, also the former lightweight champ, by split decision in March this year while Mr. Belingon won over the Vietnamese-Australian by unanimous decision in July.
Meanwhile, stepping in for the erstwhile main event of Heart of the Lion is the featherweight battle between Christian Lee of Singapore and Kazuke Tokudome of Japan.
The fight, serving as co-main event to Fernandes vs. Belingon, was a replacement for the supposed main event featuring the champion-against-champion clash between women’s strawweight champ “The Panda” Xiong Jing Nam of China and women’s atomweight champion Angela “The Unstoppable” Lee of Singapore for the former’s title.
Unfortunately, it was announced on Monday that the battle between Misses Xiong and Lee would not push through due to the back injury sustained by Ms. Lee late in training.
Other fights featured in Heart of the Lion include that between Girgio Petrosyan of Italy and Sorgraw Petchyindee Academy of Thailand in a kickboxing Super Series battle and women’s strawweight Tiffany Teo of Singapore versus Michelle Nicolini of Brazil.