“Sikh fighting spirit is in my blood”

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the largest Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) promotion in the world, is now looking to capture the Indian market.

It may seem UFC is venturing in to uncharted waters when it comes to this cricket-crazy nation, but they have come prepared.

Arjan Singh Bhullar, the first Indian origin fighter signed by the UFC, has navigated tougher waters and has broken the proverbial 'glass ceiling'.

So, it seems fitting that UFC is banking on this former Olympian from Richmond, British Columbia, Canada to do the job, reported the Times of India.

Bhullar was the first Indian origin wrestler to represent Canada at the Olympics (London 2012), a gold medal winner at the Commonwealth Games (Delhi 2010) and he now boasts of a 7-0 record in MMA.

Bhullar, born and raised in Canada, is visiting India to find a connect with the fans here and to promote UFC. However, despite being Canadian, Bhullar is by no means disconnected to his roots.

TOI Sports caught up with the uber-confident 'Punjabi' as he discussed his prideful lineage, transition from wrestling to MMA, huge potential UFC sees in the Indian market and WWE Champion Jinder Mahal.

What are you looking forward to the most during this visit to India?

Connecting with the media and getting the story about UFC out there, that is the priority. Let people know that India is ready for UFC. There is knowledge about the sport here and with free content which is already out there via Sony ESPN for the fans, I am excited to bring UFC out this way.

How do you see UFC stacking up against cricket, the one sport that supersedes everything in India?

It is wide open boss. Such a big population and you can't have just one sport here. Potential to grow here is huge. But the right person at the right time has to come through. You know there is no one Indian in any of the major sports, so I think there is a great opportunity for us. This is a simple game, people can understand - get in to a cage and you are having a fight. And I think, things are falling in to place here.

The Idea is to bring UFC here and in 18 months we hope to bring our events here. All we have to show is that the people have the interest. We have to go out there and do events, it is easy. UFC is looking at China as well, but China doesn't speak English the way India does, and it is difficult to do business there; so, India is the place to be. To the fans, I just want to say that I want all your support, UFC wants your support and let's bring UFC to India.

You are born and raised in Canada, you represented the country at the Olympics and Commonwealth Games. How do you see yourself connecting with the Indian fans?

There is long tradition of wrestling in Canada. Obviously, that came from India. The Sikhs brought it over and that fighting spirit is in my blood. That part is unique to me and I always do what I want to do and I am prideful of my lineage and I trying to move forward and see what we can do with UFC here in India.

My father (Avatar Singh) was a wrestler, he wrestled all the top wrestlers at that time in India and beat many of them and everyone in the wrestling community knows him here. Not only that, I was here with him as child every year, those are my earliest memories when I was 5-6 years old. I watched him wrestle all over India, then it was my turn. After the Commonwealth Games, we donated three gyms for the kids to use here. I also do charity work and I am bringing in a group of kids next month to Chandigarh to do some wrestling here in India.

So, there are a lot of stuff am doing already here. I am very traditional and am hoping that I will connect with people out here. My passion is to connect with the people and make a difference; spark someone's dreams and hopes. Someone who can look at me and say, 'he represents the Indian flag, he walks like me, talks like me and lives like me; I can do something great too because he is doing that' and that is what I want.

When you signed with the UFC, you spoke about 'breaking another glass ceiling'. What was the significance?

It is basically any time you do a first; especially someone of colour, it is significant. There is always a glass ceiling and someone breaks it and it is difficult to do. I did that in wrestling - being the first Indian-origin wrestler to represent Canada at the Olympics; first one to wear gold at the Commonwealth Games. Even before me, there were many pioneers that had to do many firsts for our community so that someone like myself got an opportunity to do what I do. So, the post was my way to pay respect to that past.

Was the transition from wrestling to MMA always on the cards?

MMA is one of the fastest growing sports in the world so I always had my attention towards it. Lot of people that I know, that I wrestled against or trained with, were in the UFC and were being successful. I was their fan and I watched them, and then slowly I got it in my head that I want to do this. Heading into the Olympics, I knew this is my last wrestling match and after that I wanted to go to UFC.

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