Arjan “Singh” Bhullar‘s world-class freestyle wrestling has helped him become one of the top heavyweight mixed martial artists in the world, and his passion extends beyond the mat into the squared circle.
The Canadian-Indian superstar, who will challenge Brandon “The Truth” Vera for the ONE Heavyweight World Championship later this year, has also been a lifelong supporter of professional wrestling.
A Fan For Life
Now 34 years old, Bhullar has loved the spectacle and athleticism of pro wrestling since childhood.
“I’m a big fan,” the American Kickboxing Academy standout says.
“We had the Macho Man and [Ultimate] Warrior stuffed pillows. We still have them. My brother would walk around with a snake in a black bag pretending to be Jake ‘The Snake’ [Roberts]. We grew up on that stuff. Those were the top draws and guys you would want to copycat at the time.”
But even with those other big names to cheer for, growing up in Canada made it easy for Bhullar to choose his top superstar. And, coincidentally, “Singh” had something in common with his wrestling idol other than living in the same country.
“My favorite wrestler of all time is obviously Bret Hart. You can’t go wrong with that guy. He is a Canadian hero,” the heavyweight contender says.
“Their whole family wrestled, so I connected with that. Similarly, we always had a gym in our house like the one they had, ‘The Dungeon.’”
Bhullar even recalls wrestling in a tournament that was affiliated with the Hart family.
“They called it the Stu Hart Invitational,” Bhullar says. “It was named after his dad, who was still alive the first time I wrestled in it.”
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All Elite Emergence
While World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has long sat atop the professional wrestling mountaintop, the industry was shaken up in 2019 when a new player, AEW, emerged on the scene.
AEW was formed after Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks sold out an independent wrestling show in Chicago, Illinois called All In. The surprising success of that pay-per-view event led the trio to create their own promotion in the months that followed.
Backed by co-owner Shahid Khan and his son, AEW President and CEO Tony Khan, the organization instantly jumped to the #2 position behind WWE. Bhullar credits Tony for taking a lead role in the company and helping push it to immediate success.
“You have to give them props,” the heavyweight says.
“They’re doing something right, and I think it starts at the top with Tony Khan. I think that’s the guy. He’s young, like a young Vince McMahon. He’s got fresh ideas and is hands-on. He’s up to date and been doing things differently. The angles are not so scripted, and not so Hollywood where everything has to be perfect.
“He has allowed the creativity to flow. People can call some of their own shots rather than the top-down corporate style, which is still working for the WWE – I don’t want to knock them, but I like the product that AEW is pushing out. It’s new and exciting. There is a reason people are tuning in.”
When it comes to the modern-day scene and the faces currently competing in AEW, Kenny Omega is one of Bhullar’s favorites.
“He was a big name and one of the hottest free agents,” the mixed martial arts superstar adds. “He made a decision not to go with the WWE. [That guy has] a tremendous amount of talent. I’ve been a fan of his ever since he got on my radar, and I think he is the future.”
On 23 May, AEW ran a pay-per-view event called Double Or Nothing in Jacksonville, Florida, which was quite a hit with Bhullar. Coincidentally, mixed martial arts legend Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort had a ringside seat that evening.
“They had a fantastic event that Vitor was at,” he says. “Mike Tyson presented a belt. It was an amazing show. One of the guys called out [ONE Championship Chairman and CEO] Chatri [Sityodtong], actually.”
Of course, Double Or Nothing was closed to fans due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Much like martial arts organizations, professional wrestling companies have been forced to perform in front of empty seats.
“It’s a tough business right now because of that. It has affected my viewing pleasure because they play a lot off the crowd. That’s their cues,” Bhullar says.
“At the same time, they’ve done a great job all the way around to make the best of a difficult situation and run consistent shows throughout the pandemic. [The Double Or Nothing event] was a perfect example of that.
“The stadium show was a great call. It changed things up, some stuff you haven’t seen in a very long time. That’s what competition does. It’s good for the consumer. Bringing Tyson out was a great angle. All the way around, it was a fantastic show.”
For his part, Bhullar is currently focused on taking down Vera, but might he hope to dominate in the squared circle one day, too?
“I’ll be honest, my plan after getting this gold is to take over pro wrestling as well,” he says. “I’m a big fan of that show and pro wrestling in general.”
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