LANGLEY â€” Bundled in a black toque and jacket, Bibiano Fernandes sat crosslegged on a couch inside a chilly Marcus Soares BJJ Academy on a biting cold Sunday afternoon.
The 34-year-old Langley resident and five-time world Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) champion waxed about his young family, which includes wife Amanda and children Eljah, nine, Gabriel, four, and two-year-old Lucas, and his sport, which has given as much to him as he’s given to it.
When Fernandes landed on Canadian soil a decade ago, he couldn’t speak a word of English.
"I was born in Brazil, I have my friends there, but I live in Canada, and feel very connected to the people who live here," said Fernandes, whose native tongue is Portuguese."I feel that maybe in another life, I was born here."
Fernandes has developed close bonds in Canada, including one with mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter and personal trainer Tyler Jackson, who considers his friend to be a world class athlete, calling him "very likely one of the three best martial artists in the world at his weight class."
"His work ethic is amazing," Jackson said, regarding Fernandes. "When I first met him, he was already a five-time world champion in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but had little to no experience in wrestling or kickboxing."
Jackson added that instead of relying on BJJ, which he was already adept at, Fernandes "worked his tail off to become as good as he could in the other aspects of MMA, and is now recognized as an extremely well-roundedfighter who can finish fights not only by submission, but also by knockout."
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Fernandes, who has three brothers and a sister, initially learned BJJ as a boy living in Manaus, the most populous city of the state of Amazonas.
"I didn’t have a lot of money but I was not poor," Fernandes stressed. "Brazil, like every country, has its struggles. I believe it’s the choice you make for your life. What I’ve seen, what I’ve experienced, has guided me up ’til now."
As a teen he was introduced by some friends to the martial art made famous by MMA legend and Brazilian native Royce Gracie.
Since then, jiu-jitsu has been a focal point of Fernandes’s life. He calls it a "lifestyle" in Brazil, no different from the way hockey is viewed in his adopted home.
"If you let jiu-jitsu help you, if you let jiu-jitsu guide and educate you, if you go to a good school with good coaching, you can go anywhere," Fernandes said.
Getting in the odd scrap in his native country prepared Fernandes for a life of BJJ and later, MMA.
"I had to fight sometimes on the streets, especially in Brazil," he said.This means run-ins with the occasional bully, a type of human Fernandes despises.
"The one thing I say is, ‘I hate bullies,’" he said. "That’s the one think I think about myself: if I don’t protect myself, people are always going to bully me â€” bully me and bully my friends. That does happen a lot in Brazil, too."
Currently, Fernandes is under contract with ONE FC, an MMA organization based out of Singapore. Sporting a 17-3 record, Fernandes is the ONE FC bantamweight champion, a title he’s held for the past five years.
His most recent bout didn’t make it past the second round. On Dec. 5, in front of more than 20,000 spectators in Manila, Philippines, Fernandes defeated Korea’s Dae Hwan Kim viasubmission. After absorbing what Fernandes pointed out to be illegal elbows to the back of his head, he climbed on Kim’s shoulders, wrapped his legs around the Korean’s torso like a spider attacking its prey, and applied a rear naked chokehold. With the hold cinched in, Kim, who had helplessly rolled from his stomach to his back, had a choice of quickly tapping three times on Fernandes’ right arm or seeing his world turn dark.
He elected to remain conscious.
Fernandes, who has captured BJJ world titles in the purple, brown and black belt divisions, said BJJ is all about self discipline: "It’s a lot of discipline, it’s a lot of education, it’s a lot of self-confidence."
The kind of controlled aggression that makes Fernandes successful in BJJ helped him defeat Kim.
"MMA is another world," he added. "The last guy I fought, from Korea, he didn’t have self-discipline. He said bad things about me, he wanted to beat me up, he said a lot of bad s**t, but for me, I had the self-discipline, I controlled myself. You have to learn to control yourself."
While he makes a living competing in what some might perceive as a brutal sport, Fernandes said he isn’t a violent person.
"I don’t believe in violence because I believe I have selfcontrol," he said. "If you ask my wife, you ask my friends (I’m not violent), but in the cage it’s a different thing. For me, when I fight, I believe it’s art. Choking the guy, taking the back, that’s art."
It’s important to Fernandes that he demonstrates strong morals for his three children, so they can be good people, now and in the future, and just as important, go to school and get an education.
"That’s my goal with my kids: to make themselves a good person, to be a good person for this planet," Fernandes said. "Go to school, and after you finish school, do everything you think is good for you. I will guide you, and if you want (to) fight, you’re welcome but it’s no easy job. It’s a very hard job. Make sure that you want to do it."
Jackson said Bibiano is someone he and many others look up to, "and should be the kind of person that young kids look up to, as well" â€” especially considering Bibiano’s background growing up as "basically a ‘street kid,’ and with his hard work and determinationto become a multiple-time world champion in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and mixed martial arts, and by more importantly being an incredible human being," Jackson added.
Moving forward, fighters, regardless of skill and knowledge, have an expiry date, and to borrow a wellworn phrase, Father Time is undefeated. Fernandes knows this full well, and when his fight career ends, has a goal of one day opening up his own gym, so that he can pass along to others what he’s learned over the past two decades.
"For sure this year, I’d like to keep it going more," he said, regarding fighting. "But next year, maybe I’ll start my own school. That’s my big dream. Not only opening a school for me but to help the people, too."
"I’ve done a lot of things in my life," he added. "My next step for me is to make sure the family’s OK, move forward, and if someone needs me to be there, I’ll be there."