29TH MAY WAS SUPPOSED TO BE a historic day, not just for Arjan Singh Bhullar but for MMA fans in India as well.
Ever since Arjan announced his arrival from UFC to ONE Championship, he was singularly focused on taking on Brandon Vera for his Heavyweight title. His claim for the title shot was solidified when on his promotional debut he beat former title challenger Mauro Cerilli by unanimous decision.
Soon enough, he was matched up against the champ. Come 29th May, it was declared, that Arjan Singh Bhullar (10-1) would face Brandon Vera (16-8) in the Heavyweight title bout that would headline ONE: Infinity 2; a milestone event for the organization.
It was the first time an Indian-origin fighter was getting a shot at being the world champion in one of the top global MMA promotions. Among the Indian fans of the sport, this became one of the fights they most looked forward to in the summer. As the hype started building, some on social media were saying they cared about this bout as much as the long-elusive Khabib-Tony fight.
Unfortunately, circumstances struck down everyone's expectation. As COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill, Khabib-Tony was cancelled, and went off the table when Justin Gaethje beat Tony Ferguson. Arjan's fight with Vera, too, could not go on as planned. It had to be delayed.
Arjan had already begun his training for the bout at American Kickboxing Academy when he heard about Infinity 2 being pushed back,
"I heard about the title shot being delayed at the beginning of May... very frustrating but it was expected by then because the rest of the world was already shutting down. Health first, safety first. I'm glad that ONE Championship thought of the fighters and their staff and did the right thing. It was the right thing to do."
As of now, word on the street is that ONE: Infinity 2 will be held on October 25th in Tokyo, Japan. But Arjan was speaking exclusively with TFG, he didn't have a confirmation on it,
"I haven't heard any update on a new venue or date. They're taking it month-by-month I'd say. But I'm expecting things to start opening up soon. With UFC now launching some fights, there's already a company that's kind of starting it. Things are starting to loosen up in terms of North America, even Asia is starting to get a hand on things. As soon as that happens, there will be a run of events coming our way."
For somebody who has been chasing a world title fight ever since he started his MMA career back in 2014 then had it delayed just weeks prior to his dream being realised, Arjan appeared quite calm when talking about how the delay affected him,
"It's obviously disappointing for it to be delayed. I had things lined up a certain way, for Manilla on that date and things that we were going to do right after. But like I said, no one in the world foresaw what was going to happen with this virus. This was one of those things that was bigger than anything. But it's been great, I've been able to stay active, spend time with family and kind of wait and see, so it hasn't been too bad for me."
The biggest worry of the fans about the delay was not having to wait longer to see a long-anticipated fight. It was the possibility that the fight may not happen and somebody else may get the title shot. Arjan, though, didn't think that was a concern,
"No, I'm not concerned someone else will get the shot. I think I make sense. We talked about it before I signed. They saw my last performance, I knocked off the biggest guy, the biggest threat in the division. And there's a great storyline here. I think they see the potential of what I bring to the table as an athlete, for all fans in India, being the first world champion. There's no one else who can do that but me, and that's why I don't think I'll get passed up."
Ever the optimist, Arjan invariably managed to highlight the positive in everything; in the postponement of his fight, and even in being quarantined due to the coronavirus. Asked how he was spending his time, he said he was using the quarantine for a much needed catch-up with his family,
"I'm spending my quarantine with family at home and on our farm. We've got our own gym here so I do get my training in as well. I've been spending just a lot of time around the house... it's been nice. Things have slowed down... and I think there may be some residual effects for this. When things open up, maybe people will remember to keep aside more time for their loved ones.... I never had time for turning my mind off. Always had the next plan, the next opponent, the next date, the next training session. Everything mapped out, daily, weekly. To be able to just turn that off and enjoy the present... that has been the best thing. I'm keeping up well. Lots of home-cooked meals. I'm not going to restaurants at all, so probably even better. Probably a little more desserts than I'd have otherwise, but you've got to enjoy yourself during this lockdown."
For his fans in India, he recommends the same outlook to get through these difficult times,
"Just stick together. Throughout the nation, the cities, the villages. Come together, help your friends and family members to stay safe. Be strong, be grateful for what you have. Reflect on your goals, the challenges you face, and be ready so when things open up you are the best version of yourself. This is what I'm doing personally and I think a lot of people can benefit from this approach."
If the new rumoured date for the event, i.e. October 25th, has the fight intact, that leaves Arjan enough time to shake off the lockdown rust and get back in fighting shape with a full camp. For now, though, he's looking at how the world is dealing with COVID-19, and hoping for travel restrictions to ease up sooner rather than later so the fight he and MMA fans all over India have been waiting patiently for finally gets greenlit.