Bibiano Fernandes parts ways with ONE Championship, advises fighters to ‘think twice before you decide to go there’

Bibiano Fernandes is no longer on the ONE Championship roster — and he has some thoughts about the move.

The former ONE bantamweight champion, who still holds the record for most title fight victories in promotion history (11), told MMA Fighting his contract was set to expire in December and he was notified by the company that he won’t be offered a new deal.

“I wasn’t mad at them,” Fernandes said. “Do I think they could have offered me more fights? One-hundred percent. I was out for three years basically and they could have offered me more fights. Was I a bit upset? I was, but that’s life. Many people in the world work hard, give their lives for the company they work for, and in the end [the company] owners say ‘Thank you for your work,’ and that’s it. I was sad, but what can I do? Life goes on.”

Fernandes was a two-division champion at DREAM before joining ONE in 2012. Since then, he’s added victories over the likes of Martin Nguyen, Masakatsu Ueda, and Kevin Belingon.

Fernandes, 44, dropped the title to John Lineker in March 2022 after almost three years away from the cage, and then dropped a decision to Stephen Loman in November 2022.

Fernandes said he was promised a fight with Shinya Aoki for ONE’s upcoming card in January 2024, but then the organization announced Aoki is facing Sage Northcutt instead.

“Only I know what I went through,” Fernandes said. “My run at ONE, I think no one will replicate what I’ve done there. No one will defend the title as many times. I’ve worked for them for 11 years. So many difficulties there, but there’s a point in life I was like, ‘No, wait a minute.’ There are many things I don’t agree with, but still had to go through. I’m a mixed martial arts fighter but they’re doing business. They only think about business, you know? What can I do?”

Fernandes said he couldn’t go into detail on ONE’s business practices because “there are clauses in my contract saying I can’t speak or they can come after me.” He offers advice to fellow fighters, though.

“Many athletes go through difficulties,” Fernandes said. “If you’re a fighter and you’re thinking about fighting for ONE Championship, brother, think twice before you decide to go there.

“You have to be very careful. Athletes have to think before — you want to fight there? Go, brother, but there’s a moment in life where you have to make decisions about whether or not this is what you really want.”

Fernandes inked a new deal with ONE in February 2017, months after defending his title against Reece McLaren via split decision. The Brazilian talent revealed at the time that his contract included a desk job in the company after he retired from the sport, but said ONE walked back on that.

“There are things I wanted [to say] but I can’t say much because they might come at me,” Fernandes said. “I was supposed to be an ambassador for the promotion, but that didn’t happen. And thinking about it now, it’s for the best. I believe a lot in energy. If the energy isn’t there, I don’t need to force anything. If they don’t see what I’ve done for the organization, there’s nothing I can do.”

“When I received the letter, I wasn’t mad,” he added. “I felt free, you know? I felt like part of my soul came back to me. … I can’t be with a person, I can’t be in a place where they don’t see things the way I see it. You have your peak in the sport, and they’re smart during that peak. They held me back a lot. I could be fighting. There are things you have to be chill and just accept, let my history speak for me.”

Fernandes holds a record of 24-6 in the sport and 12-3 under the ONE banner, and said he’s not retired. “They’ve been trying to retire me for years but couldn’t,” he laughed. Fernandes is currently focused on running his jiu-jitsu gym in Canada, and doesn’t rule out competing one more time in the future to give his MMA career a proper ending.

One of the issues Fernandes had while working with ONE was regarding his management. Gilberto Faria was his agent early in his run, but Fernandes alleged that ONE forced him to part ways with Faria and negotiate directly with the them. Fernandes declined to explain why, again citing ONE contract clauses.

Another relationship that was affected in the final years of Fernandes’ run at ONE Championship was with coach Matt Hume, who trained Fernandes for most of his career. Hume is the Sr. Vice President at ONE Championship.

“Matt is a good guy but he works for the organization, you know?” Fernandes said. “His hands are tied, he can’t do much. Him and I don’t have that relationship [anymore] because he’s the vice president of ONE Championship, so it’s harder for me to chat with him [about ONE]. That’s why I have my own gym [in Canada] now. I don’t even do my camps with him anymore. But Demetrious [Johnson] is my brother.”

Fernandes was once linked to the UFC, and the promotion even jumped the gun by announcing a bout with Roland Delorme for UFC 149 in 2012 before a deal was done, and the Brazilian ultimately joined ONE. He doesn’t regret choosing ONE over the UFC.

“It was the right thing to do at that moment,” Fernandes said. “I went there and did my part. The promotion wasn’t big, but it was growing. Aoki and I, we helped the promotion grow. I did my part the way I had to do, but there are many things I can’t say. I hope no other athlete goes through what I went through. I hope no organization treats athletes the way I was treated, but I think that will happen. That’s why it’s very important that you have a good manager. I made the mistake of not fighting it when they took my manager from my side.”

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