Interview: Arjan Singh Bhullar opens up about representing India, UFC's India plans, Jinder Mahal & more...
India finally has a representative at the highest level in the art of MMA. Arjan Singh Bhullar may officially be from Canada, but he is as Indian as they come.
He seems almost too polite to be a man who beats up fellow fighters for a living inside the dreaded Octagon. Following his winning performance at UFC 215, he is in India for some promotional work for the company, and the Punjab native tells us that coming to India is a yearly affair.
What does representing India or for that matter, Canada, in the UFC mean to you?
Arjan Bhullar: It's a huge honour, any time you can represent your country. At first, it was in the sport of wrestling, for Canada, and I spent many, many years there. Now I'm trying to bridge the UFC to the country of India and represent my roots.
I've represented Canada for so long. I've connected with the people there. I want to connect with the people out here now. That's my true motivation once you get to know me. It's not this fighting stuff. It's just to connect with people, bring about some positive change and make an impact on people.
What impact did the Olympics have on your future career path?
Arjan Bhullar: I don't know if you guys know my story. My father wrestled before. We have an 'akhada' in our house. Wrestling was in our lineage. That was our family's history and our family's story — the Olympic dream and all of that.
So I was able to accomplish that for my family and that means a great deal to me. Obviously, having your family's blessings is very big. The UFC is my dream. I ended up changing from the Olympics and going into this. But wrestling's the best base to have in this sport. So, skill wise it helps me out a lot.
How different is wrestling at an Olympic level, and competing at a high level in MMA?
Arjan Bhullar: There are similarities and differences. It's still one on one. You're used to that. They're both very tough sports, competing in front of crowds etc. In MMA, you're able to take a person down. So, you're able to use all your skills. But there are other skills too.
Now I'm able to punch a guy, kick a guy, go for some submissions, so there's more to the game. Whereas if it's wrestling, boxing or jiu-jitsu, if you compete in just one of those, you're a specialist. You're only doing that one thing. MMA allows many things. There are many paths to victory. And that's what excites me.
What additional skills did you have to learn, when you made your transition from wrestling to MMA?
Arjan Bhullar: Once you get wrestling, you can do everything. It's a very difficult sport and to get to a high level, if you're able to do that, you're able to do anything else. The main thing was can I get used to taking a strike and can I strike back? I've taken to that very well.
I've been a big fan of boxing for many, many years...you know watching Mike Tyson. I was a fan of so many boxers, and now I get to do that!
Tell us about your strength and conditioning regime.
Arjan Bhullar: That's the same as before. The difference you know...when I wrestled, I was 20 lbs. heavier. It was a different style. For this, you need more movement. So I dropped that weight. But that was the only shift in terms of strength and conditioning.
So when is the UFC coming to India?
Arjan Bhullar: Yes! So this is a part of that work! That's why we're here. Trying to lay down the foundation and connect with the people. I want to let the UFC know that we're ready out here for them and I want the people to know what the sport's all about...so we're ready for the UFC.
So if that's an education, or why my history as a wrestler connects with this, and how that works, so that people can understand that there's a lot of wrestling history here. Thousands of years old.
At the same time, what excites me is every sport is trying to get here. NBA, NFL, baseball, all of them, right? But we're already here because we already have an Indian who's in the UFC. Not only that. It's an easy game to understand. A fight is easy to understand.
I want to do all that, connect with the audience out here and show the UFC that we're ready to go. My deal, within eighteen months we get an event out here...that's what I want.
Wow. That's great news. Are there plans in place for that already?
Arjan Bhullar: It came from the head of UFC, the new owner- Ari Emanuel. He had a meeting in Las Vegas, and he told all his executives, 'our new push is for India'. We want to go into that market. So that's coming from the top. We're already out here anyway. So everything's lining up.
Speaking of being ambassadors for India in a sport, you are great friends with WWE Champion, Jinder Mahal. Do you maybe want to walk him down to the ring at WrestleMania someday?
Arjan Bhullar: For sure. I'll join him in the ring if I can, too. I'm a big wrestling fan. I grew up on it. Like we all did. He's a great guy.
What is your message to aspiring Indian fighters, and do you think any of them can compete at a high level like you?
Arjan Bhullar: For sure. First of all, get into wrestling. You have that out here. From there, get into boxing. There's a high level of boxing in the country now, as well. First base is wrestling; the second best base is boxing.
Do you think something like Mayweather vs. McGregor dilutes the sport or enhances it?
Arjan Bhullar: Look how many people watched! It didn't dilute anything. It's entertainment. And it was a good fight. Conor gained respect in the boxing world. I did have Mayweather winning that because he's a specialist. To take him as deep as he did, McGregor, it shows that MMA is a real sport and lot of people tuned in, so it was fun.
I wanted to say to all the fans, that we have a free platform out here on Sony ESPN. Watch all the content. Get excited. Get educated on all the best of the best. Follow your guy. We want to show the UFC that we're ready to go out here, so we can bring an event as soon as possible.
Final word. By when do you think you'll be the UFC Heavyweight Champion?
Arjan Bhullar: When? By the fifth fight, we should be there. 18-24 months. We should be competing for the title. I train with Daniel Cormier and Cain Velasquez, so I can measure myself against the best.
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