MMA’s First Indian-Canadian World Champion
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) World Champion is Indian-Canadian, Arjan Singh Bhullar. The fighter secured the MMA world title in May of this year, excelling in the ONE Heavyweight World Championship at ONE Championship: Dangal in Singapore. He made history after beating former champion and long-time professional competitor, Brandon Vera. Bhullar describes the fight as having gone exactly as planned, crediting his training to be the backbone of his success, “I had a goal and a path to get there. The pandemic threw it off slightly, but things still went as we planned. This was an important one and I’m truly grateful for the results.”
Aside from his latest, career-defining victory, the wrestler has also won the Battlefield Fight League (BFL) Heavyweight Championship, defending the title twice. Following other various successes, in 2017, Bhullar signed with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), becoming the first Indian-Canadian person to reach the milestone. The competitor has represented Canada on various platforms including the 2007 Pan American Games, the 2010 Commonwealth Games, and the 2012 Summer Olympics. In terms of his involvement with the Olympic games, Bhullar was the first Canadian of South Asian descent to qualify for freestyle wrestling, becoming a five-time member of the national team.
The fearless fighter’s interest in wrestling formed from a very young age, with his father, Avtar Singh Bhullar, being a top tier wrestler as well. The 35-year-old details that he even has videos of himself still being in diapers and already watching his father train at the gym. The lessons that his father gave him turned out to be gifts for his professional career, but Bhullar also felt the pressure to live up to the expectations that came with being his father’s son.
Nevertheless, Bhullar’s father has always been a beacon of guidance in his life. His mother was no less of a positive encouragement, always striking the perfect balance; she would support her husband in his role of a father and teacher, and Bhullar in his place as a son and student.
Growing up, the family was always a part of Bhullar’s trainings, competitions and tournaments. In fact, the reigning world champion describes the Olympic dream as a family dream, “I got a scholarship to attend Simon Fraser University in the area of political science. I completed my studies and went into a full-time wrestling, with my parents being very supportive of my career trajectory.”
The professional wrestler encourages South Asian parents to let their children pursue careers that the children dream of, rather than getting tied to what the parents professionally want for their children. He maintains that many parents come to this country to let their children chase their dreams, which is more reason to let their children do so. That said, according to Bhullar, sports and academics are both important, as unexpected events such as injuries can lead to the need for an alternate plan. For the wrestling wiz, sports have been a source of humility, confidence and purpose.
Despite the many triumphs, however, the journey to the top has not been an easy one. Bhullar reveals being stereotyped that he would be babied and soft, facing obstacles to get opportunities. Moreover, when his parents moved to Canada, they underwent many hardships, with racism being one of the struggles. While racism at that time was more open, the Richmond-born-and-raised wrestler explains that it still exists, “Racism impacts the entire community.
In our generation, racism is more systematic and settled. We see Caucasian people in more positions of power and in charge of the decision making. I definitely had to prove myself more than others, but I can say that I’m more successful, too.”
Reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic, Bhullar further admits it has been an unexpected setback from a mental, physical and spiritual standpoint. He had never planned to go more than a year without competitions. “When you’re not competing, you’re not earning. Beyond that, I was tested positive for COVID-19 and sustained injuries, amidst the most challenging and most important training camp in my entire career,” Bhullar accounts. That said, the resilient sportsman took this opportunity to build confidence rather than being a victim. He was focused on getting through and making it to the fight of his career, with nothing stopping him on the way to doing what he loves once normal life resumed. Evidently, his efforts have borne fruit.
To foster this love of wrestling in others, Bhullar also runs his family’s training center, Bhullar Wrestling Club, a Richmond-based High Performance program. The program aims to develop elite athletes who are champions of character both on and off the mat. The former Olympian expresses gratitude to his father for helping establish the non-profit organization, which provides free coaching to dozens of children from the community.
With a positive driving force as strong as the one Bhullar has, the world champion says he holds no regrets in life, feeling blessed for everything he has. Even when there is a fork in the road, he trusts himself to make the right decision and just get through it. He credits his family for being his biggest motivation and thanks his wife for being a pillar of support, “I cannot do anything without her. She takes great care of our kids and when I need to, I feel like I can mentally focus on being a full-time athlete. I love spending time with my family and miss my kids when I go out of town.”
Bhullar recalls that his purpose, before he had a family, was solely himself and serving his ego. Now, the loving father aspires to leave behind a legacy for his children. Despite having been tweeted congratulatory regards by the Prime Minister himself, Bhullar claims that his kids are his biggest fans. As a role model, he encourages them to lead an active, healthy lifestyle and is set on being supportive of whatever they choose to pursue – be it wrestling or another career path.
When it comes to Bhullar’s career, his next pitstop is professional wrestling, for which he is very excited. Having dreamt of pro wrestling since childhood, this has been a lifelong plan of his. Undoubtedly, there are simply no limits for where the fiery fighter’s passion can take him. With a brave heart and strength as sturdy as iron, Bhullar is on track to claim his name on many more professional firsts yet to come! As he himself proudly puts, “We are only scratching the surface of what’s coming. They don’t even know…”
Get To Know The Champion
Arjan’s Five Firsts
First Fight Training:
“My first lessons were learning wrestling as a child, in the Indian kushti style, from my father.”
First Big Win:
“My first important win would be winning the provincial title.”
First Big Loss:
“My first impactful loss was the Canada Summer Games, which was a big sports event. I initially didn’t make the team, but got a second crack at it, which took me to the next level.”
First Career Realization:
“I realized for the first time that I’d pursue wrestling professionally when I won the national title for the first time.”
First Celebrity Moment:
“When I won my first national title, some kids sent me some mail and wanted to get my autograph.”
Rapid Fire with Arjan:
Favorite Workout Song:
“I don’t listen to music when I work out. I listen to myself and breath, trying to mimic my competition. Music distracts me.”
Favorite Cheat Food/Meal:
“Old-school, Italian-style pizza with fresh dough and a thin crust.”
Favorite Show to Binge-Watch:
“I don’t binge-watch much, but I’ve recently been into Schitt’s Creek.”
“Complainers – I don’t like them.”
Alternate Career Path:
Most Dialed Number:
“My wife. I’m always out of town, so I love face-timing her and the kids.”
Biggest Pandemic Lesson:
“Enjoy the ride and keep focusing on next big thing. When the world’s shut down, you’ve got no choice.”
Photos contributed by Arjan Bhullar, DARPAN Magazine