ARJAN SINGH BHULLAR HAS made history by becoming the first person of Indian origin to become an MMA world champion in a major organization.
At 'ONE:Dangal', held in Singapore, he defeated the veteran Brandon Vera (16-9-1) via TKO to become the ONE Championship's Heavyweight champion.
The long awaited bout, which was originally scheduled last year but got postponed due to COVID-19, finally saw the wrestler-turned-Mixed Martial Artist go for gold at the ONE Championship; a goal he has been chasing for the last two years since he left the UFC to join ONE.
Arjan, who came into the bout riding a 3 fight win streak, had earned his title shot by defeating former title challenger Mauro Cerilli. Taking on a veteran striker just like Cerilli in this fight, Arjan showed off vastly improved striking skills that he used to set up takedowns.
The first round began with Brandon Vera getting in some early shots. He targeted Arjan with outside leg kicks, using his longer reach to keep the fight in outboxing range. As Arjan looked to threaten with overhand strikes of his own, Brandon saw some success in getting his jabs through. But this time, Arjan refused to retreat. Instead, he stayed locked in and started playing a pressure game, slowly pushing Brandon back towards the cage wiring through feints and body shots.
Once Brandon was backed up against the cage, Arjan went for a takedown and succeeded. Brandon immediately locked Arjan's arms with his own to create a stalemate for the rest of the round. He had effectively stopped Arjan from doing further damage from the top, but Arjan had seen what he needed to see: success in getting the fight to the ground.
As the second round began, Brandon came out swinging hard, trying to establish control from the outset. He caught Arjan with a jab and followed it up with a leg kick. Arjan leaped back to evade the incoming barrage.
And then it happened. Arjan, who had been loading up on a big shot while trying to get a read on Brandon's movement pattern, finally found the perfect timing to get to his opponent. His right hand caught Brandon on the half-step, hitting the Filipino-American flush on the chin.
Brandon was rocked. He retreated, and a few tense seconds later seemed to have recovered. But Arjan was now smelling blood. He continued the pressure through striking, as multiple jabs found the target. Arjan's corner, audibly excited, egged him on, shouting,
"Every shot hurts!"
Arjan was dominating the veteran striker on the feet.
Once again, Brandon found himself pressed up against the cage. Arjan got a couple of good punches in and went for the takedown. Brandon tried to keep himself standing by grabbing the cage, and the referee immediately warned him not to do that. Seconds later, Arjan had completed the takedown and taken the top position.
As Brandon tried hard to posture up to a position where he could get his feet under him, Arjan relentlessly rained on him with punches. The ground and pound caused the referee to warn Brandon to defend himself. Brandon tried to move away from the punches, but in doing so exposed an angle that Arjan could use to drop massive hammerfists. And the referee had seen enough. He stepped in to stop the fight at 4:27 minutes into the second round.
Joy erupted in Arjan's corner as the fighter, now 11-1 in pro MMA, stood up to take in the moment. He had been on a quest for a major world title ever since he became a pro MMA fighter in 2014. It had taken 7 long years, including a successful stint at UFC, to get himself in a position to become the world champion, and when the opportunity finally came he achieved his goal in a manner that was almost perfection. It was his first TKO win since October 2016. And he had done it all while flying the Indian flag, putting the nation on the world MMA map.
At the post-fight interview, Arjan shouted out to his fans,
"India, we got one now! Your first world champion, baby. Let's go!"
Talking about the game plan, he revealed,
"We were gonna box him up, put him in that range, wrestle him, pressure him, break him. That was the plan. You didn't name this Dangal for no effing reason."
He brandished the traditional Indian golden club (gadaa) that he always walks out with, and said,
"I won this in a Dangal. This is for the grand champions, that's where this comes from. Only the best, only the biggest, only the baddest get one of these. So you best believe I was gonna perform tonight."
Afterwards, Arjan issued a callout to undefeated heavyweight contender Ji Won Kang (5-0) as his first opponent to defend his newly-earned title against,
"There's a Korean heavyweight who shut up a loudmouth recently. I call him the Iranian killer, he beat two of them in one month. I believe he should be the guy who gets this next. That's who I'd like to face while the rest of the division sorts itself out. I think he's earned his keep."
Ji Won Kang debuted in pro MMA back in 2018, and has been on a tear ever since. He has fought 5 times, and on each occasion, he has finished his opponent in the first round through strikes. If the fight happens, Arjan will be pitted against a dangerous striker for the third time in a rown in ONE Championship. But with the handiwork he displayed against Brandon, it probably will not be a classic striker vs wrestler match.
Arjan has now outgrown his 'typical wrestler' identity to be perceived by the MMA fans as a matured, complete fighter, perfectly timed with his ascent to the top of the world in ONE Championship.