In 2021, Canada's Arjan Singh Bhullar had the chance to become the first-ever Sikh, Punjabi, and South Asian Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) world champion. Bhullar fought Brandon Vera for the One Fighting Championship (One FC) world heavyweight title in Singapore. Vera had been the champion for the past six years. 

Many people thought that One FC was one of the best mixed martial arts (MMA) organisations because its roster included legendary fighters like Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson, Vitor Belfort, and Eddie Alvarez.

Growing up 

Bhullar's journey to compete for the world title stemmed from a family background in traditional Punjabi-style wrestling which took him to the Olympics. He had an undefeated run in the Canadian MMA circuit, a 3-1 winning run in the UFC, MMA's most prestigious organization. Then, he consciously decided to sign with the Asia-based One FC, where he was elevated straight to the world title level.

He had trained regularly at the highly respected AKA gym alongside MMA greats such as Daniel Cormier and Khabib Nurmamogedov, and Bhullar had always aimed to be a world champion. Finally, he got the opportunity on the weekend to achieve his goal.

Although there have been Sikh champions in a few sports, including combat sports such as kickboxing and jiu-jitsu, it was a wonder as to why we had not yet seen a Sikh world champion in the more famed combat competitions of boxing and MMA considering the link between martial-arts and Sikhi. 

Bhullar speaks about his journey 

Bhullar's family, who run their own community wrestling club in Richmond BC, purchased a UFC-sized cage for their club and made the necessary adjustments. Their Akhara, which serves as a wrestling gym/center, is now fully equipped for martial arts training with all the necessary equipment.

To ensure COVID-19 safety measures were in place, only Bhullar was able to participate in the arranged heavyweight sparring session as there were no other individuals present in the gym.

Preparing for a fight 

The trainers were very specific with Brandon Vera's training, considering him a dangerous kickboxer, skilled at fighting off his back, and with good take-down defence. However, despite his six-year championship reign, all his title fights were won via knockout, making him most dangerous on his feet. Their focus was to minimize that risk and keep the fight within the boxing and wrestling range to maintain their comfort level.

They had a game plan to pressure Vera, stay on the inside, punch him up, take him down, tire him out, and finish him, whether standing or on the ground. The fighter acknowledged that it would require a huge heart, courage, and dealing with adversity but was ready for it, having been well trained and prepared to win.

In addition, the fighter planned to weigh the lightest ever for this fight. Since it was a five-rounder, they aimed to maintain a good pace throughout the fight and be in the best shape possible.

The championship means a lot to him 

Bhullar said becoming a world champion holds the utmost importance out of all the possible accomplishments he could attain. It is a goal he has had since childhood, to be the best in the world at something, and he is determined to make it a reality. Moreover, he sees this achievement as not only significant for himself but for his entire community. In the long run, he wants his success to inspire and give hope to his community that if he can do it, they can do it too.

Influence of Sikhism 

Sikhi has had a significant impact on him. He said that his faith plays a crucial role in his approach to life. He believes that his bloodline is indicative of his warrior lineage and feels a direct connection to it. For him, this connection is a defining part of who he is. He finds inspiration in the history of his people and tries to incorporate it into his own journey. While he trains and prepares himself as much as possible, he ultimately relies on his faith to guide him. He trusts that everything will work out and that his story is part of a higher power's plan that he is meant to fulfil. If he is fortunate enough to achieve his goals, he intends to give back on an even greater scale, which aligns with the principles of Sikhi.


*Based on an article by Jasveer Singh published in BaazNews on 12th May 2021


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