Former Olympian Arjan Singh Bhullar didn’t want to give up competition when his wrestling career ended.
The 32-year-old heavyweight from Richmond, B.C., is getting all he wants in the UFC these days, sharing a positive message along the way.
"That’s what’s always excited me as an athlete. I feel the responsibility to do something with your platform," Bhullar said in an interview. "There’s a lot of negativity out there, a lot of misinformation, a lot of hate that gets pushed.
"But it’s equally as easy to push positivity and spark something in some child that looks up to an athlete."
Bhullar has looked to educate about his religion of Sikhism, but has also spoken out against violence against women and worked to get kids active in sport and away from drugs and gangs.
"Whenever I can, I do try to use my platform for more than just being a fighter because (at the) end of the day that’s not very impactful in this world," said Bhullar, who is married with a seven-month-old daughter.
He tried to wear his turban walking out the cage for his UFC debut, a first for the organization. The approval did not come in time but he got the OK for his next fight, taking it off before hostilities started.
— UFC Canada (@UFC_CA) April 14, 2018
"I think it’s important to represent who you are," said Bhullar who only wears the turban for special occasions, citing his active lifestyle.
On Saturday night, Bhullar (7-1-0) takes on Brazilian Marcelo Golm (6-1-0) on the undercard of the UFC Fight Night card at Moncton’s Avenir Centre.
Switzerland’s Volkan (No Time) Oezdemir (15-2-0) meets American Anthony (Lionheart) Smith (30-13-0) in the main event. Oezdemir is ranked second among light-heavyweight contenders while Smith is No. 10.
Both Bhullar and Golm are coming off the first losses of their career. Bhullar was submitted in the second round by Poland’s Adam Wieczorek in April while Golm lost by decision to American Timothy Johnson in February.
The Johnson loss marked the first time Golm had to go beyond the first round. His previous six fights took a total of just 10 minutes 53 seconds.
Bhullar started his training camp in San Jose at the renowned American Kickboxing Academy. He has made regular trips there since being invited by Daniel Cormier, the current light-heavyweight and heavyweight champion, to help him get ready for his first bout with Jon (Bones) Jones at UFC 182 in January 2015.
The road to #ufcmoncton began in San Jose n moved thru #VancouverBC for the last few weeks. Big thx to the hwts who came together for a common goal. Family/coaches/therapists who kept the train on track. We are 1 week out.#DownGoesGolm #TeamBhullar #OneBillionStrong pic.twitter.com/DOQsl72Zij
— Arjan Singh Bhullar (@TheOneASB) October 20, 2018
"I didn’t even have hand wraps I was so new in the sport," said Bhullar, whose first pro MMA fight was in November 2014.
But he had years of wrestling experience, having won bronze at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro and gold at the 2012 Commonwealth Games in India. Bhullar, named Canadian Wrestler of the Year in 2009, finished 13th at the 2012 Olympics in London.
"I’ve been competing for a long long time and I’m able to use that wrestling skill set in MMA," he said. "So I’ve got a base to work off in terms of experience and competition, big matches, international (events), a lot of travel, different time zones. All of that will come into play with this fight."
His home gym is Checkmat Vancouver in suburban Richmond.
Bhullar’s father had wrestled in his native India and, happy to have something familiar in a new country, kept at it after coming to Canada. He built a gym at their farm outside Vancouver.
"I started off in diapers on the wrestling mats," said Bhullar.
He had decided before the Olympics to try MMA, having seen the success of fighters like Cormier whom he had known from the wrestling world.
London was his wrestling swansong. Unable to achieve his dream of an Olympic medal, he says he is driven today to succeed in MMA.
He took six months off after the "bittersweet" experience of London, then decided to get back on the horse and compete again. He walked into a boxing gym to see if he had what it takes in striking.
The results were positive and he went to Montreal’s Tristar Gym and then AKA to see how pros train.
Bhullar has not left wrestling behind, however. The family has long run a wrestling club out of its farm and Bhullar has more than 50 kids aged five to 18 who train for free. In 2013, he helped launch a U-Sports wrestling at the University of Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, B.C.
While the six-foot-one 245-pound Bhullar has a rock-solid wrestling base, he has shown other skills in his two UFC fights to date.
In his debut against Luis Henrique at UFC 215 in Edmonton in September 2017, he launched just one takedown attempt. But it was a doozy as he picked up the Brazilian and bodyslammed him in the second round.
The rest of the fight Bhullar stayed on his feet — often pressuring Henrique in the clinch — en route to a unanimous decision.
Next time out at a UFC Fight Night card in Glendale, Ariz., Bhullar took Wieczorek down within 20 seconds of the first round. But a second takedown in the second round cost him as the lanky Pole caught him in a rare omoplata submission — only the second in UFC history.
"That fight was going very well. We were winning every second of the fight," Bhullar recalled.
"But I had a mental lapse … Sometimes when things are going very well and very comfortable, you let up a little bit. But lesson learned. That won’t happen again."