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Fighter With a Turban and a Mace: Arjan Singh Bhullar Becomes First Fighter of Indian Descent to Win a Major MMA Title

Fighter With a Turban and a Mace: Arjan Singh Bhullar Becomes First Fighter of Indian Descent to Win a Major MMA Title

  • The 35-year-old Indo-Canadian defeated veteran BrandonVera to claim heavyweight gold at ONE Championship: Dangal in Singapore.

Arjan Singh Bhullar made history on May 15 by becoming the first fighter of Indian descent to win a major MMA (mixed martial artist) title. Bhullar, 35, an Indo-Canadian, finished the fight inside the second round as he dominated BrandonVera on the ground and eventually defeated him by second-round TKO (technical knockout) to claim heavyweight gold at ONE Championship: Dangal in Singapore. Vera, 43, a former longtime UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) competitor, had reigned as ONE’s inaugural heavyweight champ since December 2015. 

Bhullar was confident of the win. Speaking after the fight, Bhullar, the newly crowned ONE Championship heavyweight champion said: “I knew I was going to hurt him. I came into the fight the lightest I weighed in. I was ready to go 5 rounds.” He also issued a challenge to the professional wrestlers. “I have reached the pinnacle of this sport,” Bhullar said. “Now I want to attack the pro wrestling industry,” he said. “AEW, WWE, I’m coming for you guys next. Consider this a warning shot.”

On his social media handles, he wrote: “I’m humbled by the support from the world. As my inner circle knows this camp we were tested more than in any other, yet the faith and belief held firmWhen something is meant to be nobody and nothing can stop it from happening. I love you all. God has been great.”

ESPN reported that Bhullar and Vera were initially scheduled to fight in March last year but that bout was cancelled owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. That match was rescheduled later that year but was cancelled once again.  “Although Bhullar had been chafing at the lack of competition, he had been making good use of his extended preparation time,” reported ESPN. During the COVID-19 pandemic Bhullar had shifted base from the American Kickboxing Academy in California, “where he had trained alongside former UFC champions Khabib Nurmagomedov and Daniel Cormier,” back to Vancouver, British Columbia. “There he had worked on his striking skills to add to the wrestling pedigree he already possessed,” the ESPN report said. 

“I’m looking forward to showing what I’m working for a year,” he told ESPN before the May 15 fight. “But it’s more than that. It’s about showing a lifetime of hard work. It’s about realizing a dream not just for myself, but my community,” he had said in the build up to the fight. 

Several Indian celebrities took to Twitter to congratulate Bhullar. Actor Randeep Hooda wrote: “Arjan Singh Bhullar creates history by becoming the first ever champion from India.”

Indo-Canadian Punjabi singer and songwriter.Singer Jazzy B tweeted: Congratulations to Sada Canada wala Munda arjan singh Bhullar for becoming the world champion for @ufc @TheOneASB #proud2bpunjabi”  In another tweet he wrote: “Proud of you bro I seen you put in all the hard work and you made all the Indians around the world proud.”

In a tweet, Ashok Singh Garcha, president, Abrahamic and Indo-Abrahamic Association (AIAA) wrote: “Sardar Arjan Singh Bhullar, world champion Mixed Martial Arts, is an inspiration for young Sikhs and Indians worldwide.”

During his time with the UFC,  Bhullar lost just once and secured three wins to his name. He made his ONE Championship debut in 2019 when he defeated Mauro Cerilli via decision. When competing in the UFC, Bhular took special dispensation to be able to wear a turban to the ring. Even now, he carries to his bouts a gurj (mace) that was handed to him for once winning a dangal (traditional wrestling competition). He held that mace aloft following his win over Vera. 

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The Vancouver, British Columbia- born Bhullar, has previously won the 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medal in 120kg freestyle wrestling in New Delhi. He is the first wrestler of Indian heritage to represent Canada at the Olympic Games in Freestyle Wrestling. He is a recipient of a silver medal marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, presented by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to select Canadians for their service to the country.  

Team Bhullar

Bhullar was born in Vancouver, British Columbia on May 13, 1986 as the middle child to brother Jora and sister Jasmin. Wrestling has a history in the Bhullar family. Father Avtar was the first to excel in both the traditional Indian style of wrestling (kushti) and Olympic style wrestling. All the Bhullar boys were eventually put through the same rigorous training regimen in the Bhullar “Akhara“ (gym), built on the family farm. Equipment was scarce and sympathy non-existent; while work ethic and a desire to become the best abundant. This was the unofficial beginning for Team Bhullar. 

According to his profile on his website, Bhullar was never a natural athlete, “but what he lacked in ability he made up for in hard work and an unrelenting competitiveness.” Having trained exclusively with the family through high school, Bhullar was able to win multiple provincial and national high school championships. He went on to wrestle for wrestling powerhouse Simon Fraser University on a scholarship, while pursuing a degree in Political Science. 

Simon Fraser allowed Bhullar to compete in the Canadian University league (CIS) as well as an American University league (NAIA). Under the tutelage of Coach Justin Abdou and personal coach Nick Ugoalah, Bhullar was able to win multiple national titles for Simon Fraser, as well as a Bronze medal at the University World Championships. 

While competing for Simon Fraser, Bhullar was also able to make the Senior National Team and represent Canada around the world. Building upon his success at the University level, he was able to have some early success while competing for Canada. He was named Wrestler of the Year in 2009 and followed that up with a dramatic Gold Medal performance in Delhi at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

Apart from wrestling, Bhullar has continually tried to donate his time, energy, and money towards various causes and non-profit organizations. Bhullar believes his work outside of wrestling with various community initiatives is much needed and appreciated and hopes that will be his lasting legacy.

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