Arjan Singh Bhullar comes from a family of wrestlers. His father was a wrestler and although his family had to make immense sacrifices that led to the man’s success, Arjan grew up travelling the world with him and watching him wrestle in akharas. For his family, wrestling was their identity and soon, Arjan resonated with it and began pursuing the sport.
From school to university, he wrestled his way to reach the Commonwealth Games. In CWG 2010, which was held in Delhi, he won the gold medal. It was a very significant moment in his life because his extended family came to visit him from Punjab. Two years later, he was playing for Canada (he is a Canadian citizen; his family are immigrants) at the London Olympics but he came 11th. It was then that something shifted in him.
After taking a short break, he looked out for gyms where all the great athletes trained. He started competing locally and was met with immense success. And that’s when UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) came for him. He participated in 4 fights and just had one loss. He was the first Indian-origin man to compete. And he began wanting to highlight that.
“Like the Olympic opening ceremonies, I wanted to represent my culture, who I am. I’m a Sikh and wanted to wear a turban and walk out. At that time, it was something that in North America, in the UFC, was against the rules. To be honest, they just needed to be educated. They were ignorant as to what the turban represents, what it means to me and to people around the world,” he told ESPN in an interview.
He then shifted to ONE championship, because UFC didn’t have any plans for the Indian market. On the other hand, ONE championship had plans for the Indian audience, which he liked. He won his first world championship in 2021, and he never looked back since.
He explicitly told ESPN that he wants his Indian roots and culture to be highlighted – he is the first Indian-origin world champion. He wears the label with pride. He wears a turban to his matches and carries a golden mace, which was gifted to him by Dara Singh (wrestler, actor and politician) at a wrestling dangal, right before his passing. He takes these symbols very seriously because they act as a medium of solid representation for him.
“You think India and you don’t necessarily think sports right away, especially fighters. So, there is that bit of that stereotype you have to break through. But I’m okay doing it, someone has to right? There’s responsibility there and I’m grateful to be in that position, to be to tell that story, which is my story. Representation matters,” he said.
“I will be a champion and I will be true to who I am, I am a Sikh, I am a Canadian with Indian roots. And if you don’t like it, we can fight about it,” he further added.
This is what being a champion is all about!