With both men having a win each in their epic rivalry, Fernandes acknowledges the fact that Belingon had taken huge strides in improving his skills and is worthy of being called a World Champion.
“It is evident that Kevin Belingon has improved greatly since our first meeting back in 2016, all the way up to our most recent meeting last November,” Fernandes said.
“We all know everyone at Team Lakay, especially Kevin, are world-class strikers, but what they have improved on the most is their grappling, and we have seen that improvement, not just in Kevin but also in Eduard Folayang and Geje Eustaquio, and so on.
“The biggest difference with Kevin, for me, was his vastly-improved grappling as well as his confidence. He was confident that he belonged in there with me, and he proved it.”
Fernandes was quick to lock in a kimura in the early minutes of their first encounter in 2016 that forced the Filipino to tap. In 2018, Belingon came back in a rematch and then gave Fernandes the performance of a lifetime as “The Silencer” was crowned the undisputed champion.
Belingon ran away with a close split decision victory, and although Fernandes didn’t agree with the judges’ verdict, he maintains a lot of respect for his rival.
“Of course, I have a great deal of respect for Kevin, both inside and outside the cage. He is one of the best competitors in the world, but more importantly, he is a great person as well,” Fernandes said.
“I have seen his development over the years and his journey back to the World Title picture, and I will say that he has earned everything that he has gotten. I would say that the thing that I respect the most from Kevin is his determination and his drive to improve as a martial artist, aside from his warrior spirit.”
The two are slated for a tough five-round showdown for all the marbles in Tokyo. The winner of the rubber match will effectively crown the true and rightful king of the bantamweight division. Fernandes expects no less than the toughest test in his career.
“It’s going to be a tough battle in Japan,” Fernandes concluded.
“But I am well-prepared to handle any and all adversity. You will see the best Bibiano Fernandes in the cage, and at the end of the night, the World Title will be back around my waist.”