Canadian heavyweight fighter Arjan Bhullar became the first-ever mixed martial artist of Indian origin to win a title in a major MMA promotion when he defeated Brandon Vera at ONE Championship: Dangal recently.
Though Arjan's father had migrated to Vancouver, Canada, from India in 1971, his entire family, who trace their roots to the Billi Bhullar village near Jalandhar in Punjab, embrace their culture with pride.
The 35-year-old heavyweight champion, a 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medalist in wrestling, is now determined to promote the sport in India, alongside ONE Championship. His family runs the Bhullar Wrestling Club in Richmond, and they plan on bringing it to the Indian subcontinent soon.
Arjan, who's also the first freestyle wrestler of South Asian descent to represent Canada at the Olympics, opened up on his Ultimate Fighting Championship career, equation with American Kickboxing Academy teammate Daniel Cormier and thoughts on ONE Championship fighter Ritu Phogat in a chat with Sportstar .
How much does the ONE Heavyweight title mean to you, and how will it impact other Indian fighters?
The title means a great deal to me. I think this win will be huge for India too. I've had so much Indian support online already. Many people were intrigued and wanted to be involved in MMA. We're working on a couple of things to help make that happen. That was always the goal.
ONE Championship is keen on promoting MMA in India. How do you plan on assisting them?
That's why I came to ONE from UFC. UFC made it clear that they didn't have plans for the Indian market. The Indian fan base wasn't a priority for them. ONE made it a priority, and they have the right blueprint. Dangal was a perfect name for an event that pitted an all-India team against the world. My understanding is that we should have already hosted an event in India. COVID-19 has delayed it a bit.
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Your thoughts on Ritu Phogat; How can she improve her chances of attaining a title fight?
Ritu is the queen of Indian MMA. I thought she won her fight at Dangal. She has good insight and is tough. But she needs to be a little more efficient with her wrestling. She burnt a lot of energy in a particular position against Bi Nguyen, and she could've been more dominant. I'd love to work with her and help her out where I can. Her strikes are coming along well too, and the more comfortable she can get while mixing the two skills, the sky's the limit.
How has your UFC experience contributed to your title at ONE?
I'd gained a lot of experience from my UFC time. It allowed me to get my feet wet in a world-class promotion and enabled me to express myself inside the cage at a global level. All those things paid dividends, and I had my ONE Championship success.
You've enjoyed a great relationship with your AKA teammates in California. How did they react to your win?
Cormier asked me to bring the belt down to the gym. It opened up on June 1, and I can't wait to get the title down there and connect with him. I'm good friends with the heavyweight guys Cormier and Cain Velasquez. I love Khabib Nurmagomedov too.
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How difficult was it to succeed as an Indian-origin fighter in Canada?
The whole experience was gruelling, and I can't put it into words. But everything motivated me, all those challenges, adversity, ups and downs. They formed me and allowed me to become a world champion. So I'm embracing it now.
Do you plan on expanding your wrestling academy in India?
I try to come to my village in India every year because it's connected with me. We've got a few things in the works regarding the establishment of an academy in India. I don't want to get into details. But we're in talks, and it's coming.
What are your plans for the future?
I plan on getting involved with both MMA and professional wrestling. I like being active and staying competitive. This last year is the longest I've gone without competing. As long as ONE can keep me busy, we're good to go. We're also in negotiation with companies like WWE and AEW. I plan to keep training for both. Once I do that, lots of fans will crossover between the sports. That's why both ONE and I are excited.