India’s top heavyweight mixed martial artist’s quest to become his motherland’s first World Champion begins next Friday, 2 August at ONE: DAWN OF HEROES.
Following a successful start to his career in North America, Arjan “Singh” Bhullar will step under the lights of the world’s largest martial arts organization for the first time in Manila, Philippines, and he is anxiously awaiting the opportunity to impress his new employers.
Ahead of this exciting clash of giant athletes at the Mall Of Asia Arena, the Commonwealth Games wrestling gold medalist breaks down why he chose to chase glory in ONE, how he intends to build on his 9-1 record, and what it would mean to go back to India to celebrate with his people.
ONE Championship: How are you feeling ahead of your debut?
Arjan Bhullar: I’m excited. It’s a great opportunity. I’ve got a new home, I’ve got a great fight coming up against a tough opponent.
But I’m happy. I’m happy for this match-up. I’m happy for the new digs and the new contract.
ONE: What was it about ONE Championship that made you want to call it home?
AB: Several things. I think it’s currently the best time in history to be a [mixed martial artist] in terms of opportunities to make money and opportunities for exposure.
Myself and my management team had a discussion, and I believe that this is a business at the end of the day, so be a businessman and let the market decide your value. ONE came in with an offer we couldn’t refuse.
Aside from the financials, I had a conversation with the whole [ONE] team, face-to-face. One of the owners is actually Indian, and he has major plans for India in 2020, which is the reason why they came in with a great offer. It’s been phenomenal. Their plans for me are great, and it’s been nothing but a lot of love.
ONE: You mentioned ONE’s expanding into India as a big reason why you wanted to join the promotion, so what do you want to achieve there?
AB: My goals when I got into the sport were to be a World Champion, which I can do with ONE under this contract, and [build] a lasting legacy by opening up the market in India and championing the sport in the country, which I know I can do.
They signed a huge TV deal in India. They’ve said that they hope to expand into India in 2020 and they need a hero. Obviously, I want to take care of my family and provide for them, but I can do all of that over in ONE Championship. I’m excited.
ONE: What do you think about having to face an athlete like Mauro Cerilli in your ONE debut?
AB: He’s won titles in the past, he’s got experience, and he’s an aggressive fighter.
He’s got a judo background, so he doesn’t mind the ground, being on top, taking guys down, and he doesn’t mind swinging heat either. He’s won both ways, so he’s a very dangerous opponent who I’m taking very seriously.
That’s why I’m down here at [American Kickboxing Academy in California] preparing, but it’s also a great opportunity. He’s the last guy to fight [Brandon] Vera for the World Title. I’m not looking past him, but if I do what I’m hoping to do against him, this should set me up for a very big fight afterwards as well.
ONE: How much of an asset will your wrestling be for you in ONE – particularly in this match-up against an opponent who loves to swing for the knockout?
AB: As you know, wrestling is the trump card. The greater wrestler will decide where the fight goes, which is tremendous. I will always have that in my back pocket.
At the same time, I’m not just a wrestler. I want to showcase all of my skills as a mixed martial artist, and I want to get a big finish here.
It’s going to be a great card. I’m fighting in a ring for the first time, which is kind of exciting. It’s like the old-school guys who had that attitude of anywhere, any time, so it excites me.
Plus, [Demetrious Johnson] is on the card, Eddie [Alvarez] is on the card, and it’s in the Philippines – they sell out the arena every time, 20,000 people. There’s a great Indian community there as well, so I’m excited.
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The Thrilla in Manila, August 2nd! All love for the UFC and it was an honor to have them promote my fights for the last 2 yrs. Very happy to partner up with @onechampionship for the next 2 yrs. The opportunity to accomplish all 3 goals was a no brainer for me and something the UFC was unable to match. #WorldTitle. #India. #Money. . . #thrillainmanila #DownGoesMauro #getthebag???? #getthestrap #TeamBhullar #OneBillionStrong
ONE: How important is it to set the tone for your ONE Championship career with this debut performance?
AB: Every fight is important, and this one is no different. If you look at the guys who crossed over, Sage [Northcutt] had a tough go. Eddie had a tough go. [Demetrious] had a tough fight as well – although he toughed it out and got a big win, he had his eye swollen shut.
We expected a tough opponent. That was a given and I like a good challenge. That’s the part that excites me and motivates me. I don’t think Mauro’s going to bring anything to the table that [my training partners] aren’t, so I’m going to show the best of my ability and go out there and perform.
ONE: How do you like the idea of competing for the ONE Heavyweight World Championship in India in the future?
AB: I like it. It’s exciting. I’m going to take care of this fight. I hope Brandon Vera is sitting ringside.
I’m going to get a little excited on the microphone if he’s sitting there to help set up that fight. It would be exciting.
Whether it’s in India, or maybe the U.S. debut [event], that would be fantastic. Then I could take the World Title to India. Either way, the plan is to win the World Title, and then take it to India.