With the gold wrapped around his waist, the 35-year-old was honoring his family, his people, and his heritage in hopes of inspiring them to chase their own dreams.
In this exclusive interview with ONEFC.com, “Singh” reflects on his career-best performance, becoming a World Champion, and the ripple effect he hopes to see in India.
ONE Championship: How do you feel after becoming the first Indian Mixed Martial Arts World Champion?
Arjan Bhullar: It’s really amazing being the first MMA World Champion from India. It’s a great honor and a great privilege. It’s going to be here forever. History and legacy are very important to me.
It comes with a great responsibility, too. Now we’re going to grow the sport, make sure that it’s a bit easier for the next generation of fighters, and they know what’s possible.
ONE: What does it mean both for you personally and for India?
AB: It means a great deal to me, personally, just to be a World Champion and to represent my people. Like I said, it’s going to be there forever – being a World Champion, being there first.
I think for other wrestlers who come from the country and the great wrestling tradition that we have, they’ll see this is possible. The biggest thing you can do is to show that it’s a viable option, and it’s a great option.
ONE: Your dad made his name in the dangal (wrestling arena) in the past, and now you made your mark at ONE: DANGAL. How does it feel to win the gold at an event named after wrestling?
AB: Yeah, it feels full circle. I’ve been in it since I was a little kid, and I have been to lots of dangals with my father. I watched him compete there and I was able to do the same here.
If anyone was going to do it for India, it was going to be me at an event called “Dangal.” I knew that for sure. As soon as I saw the promotional material, I knew that there was no way this wasn’t going to happen. I was convinced.
ONE: Is this the biggest win in your sports career?
AB: I have had a lot of big wins, but I think every win led to this. Without those other wins, this would not have been possible. So I’m going to say yes, this absolutely is my biggest, most fulfilling, most life-changing win. Not only for me, but also for many people around me, my loved ones, and people around the world.
ONE: It’s been rare to see ONE’s heavyweight contests fought on the ground. Was your strategy to take this fight to the canvas?
AB: The strategy was to beat him everywhere — stand-up or ground — in every way. I think I showed that I had success in both areas. As a wrestler, that’s something I always turn to on instinct and it worked out great here as well.
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ONE: Did you expect that the match would be over so soon?
AB: I expected that I would hurt him. I expected to be patient once I did, and to just keep looking for the finish. I thought it’d be the second round. That’s what I felt.
In the first round, I wanted to see what he had, where he was at, and then start pressing on the gas in the second round. Whether he went out in the second round or a later round, we would have kept at it after that.
ONE: Was there a reason behind your callout of Kang Ji Won?
AB: I called out Kang Ji Won because I was offered Amir Aliakbari, that loudmouth Iranian, before Vera, and I couldn’t get booked. This guy just punched Aliakbari out, and his teammate [Mehdi Barghi], within a month, and he’s undefeated and up-and-coming.
So, I thought there’s no one else who has done that recently in the heavyweight division. Everyone else is pretty new, kind of figuring themselves out, so I wanted to reward him for his work.
ONE: If Kang accepts the challenge, what should fans expect from that fight?
AB: If he accepts the challenge, I expect a great fight. He’s a great fighter. He moves very quick, he has good feet, good hands, and obviously, he can deal with adversity. He’s tough.
But we’re not thinking about that right now, that’s down the road. Right now, it’s about the present moment.
ONE: You live in a joint family, so who will get to hold this belt first?
AB: It’s everyone’s belt. It’s the village’s belt, the joint family’s [belt]. Everyone will have a piece of it. I will leave it there for everyone to hold and to see and to fight over because everyone played a pivotal role.