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One Championship

From cleaning the gym to MMA king: Bibiano ‘The Flash’ Fernandes out to dazzle One Championship Macau

Brazilian who fought his way out of poverty to become one of the best bantamweights in the world defends title against upstart American Leone at Cotai Arena

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 August, 2017, 6:36pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 August, 2017, 10:40pm

Arguably the best bantamweight on the planet and a man on the brink of mixed martial arts history will share the spotlight this weekend as the One Championship returns to Macau with a 12-fight card.

One management were out in force Thursday to bang the drum over the growing strength of the Singapore-based organisation’s stable of fighters – and their fan base – and with two world titles up for grabs at the Cotai Arena Saturday night it’s hard to argue a case against the claims.

Consider first bantamweight world champ Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes, who fought his way out of poverty back home in Brazil, has 17 years of combat behind him and has defended his One title now five times over four years since taking it from the Korean Kim Soo-chul.

Watch: One Kings & Conquerors: main contenders face off in Macau

“Fights are about skill but they are very mental as well,” he offered after Thursday’s pre-fight press event. “If you really want to win you have to believe in yourself.”

Fernandes first walked into a gym aged about 10, but couldn’t afford the class fees. So he did the dirty work, cleaning up after other people to pay his way.

The 37-year-old now carries a record of 20-3 into Saturday’s title bout against rising 27-year-old American star Andrew Leone (8-2) and has recently re-signed with One after being courted by the leading American Bellator organisation, such is his stature in the sport.

Chatroom arguments constantly buzz over whether or not he’s the best fighter in the 135-pound class, period.

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“Deep inside myself I knew the first time I walked into a gym that this was my destiny,” he said. “You know in Brazil, people like to party. But back then my coach said you cannot drink. You cannot party. He said you do this and in the end you will see why I have said this. And now I do.

“He was right. I had to give those things away to be a champion. It’s like you have to go to school every day to be a lawyer. If you have no discipline, you will get nowhere in life.”

Kazakh One world flyweight champion Kairat Akhmetov is unbeaten after 23 fights. One more and he’ll have established a new record for the best run ever to start an MMA career. That’s the (big) call from the One people, given the flourishing global MMA scene and a distinct lack of universally recognized records.

But it adds to the hype before he faces a rematch against One’s first ever flyweight champ, Brazilian Adriano Moraes (15-2) – the man Akhmetov defeated back in 2015.

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The judges called it a split decision, some fans called that wrong, and in the long time since that night in Beijing, Akhmetov has had to fight his way back from a debilitating back injury that almost curtailed his career. Sparks are expected to fly at this particular Macau party.

“This is a big event,” said Akhmetov. “I’ve been away for a long time but all that time I have worked hard. I am ready to showcase my skills once again and I am ready for Adriano Moraes.”