When Bibiano Fernandes and Kevin Belingon met for the third time at ONE Championship: A New Era in Tokyo, Japan, on the weekend, many rightfully believed that it would be the final chapter of a fascinating trilogy.
However, more than ever before, tensions are now rising between the two athletes after Belingon was disqualified for a series of illegal elbows to the back of Fernandes’ head at ONE: A New Era.
In the third round of their ONE Bantamweight Championship bout, Fernandes secured a takedown and proceeded to pass into half guard. As he passed Belingon’s guard, he was hammered with repeated elbows to the back of his head. This technique is considered illegal under the ONE Championship Global Rule Set. Fernandes was clearly impacted by the blows and referee Olivier Coste stepped in to halt the action.
As the challenger was unable to continue after the five-minute injury timeout, Belingon was shown a red card and was disqualified for the illegal strikes. While the announcer proceeded to declare Bibiano Fernandes as the “new bantamweight world champion,” Fernandes shook his finger and indicated that he was not interested in winning the title in this way. As of today, however, he is the official bantamweight champion.
Fernandes criticizes Belingon after the fight
Not long after the event concluded, Bibiano Fernandes released a statement and shared his perspective on the events that unfolded.
“I was two rounds up when I got illegally elbowed on the back of my head at the beginning of the third round. As you can see on the footage captured by my corner, I got hit eight times on the back of my head, not two as it was said on the broadcast. It is clear that not only Kevin Belingon has hit as hard as he could, but he aimed to it as well. That’s not how I planned to get my ONE championship belt back but, ONE championship is about honor and integrity and that is exactly what Kevin did not show last night.”
“I was dizzy, I couldn’t remember where I was for a bit, and the 5 minutes I got to recover wasn’t enough to get myself back in the fight. Over these 15 years and 27 fights journey, one the things I have learned was to listen to my body. Thank God, Japan, all my fans, my family and my team for being with me throughout this journey. I will take some time to rest and I will be back soon.”
Fernandes’ message was met with hundreds of angry responses from fans who labeled him an “actor” and “coward” because he was unable to continue after the illegal strikes. These fans were also quick to point out that Fernandes had landed several punches to the back of Belingon’s head earlier in the bout, as well.
Chatri Sityodtong addresses the situation
With the apparent acrimony between the two athletes, Chatri Sityodong, Chairman and CEO of ONE Championship, released a statement today addressing the ‘bad blood.’
“Unfortunately, I need to address the bad blood that has started to brew between Bibiano Fernandes and Kevin Belingon and their respective fans due to the controversial DQ in Tokyo at ONE: A New Era. Emotions are running high. Let me begin by saying that I know both of these gentlemen quite well. I met both Bibi and Kevin almost 10 years ago (well before ONE Championship was born). I was Shinya Aoki’s cornerman in DREAM when I met first Bibi on the athletes bus. Kevin and I met at a small show in Singapore around 9 years ago when I used to coach fighters.”
“I genuinely respect and admire Kevin and Bibi a lot as human beings. I do not use those words lightly. Not only do they rank among the world’s greatest martial artists, but they both have hearts of gold. They are wonderful people. Bibi and Kevin exemplify the best of martial arts with the deep-rooted values of integrity, humility, honor, respect, courage, discipline, and compassion. I am proud to call both of them my brothers in ONE Championship.”
“In their last bout that ended in a DQ, both Bibi and Kevin landed unintentional illegal elbows to the back of the head in different rounds. These things can happen sometimes in the heat of battle. I can assure you that neither warrior did it with intentional malice. I reviewed all footage of both sides landing illegal elbows, and it was clear that both men were moving around at speed as blows landed. Again, both Kevin and Bibi are true martial artists in every sense of the word. They both would never cheat to win. They are honest warriors. I can also assure you that Bibi is not someone who would game the system to win a world title. He has always earned everything in his life through hard work and dedication. In fact, Bibi did not want the world title after the DQ. He wants to win the title the right way. Bibi is not someone who wants to get something for free or on a technicality.”
“Given all of this mess, I have called for an automatic rematch to see who the rightful ONE Bantamweight World Champion is. Once Kevin and Bibi are healthy and ready to go again, it will happen. In the meanwhile, I kindly ask all fans to treat our heroes with respect and dignity.”
You can watch the full fight below.
Jake is The Body Lock's Editor in Chief, based in Tasmania, Australia.