Jasveer Singh: The First-Ever Sikh MMA World Champion Could Be Crowned This Weekend
Baaz speaks to Canada’s Arjan Singh Bhullar as he prepares to compete for the One Fighting Championship world heavyweight title against their six-year reigning champion Brandon Vera in Singapore.
May 12, 2021 | 5 min. read
This Saturday, May 15, sporting history could be made when Canada’s Arjan Singh Bhullar gets the opportunity to become the first-ever Sikh, Punjabi, and South Asian MMA world champion.
Bhullar competes for the One Fighting Championship (One FC) world heavyweight title against their six-year reigning champion Brandon Vera in Singapore. The contest is available to view for free on Youtube in Canada and the UK, on the Bleacher Report in the USA, and on Star Sports in India from 6 PM SMT.
One FC is considered by many to be among the elite organisations of MMA, with a roster that includes legendary names such as Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, Vitor Belfort, and Eddie Alvarez.
Bhullar’s journey to compete for the world title stems from a family background in traditional Punjabi-style wrestling which took him to the Olympics, an undefeated run in the Canadian MMA circuit, a 3-1 winning run in the UFC, MMA’s most prestigious organisation, and then a conscious decision to sign with Asia based One FC where he was elevated straight into world title level.
Having trained regularly at the highly respected AKA gym alongside MMA greats such as Daniel Cormier and Khabib Nurmamogedov, Bhullar has always aimed to be a world champion and now finally gets the opportunity this weekend.
Whilst there have been Sikh champions in a few sports, including in combat sports such as kickboxing and jiu-jitsu, it is a wonder as to why we are yet to see a Sikh world champion in the more famed combat competitions of boxing and MMA considering the link between martial-arts and Sikhi. A victory for Arjan Singh Bhullar this weekend could signal a new dawn of Sikh sporting excellence in MMA and beyond, especially considering there are dozens of younger Sikhs pursuing sporting greatness, inspired by the athletic tradition within the faith.
Before his historic fight, we spoke to Bhullar for a quick discussion about his preparation and what the opportunity to become the first-ever Sikh and South Asian MMA world champion means to him.
Jasveer Singh: Thanks for catching up with us Arjan! Firstly, you are fighting for a world title having trained through a pandemic. What has that been like?
Arjan Singh Bhullar: My team and I made the best of it. The whole world had to adjust and we are no different. We bought a UFC-sized cage for our wrestling club (Bhullar’s family run their own community wrestling club in Richmond BC) and adjusted. Our Akhara (meaning arena, a reference to a wrestling gym/center) is equipped for full martial-arts training with all the right equipment.
We were able to arrange heavyweight sparring for myself and had no others in the gym to keep COVID-19 safe.
Jasveer Singh: You are fighting a six-year reigning champion in Brandon Vera, the highly respected veteran who made his name competing for the UFC world heavyweight title. How do you go about preparing to fight at this level?
Arjan Singh Bhullar: We were very specific with our training for Brandon Vera. He is a very dangerous kickboxer, very good off his back, and has good take-down defence too. But in his six years as champion, he has won all his title fights via knockout. So he is most dangerous on his feet and we are focused on minimising that risk and keeping the fight where I am comfortable, within boxing and wrestling range.
We have a game plan to pressure him, stay on the inside, punch him up, take him down, tire him out and finish him, whether that’s standing or on the ground. It’s going to take huge heart, courage, dealing with adversity, but I am ready for it. I am well trained and ready to win.
Also, for this fight I will weigh the lightest I have ever been. It is a five-rounder (world title fights are five rounds compared to three for non-title fights), so I want to keep a good five-round pace, so I am in the best shape I have ever been for this fight.
Jasveer Singh: As someone that tries to represent their background and has posted on social media about the situation in India regarding the #FarmersProtest and now the COVID-19 crisis, how difficult has it been to train whilst all this goes on?
Arjan Singh Bhullar: It hasn’t been easy. The devastation in India due to COVID-19 is unbelievable, heartbreaking, frustrating, and upsetting. That’s life and death. The first thought is, how can we help? And so we have taken time out to help as a family. When I compete, I have the approach that I am in a situation of life and death, but seeing what is happening out there puts things into perspective. To everyone that will read this, if there is anything I ask, it is just for you to support those on the ground dealing with this crisis in any way you can.
As I compete to become world champion, I just hope my people can take something to celebrate from this during these hard times.
Jasveer Singh: What will becoming the first-ever Punjabi, Sikh, and South Asian world champion mean to you?
Arjan Singh Bhullar: Being a world champion means the most to me out of everything I could achieve. It’s my childhood dream to be the best in the world at something. And I will be the first of many from our community! I recognise that this is huge for my legacy and I will use this achievement to give back to the masses. Long-term, I want my community to take hope that if I can do it, they can do it too.
Jasveer Singh: If you win the world title, what is next for you?
Arjan Singh Bhullar: Once we win it’s going to be a whole lot of fun. I have a lot of goals and this is not where we are stopping.
Getting there is one thing, staying there is another thing. I am looking at other champions in other organisations around the world and what gets me excited to continue this MMA journey is stamping dominance on my champion status.
Jasveer Singh: Finally, how has your Sikh faith helped you in this journey toward becoming a world MMA champion?
Arjan Singh Bhullar: Sikhi has been a huge influence. My faith is a big deal in my approach. Our bloodline speaks to our warrior lineage. I directly connect with that. It is who I am. I get inspired by our history and try to bring that with me in my own journey. You train and try to be as ready as possible but at the end of it all you have to go in with faith, and I have that faith it will work out and that my story is within the play of a higher power which I am here to fulfill. If I am fortunate enough to be blessed with this big achievement, my give back is going to be even bigger, and that’s what Sikhi is about.
Jasveer Singh hails from Southall, UK, and is the Senior Press Officer of The Sikh Press Association, a position he has held since 2015. In this role, Jasveer works across all sectors of media supporting Sikh organisations and individuals on panthic endeavours. Jasveer previously worked as a freelance journalist which included stints with Sky News, Super Fight League, and more. You can find Jasveer on Twitter at @Jazzthejourno.
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