Talk to Bibiano (The Flash) Fernandes and you'll hear the word blessed a lot.
Blessed to live in Canada. Blessed to have earned Canadian citizenship. Blessed to be a mixed martial artist.
Given his impoverished upbringing in Brazil, it's understandable. His mother died when he was seven and he was sent from Manaus to live with his aunt in the Amazon jungle.
As a young teenager, he survived by selling ice cream on the streets and by cleaning cars and houses. He often opted for payment in food rather than money.
He was 14 when a benefactor paid for some jiu-jitsu lessons at a neighbourhood gym. Fernandes took to it quickly, and when money for the lessons ran out, he started cleaning the gym to pay his way.
Some 23 years later, Fernandes is a decorated BJJ black belt and MMA champion with a hunger to keep improving.
"I believe I can always be better," he said.
Fernandes (20-3-0) looks to defend his One Championship bantamweight title for the sixth time on Saturday when he faces American Andrew Leone (8-2-0) in the main event of "One: Kings & Conquerors" in Macau.
Fernandes has won 19 of his last 20 fights including 12 straight since losing a decision to Hiroyuki Takaya on a K-1 card in Saitama, Japan, on Dec. 31, 2010.
Leone is an American who has spent the last few years training and teaching in Thailand and Indonesia. He and his older brother Anthony, also a fighter, currently run a gym in Bali.
Leone has fought just three times in the last five years but has won all three under the One Championship banner.
Fernandes divides his training between AMC Kickboxing & Pankration in Kirkland, Wash., and Revolution Martial Arts & Fitness in Langley, B.C.
South of the border, he works with renowned trainer Matt Hume and UFC flyweight champion Demetrious (Mighty Mouse) Johnson. In suburban Langley, his training partners include unbeaten UFC featherweight Jeremy Kennedy.
Fernandes is coming off a five-round split decision win over Australian Reece McLaren in December in Manila. A broken nose during the fight didn't help his cause.
His broken beak healed, Fernandes says he is in tip-top shape for Leone.
Fernandes, married with three sons, has lived in Canada for 11 years, becoming a citizen a year ago.
"I will represent the country very well," he said.
Fernandes has seen the world competing for One Championship, an Asian promotion. He has fought in China, Myanmar, the Philippines and Singapore.
Macau is new to him. "A lot of casinos ... A lot of lights. Like Vegas," he said.
He won the organization's interim 135-pound tile in May 2103 when he beat Japan's Koetsu Okazaki, then made the bantamweight title his own by defeating South Korea's Soo Chul Kim that October.
In December, he signed a new three-year deal with One Championship.
"I have the best job," he said.
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