ARJAN SINGH BHULLAR is feeling his patience being tested by a prolonged wait for his long-awaited next fight.
The bout, which will unify Arjan's (11-1) Undisputed ONE Heavyweight Championship belt with Anatoly Malykhin's (12-0) ONE Interim Heavyweight Championship, is one of the biggest fights of the year for the promotion. However, it's now been rescheduled multiple times.
Initially, the two giants were supposed to clash in ONE 161 in September 2022 but an injury forced Arjan to get a surgery on his arm, and the fight was delayed. The bout was rescheduled to March 2023, at ONE Fight Night 8. This time, there was some issue with the broadcasters' scheduling and the bout was postponed again. But now, the fight is set to take place on 23rd June at ONE Fight Night 22 in Bangkok, Thailand.
Talking to TFG exclusively, Arjan expressed how he felt about the delays,
"Yes, it's absolutely frustrating. You know, I'm an athlete. I'm in the prime of my life and I want to compete. If you look at how busy some of the other guys have been, it's something that I want to be. I come from wrestling where we compete every week, and multiple times. That's what I signed up for. Unfortunately for one reason or another I haven't been able to get that. On top of that you hear people saying he's scared, or he's this, he's that. That's challenging, on top of that. This is what I do full time. This is how I provide for my family. And the only way you can do that is going out there and competing. Training competing, getting a paycheck and getting your arms raised, that's the fun part."
For now, though, the sole Indian-origin MMA world champion is injury-free and ready to go,
"The recovery from surgery went well. It was challenging, it's a good challenge. You need challenges to stay mentally sharp, so we took that approach. The surgery was a success and I'm feeling great now. It's an afterthought now, the arm."
While he was injured, his future rival Anatoly went down to the Light Heavyweight division, knocked out the champion Reinier de Ridder, and claimed the belt for himself. Arjan said he foresaw how that bout was going to turn out,
"Anatoly had a good performance. But if you look at my predictions before the fight it went the way I thought it would. De Ridder, he's not a takedown guy. He's a submission guy, he's a ground guy. But if you can't take someone down, what are you going to do? You have to have takedowns, especially if you are up against a wrestler, to implement that. And he's never shown any striking, whereas Anatoly had. So that was a pretty easy prediction of how it was going to go and Anatoly did what he was supposed to. Has that changed my opinion of him in any way? No. He did what he was supposed to do and that's all I've got to say about that."
With his opponent now carrying the title of Light Heavyweight Champion along with the Interim Heavyweight Champion, the stakes are raised. Arjan said, this is just what he wanted going into the event,
"This is what I crave. I'm an athlete. I put myself in these positions. That's why I signed the contract, that's why I train. It's for situation like this; to be at the top of a champion vs champion card. One of the biggest ONE events as you've said. I love the pressure. I like expectations, I like pressure, I like eyeballs and I like to win. So I'm excited more than anything to finally get back out there."
Although he isn't lacking in confidence, Arjan said he understood the risks he faces, taking on a lethal finisher like Anatoly,
"Yes, Anatoly has power. Every heavyweight does, though. That's just the reality of it. Anyone over 200 pounds can hurt you if you allow them to. So yes he has power. He's stopped a lot of guys, he is undefeated and all of that. That's what makes him very dangerous, that's what makes me very motivated in training. That's what makes this fight very meaningful for me; is that element of danger... is that success that he's had. I want to put a stop to it and put my stamp on the division."
Asked if he would like to exploit Anatoly's lack of experience with his fights going long by taking him to deeper waters, Arjan said,
"I do feel the deeper it goes it will favour me... we're going to see what he's made of and he's going to see what I'm made of. That's what's going to be exciting."
And winning this fight wouldn't necessarily mean the end of his business with Anatoly, Arjan said. ONE Championship's Light Heavyweight division puts the weight limit at 225 pounds; something quite achievable for him. And being a double champion is something that appeals to him,
"My last weigh in was at 237. I was on that weight for the Brandon Vera fight. It was a 5 round fight. I expected there to be a lot of movement so I came in at the 230s. But to your point, yeah, 225 is not too far away. I wanted to have already beaten Anatoly and then go down to challenge Di Rider for his Light Heavyweight belt. I wanted to be a two division champ. But again, I haven't had the opportunity and that's the frustrating part... we're going to take care of the Heavyweight division first, then 225 is definitely the next one on the radar."
Meanwhile, Arjan has been keeping an eye on other Indian fighters who are making a name for themselves on the global stage. Recently, Anshul Jubli won the 'Road to UFC' tournament and joined the main UFC roster. Arjan, who had a successful run at the UFC before joining ONE Championship, said he was pleased to see Anshul win,
"It's exciting to see another Indian fighter get to a big promotion like the UFC... we've got some leagues in India now, with Matrix, with Kumite coming out, it's exciting. There's opportunities for Indian fighters, the training just has to be right. The day we get wrestlers coming over and seeing that they can make a living in this, is when you'll get the champions coming through. So it's exciting and I'm excited to be at the forefront to grow this sport. ONE has great plans, you have Star Sports and I hope we'll be able to accomplish many things."
Arjan, wo has been a highly active fighter throughout his MMA career, has only been able to fight once since the COVID-19 pandemic began. And this year, he hopes, he will be able to go back to his usual habit of fighting multiple times a year and carry the Indian flag at the top of the game, as he defends his coveted ONE Heavyweight Championship belt against a slew of contenders.