Bhullar: First Indian MMA world champion

Arjan Bhullar made history last Saturday when he became the first fighter of Indian descent to win a world mixed martial arts (MMA) title.

The Indian-Canadian beat Brandon Vera by a second-round technical knockout at the ONE Championship: Dangal event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium to end the Filipino-American's 51/2-year reign as the ONE heavyweight world champion.

The result saw Bhullar take his MMA record to 11-1 (four by knockout, seven by decision).

"India, we got one now. Your first world champion. Let's go," said Bhullar after his win. "We were going to box him up, get in and wrestle him, pressure him, break him. That was the game plan.

"I knew I was going to hurt him. I came into the fight the lightest I have weighed. I was ready to go five rounds."

The 34-year-old also revealed his future plans: "I'm well-trained, guys. I've been with the best since day one. I have reached the pinnacle of this sport. Now, I want to attack the pro wrestling industry. AEW, WWE, I'm coming for you guys next. Consider this a warning."

Vera, who had held the ONE heavyweight (120.2kg) world title since December 2015, suffered only his fourth career defeat since coming into the competition in 2014. The 43-year-old had knocked out each of his heavyweight opponents in the first round before meeting his match in Bhullar at the Singapore-based tournament.

"It's the first time in my entire career that I felt gassed in the first round," said Vera. "I'm in shape, we've been training, we've been working with the best people in the world. This is new for me."

Bhullar, the four-time Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran, joined the ONE Championship as its Asian imprint was very appealing to someone with Indian heritage.

"One of my biggest factors to come over (to ONE Championship) was how much the company valued me for their plans for the Indian and global market," Bhullar told Sportskeeda last year.

Bhullar's parents are from India, but he was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada. Though the move was designed to provide a better life for the family, it wasn't always easy growing up for him.

"Yes, my family faced racism after moving to Canada. It was a different time. Back then, racism was out in the open - physical, verbal and emotional," Bhullar told the ONE Championship website. "It was common to have to travel in packs because of a risk of physical altercation. That stuff was all normal."

He attended Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, where he wrestled at 129.2kg and was a two-time National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics champion. After that, he represented Canada as a freestyle wrestler in numerous international competitions, including the 2012 London Olympics, where he finished 13th. He also won a gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and a bronze at the 2007 Pan American Games.

Bhullar became the first fighter of South Asian descent to compete in the Octagon when he squared off against Luis Henrique Barbosa de Oliveira at UFC 215 on Sept 9, 2017. He won that fight via unanimous decision and went on to post a 3-1 mark - with additional triumphs over Marcelo Golm and Juan Adams - within the Las Vegas-based promotion before moving on to ONE Championship.

Bhullar has engaged in philanthropic endeavours in India. He helped build a community centre for women in his ancestral village, near Jalandhar in Punjab, where they could gather and socialise. It now doubles as a mask-making facility during the Covid-19 pandemic. He also built a gym in the village to help groom the next generation of Indian mixed martial arts stars.

Bhullar has made it clear that he wants to turn India into a martial arts powerhouse by taking troubled youth - many of whom have fallen prey to the traps and vices of poverty and hardship - off the streets and change their lives through sports.

"I want to make my village a model village and spread the message that anything is possible all over India when the intent is right," he has said.

Indo-Asian News Service

"I'm well-trained, guys. I've been with the best since day one. I have reached the pinnacle of this sport. Now,

I want to attack the pro wrestling industry."

- Arjan Bhullar (above)


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