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Bibiano Fernandes relishing the fresh challenge posed by Martin Nguyen at ONE: IRON WILL

ONE Bantamweight Champion chats ahead of his champion-versus-champion bout in Bangkok

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ONE Championship

Brazilian phenom Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes makes his long-awaited return to the ONE Championship cage on Saturday, 24 March looking to make history.

The ONE Bantamweight World Champion takes on two-weight world champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen in a champion-versus-champion matchup that will see one man claim history in Bangkok, Thailand.

If Nguyen wins, he’ll become the organisation’s first-ever three-weight world champion, while if Fernandes successfully defends his title, he’ll complete his eighth title defence.

It’s arguably the biggest matchup in ONE Championship history, with two world championship athletes in their prime going head to head in the ultimate test of their respective martial arts skillsets.

It’s a matchup that has the martial arts world licking its lips in anticipation, but Fernandes is leaving the excitement to the fans, as he takes a calm, cool approach to his matchup against the ONE Featherweight and Lightweight champion.

“I see what he has,” the 37-year-old told ONE Championship in a special pre-event interview.

“I know he has the right hand, the left hook, and he throws some kicks. I know he will do this. I understand the way he plays. I have had tough matches for years, and I am excited for this match. He says he is going to knock me out, so let’s see him knock me out.”

Fernandes has been one of the most dominant champions in ONE Championship history, turning back challenger after challenger as he looks to maintain his position as the bantamweight belt-holder.

His last outing, at ONE: KINGS & CONQUERORS in August last year, saw him claim a quickfire victory over Bali MMA’s Andrew Leone, finishing him in one minute, 47 seconds with a rear-naked choke.

“For that match, I wanted to push myself,” said Fernandes.

“I said to myself that I could finish that guy, and I was going to push the pace.

“At the beginning of that match, I tried to take him down. He sprawled, and when he came up, I hit him with a left hook. I then fought him in the clinch, and I felt he was very strong in the clinch. Then I finished him with the knee, [then submitted him].”

The emergence of Nguyen as a superstar champion in ONE has been perfectly timed for Fernandes, who was in danger of cleaning out the bantamweight division. But now, with the two-weight champion moving down to bantamweight to challenge Fernandes in a bid to become an unprecedented three-weight world champion, the Brazilian knows he’s facing a tough test.

That test demands Fernandes’ preparation is on point, and the Brazilian says he takes that side of his career extremely seriously, even during his extended period away from the ONE cage.

“That is my job. I am a professional martial artist. That is what I do,” he said.

“I wake up, I sleep, and I train. I try to improve myself everyday, and that is my life. I have the chance to take care of my body and take care of my mind, and just improve my skills. That is what I do for a living.

“I do not party, and I do not go out. I stay at home, I am with my family, and I drive my kids to school. After that, I am at the gym, and I am trying to improve myself every day.”

Training out of the respected AMC Pankration gym, Fernandes has been sharpening his skills and finalising his gameplan for Nguyen, who he expects to pose fresh challenges on 24 March in Bangkok.

“I [need to] have somebody to push me very hard. If I was always in my comfort zone, then I would never evolve,” he explained.

Victory would give Fernandes the record for the most wins in ONE Championship with 10, and extend his record for the most title wins to nine, cementing his position as the most dominant athlete in ONE Championship history.

But Fernandes isn’t as interested in the records as he is the chance to further himself as a martial artist. And that means challenging himself with every contest.

“It is about challenges for me,” he said.

“For me, Nguyen is a challenge, and I need more challenges coming to me. Let’s see how good he is, let’s see how tough he is, let’s see how good his skills are. I want to see that.”

Interview by ONE Championship. Story by Simon Head.

Freelance sports writer and MMA reporter with 19 years’ experience in the UK national media. News Editor: ONE Championship. UFC/MMA Reporter: BBC Three. International MMA Reporter: The Fight Nation. Contributor: MMAjunkie.

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