Top heavyweight contender Arjan Bhullar joined ONE Championship in late 2019, looking to make an immediate impact in the promotion. Since coming over directly from the UFC, he's certainly made a big splash. After defeating a former ONE World Title challenger in Italy's Mauro Cerilli last October in his debut, Bhullar earned his shot at ONE Championship gold.
Filipino-American veteran Brandon Vera has held the ONE Heavyweight World Title since capturing the belt in 2015. He's one of the longest-reigning World Champions in ONE history.
While Bhullar is no doubt excited to lock horns with Vera sometime in the near future, presumably after the COVID-19 situation has drastically improved globally, the Indian superstar has shown a lot of respect for the man they call "The Truth."
"I respect Vera for what he has accomplished in this sport. For how long he has been fighting the best, for how he has represented ONE as a champion, for what he has done for the Philippines and the Filipino people, and for what he has done for himself and his family. I want to do all of that and more for myself, for India, for Indians worldwide, and for ONE," said Bullar.
"Vera is a great ambassador for the sport and has treated me with the utmost respect. The feelings are mutual, until we become competitors in the Circle."
Weighing in at over 240 lbs., Bhullar is much bigger than Vera and physically more imposing. He has an extensive wrestling background, having represented Canada at the 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011 World Championships, at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, at the 2007 Pan American Games and at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
This is in stark contrast to Vera's strengths, which is rooted more in Muay Thai and striking disciplines.
Bhullar knows exactly what he's up against, however, and is cultivating his skills so that by the time he steps in the Circle with Vera, he will have all the confidence in the world to score a monumental upset.
"His strengths are clear. He has a tremendous amount of experience and has seen all the different looks a fighter can see in the cage. He can fight out of both stances, going forward and backward. He is well-rounded everywhere, and has excellent Muay Thai. That has allowed him to finish every single heavyweight threat he has faced," said Bhullar.
"But none of those guys were named Arjan Singh Bhullar, nor bring what I do to the Circle."
Making the decision to jump from the UFC to ONE Championship wasn't difficult for Bhullar. To him, getting the chance to represent the people of India, with an organization that he was proud to be a part of, was one of the most important goals in his life.
"One of my biggest factors to come over was how much the company valued me for their plans for Indian and the global Indian market," said Bhullar.
"I believe in the greatness of my people and the ability for this sport to connect with them. I believe myself and Ritu Phogat (ONE Championship atomweight) are the perfect athletes with the right stories and wrestling lineage to ignite the country."
Winning a world title has been a dream for Bhullar since he was young. It's a dream he says he is completely focused on achieving. The 34-year-old believes nothing can hinder him from reaching his goal, and making his people proud.
"I'm younger. I'm hungrier to get what I haven't yet. I have been pursuing the opportunity to be a world champion since I was in diapers. I am a lifelong athlete who still lives and breathes competition to the fullest. I don't have any other distractions or priorities in my life," said Bhullar.
"I have an entire nation and people worldwide who are supporting my quest. I have the skills that have proved problematic for Vera in his losses in the past. I have the strongest mindset to get this job done, which will carry me through the most extreme conditions. I am a winner. I am one billion strong (#ONEBILLIONSTRONG)."
Vera is currently in Guam, expecting his firstborn child with wife Jessica at any moment. The soon-to-be father will get to spend extra time with his family while the world continues to stay at home and indoors in order to cope with the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fighting is most likely the furthest thing from Vera's mind right now.
Though Vera's next title defense has also yet to be made official, Bhullar is wise to stay ready for any call that might come his way.Published 27 Jul 2020, 16:00 IST