Speed. It’s one of the best attributes that an athlete can possess.

Speed allows an athlete to avoid tackles in football, initiate fast breaks in basketball and steal bases in baseball. It has put track stars in NFL uniforms, and it has made stars out of baseball players like Rickey Henderson and Kenny Lofton.

If mixed martial arts has its own version of Henderson or Lofton, it has to be Bibiano Fernandes. The bantamweight fighter is even nicknamed “Flash” for his lightning-quick moves in the MMA ring and on the mats of the jiu-jitsu world. For Fernandes, that speed has filled his trophy case with gold medals from International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation competitions and a pair of belts from Dream, the Japanese MMA promotion for which Fernandes will again compete on New Year’s Eve.

Fernandes (Taro Irei/Sherdog)

Speed is also a word that can be associated with Fernandes’ career. A standout competitor in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments for 10 years, he made his professional MMA debut in 2004, needing a mere 31 seconds to submit his foe, but didn’t fight again until 2006. However, that second bout of his career happens to involve the most widely recognized featherweight in MMA history—Urijah Faber.

Fernandes dominated the early moments of the fight and even took Faber’s back. However, Faber was able to reverse Fernandes and land a series of elbows that opened a cut on the Brazilian’s forehead. The cut would be Fernandes’ undoing. The referee decided to stop the fight, awarding the TKO victory to Faber. Yet, the fact that Fernandes, in only his second pro fight, was holding his own—and even dominating—the future legend is impressive in its own right.

“A rematch with Faber would be a great fight,” Fernandes told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “I’ve come a long way since we first touch[ed] gloves.”

Such a rematch looked like a real possibility as recently as this past summer, as Fernandes spent five years building a resume that garnered the attention of the UFC.

Following Fernandes’ loss to Faber, he continued his quick rise to MMA stardom by battling Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto in a losing effort and eventually signing with Dream, where, in 2009, he defeated Takafumi Otsuka, Masakazu Imanari, Joe Warren and Hiroyuki Takaya en route to capturing the promotion’s featherweight crown. He defended the belt once, taking a split verdict over Joachim Hansen, before losing it to Takaya in a rematch.

“He was my toughest fight,” Fernandes said of Takaya. “I learned that every fight is completely different and you have to be good in every aspect of MMA.”

Fernandes shifted his focus from the featherweight division to the bantamweight class after surrendering his title. He entered into Dream’s bantamweight grand prix and emerged as the champion following wins over Otsuka, Rodolfo Marques and Antonio Banuelos.

With such a stellar resume and Dream’s apparent imminent collapse, Fernandes was all but signed to the UFC in the summer of 2012. The promotion even had his debut all set—he’d fight Roland Delorme at UFC 149. Then, just as quickly as fight fans’ hopes of Fernandes competing in the Octagon rose, they fell.

“Well, I was pretty close [to signing with the UFC] considering they already announced my fight and opponent,” Fernandes explained. “[But] I chose to go with ONE FC because I thought it was the best choice for my family. I felt the offer from ONE FC was better, and I believe in their company.”

The move certainly disappointed fans who imagined Fernandes in the eight-sided cage against the likes of UFC champion Dominick Cruz and other top 135ers. Faber had joined the bantamweight ranks in 2010 and the potential rematch between him and Fernandes was another fight that many fans dreamed of witnessing. But for Fernandes, it was a matter of what made the most sense for him and his family, and he didn’t share the same feelings as the fans.

“That was my own choice,” Fernandes said with a laugh. “So no disappointment here!”

“Right now my contract is with ONE FC, so that is my focus. Who knows what the future holds.”

Fernandes has already secured his first victory—a unanimous decision over Gustavo Falciroli—under the ONE FC banner, but his next opponent with ONE FC has yet to be determined. The immediate future instead finds the 5-foot-7 bantamweight returning to the resurrected Dream promotion, courtesy of a talent-sharing relationship with ONE FC. At one point in time, Dream had all but been declared officially dead; however, the Glory kickboxing organization moved in to save the promotion and put together a card featuring many of Dream’s stars, including Shinya Aoki and Fernandes.

“I’m happy for Dream and for the fans in Japan,” Fernandes said of the promotion’s return. Fernandes has been paired with Yoshiro Maeda for the New Year’s Eve event, dubbed Dream.18 and set for the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo.

Fernandes (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Maeda is a WEC veteran best remembered for challenging Miguel Torres for the WEC bantamweight crown in a “Fight of the Night” performance that came at the height of Torres’ reign. Maeda tends to wins his fights via strikes, whereas Fernandes is a grappler by trade. However, Fernandes won’t shy away from standing with his Japanese counterpart.

“I feel comfortable with my stand-up,” Fernandes admitted. “I’ll let him decide where we take the fight. I’m ready for everything.”

For now, Fernandes has found his home in Asia with ONE FC. He’s had plenty of success in Japan, and he hopes to continue that success on New Year’s Eve.

For many fight fans, however, the hope is certainly that the future holds a move to the UFC, where Fernandes could utilize his speed in clashes with Cruz, Faber and interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao.

“[Cruz and Barao are] both good, but I’m good too,” Fernandes said. “I’m sure I’d hold my own.”

Another common question for any fighter is whether they’d move down a weight class to find more success. Fernandes has already made such a move once, shifting from 145 pounds to 135, but could he be headed to flyweight anytime soon?

“No way,” Fernandes responded. “I hope Demetrious Johnson continues to kick everyone’s butt!!”

[light_box]Bibiano would like to thank all those who have helped him to get where he is today. He’d also like to thank God for his life and everything.[/light_box]

Top Photo: Bibiano Fernandes (Martin Hooson/Sherdog)