One of the most accomplished athletes in the history of jiu jitsu, Bibiano Fernandes is also the protagonist of one of this sport’s/martial art’s most heart warming success stories. Growing up in abject poverty in the streets of Manaus, Fernandes stent most of his childhood begging for food, or washing car windows on traffic lights for change. It was through his interactions while window cleaning that he first heard of jiu jitsu. Months later, through the help of a kind patron Bibiano managed to train for the first time at Master Pina‘s dojo. An activity that would completely re-shape this young man’s life.
As soon as Fernandes was promoted to black belt (2002) he took over the light-featherweight category, a division left orphan at the time with the departure of Robson Moura. Bibiano’s style brought something new to the table, a much more aggressive approach to the game, almost exclusively focussed on submissions. Bibiano’s effectiveness didn’t leave much room for points, earning him not only three IBJJF black belt world titles (2003/2005/2006), but also a smooth transition to mixed martial arts (MMA).
Although highly praised within connoisseur circles of MMA, Bibiano is not as well known by the American public as he should be. With a long career in cage fighting, Fernandes was DREAM’s first featherweight champion, later conquering the bantamweight title as well. Currently he holds ONE FC’s bantamweight belt (Asia’s strongest mixed martial arts promotion). Bibiano Fernandes is also currently ranked as the #5 Bantamweight in the world by MMA Weekly as well as the #1 bantamweight outside of the UFC. It is unusual for a fighter with such a successful career to have never battled inside the famous UFC octagon, Fernandes explained that he had invitations in the past but “I didn’t take the offer.” He had “other priorities in life and the offer wasn’t as good as I believed it should be. I had just been a father for the second time, I couldn’t risk leaving an established career I had conquered in Asia and take the chance without a positive financial offer. I’ve broken myself many times in preparation for matches, I know the risks but there has to be a reward.” He went on to say “I respect the UFC a lot, it’s a great event, but I would have needed a generous offer to sway me.”
As aforementioned, his distinct approach to jiu jitsu made his transition to MMA a smoother process. According to Bibiano, this attitude is what today’s BJJ generation is lacking: “today’s jiu jitsu is a bit more anchored down, people use that lapel, that berimbolo. My jiu jitsu was classic (…) there are a few strong guys in this generation that play nicely, but I feel for the most part they will struggle if they transition to MMA. You need different style of gripping, more like Kron [Gracie], Jacaré or André Galvão.”
His love for the gi game still feeds in Fernandes the will to return to jiu jitsu. When mentioned of UAEJJF’s new ‘Legends’ initiative (superfights between older generation grapplers), featured at the Abu Dhabi World Pro, Bibiano’s reply was quick and enthusiastic: “I would love to take part! If I don’t have any MMA matches in my agenda I would say yes in a heartbeat.” ONE Fc’s current bantamweight champion went on to say that “it would be an honor for me to fight in jiu jitsu again, the sooner the better, I’m accepting invitations [laughs]! Jiu jitsu helped me tremendously, it saved my life. I even thought about competing at a Masters tournament. We will see how it goes.”
At 37 years of age Fernandes is still very much in love with the fight game, he plans to compete as often as possible in MMA and, if the opportunity arises, jiu jitsu. He mentioned that “one day I may wake up and decide the fight game is no longer for me, but until then I am totally focused on my self improvement and moving forward. When I stop MMA I will teach jiu jitsu, compete on the mats and watch my kids grow. This is my goal in life.”