One Billion Strong

05/19/2017 05:12 pm ET

While visiting his home recently, I took the picture above of Arjan Singh Bhullar as he was giving an interview about his future plans after having won his most recent Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fight. Currently he is the heavyweight champion in Battlefield Fight League (www.battlefieldfl.com). He has a record of 6-0 and has never lost a round in his MMA career ((http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Arjan-Bhullar-175321).

In this picture that I captured, the clear blue sky was behind him, with a few beautifully placed clouds and a thought came to mind that inspired me to write a post on Facebook. The post started out by saying - “Behind this man is the sky and that is the limit! And he's proving it everyday!” (https://www.facebook.com/satinder.dhillon1/posts/10154259941306076).

Most people around the world will remember Arjan for being an Olympic wrestler. He has travelled the globe and wrestled in 29 countries; (Azerbaijan, Cuba, China, Denmark, El Salvador, France, Germany, Guatemala, Georgia, Greece, India, Italy, Indonesia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Mexico, Mongolia, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kindon, Ukraine, USA, Dubai/UAE, Venezuela). http://www.arjanbhullar.com/

Some of these were major events that were televised with full stadiums and at others you could hear crickets as the matches took place. No matter if it was thousands of people watching him or only a handful, Arjan always had the same focus each and every time he got on the mat. He’s a true competitor in the complete sense of the word.

Arjan was the first person of South Asian descent to represent Canada in the Olympics (London in 2012) in freestyle wrestling. He was also the winner of the Bronze medal at the Pan American Games in Rio De Janeiro in 2007 and he won the gold medal in freestyle wrestling at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010.

The games in Delhi were the same ones where the Phogat sisters (Geeta and Babita) won their gold and silver medals respectively. There was also a movie made about these two sisters and their father/coach Mahavir Singh Phogat, called Dangal which starred Aamir Khan, one of the most respected and versatile actors in the history of Indian cinema (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_7YlGv9u1g).

MMA is the fastest growing sport in the world and in recent times wrestling and MMA fighting has been at the forefront of the Indian psyche. Last year two movies, the aforementioned Dangal and Sultan, came out within months of each other. Both movies performed spectacularly well at the domestic and international box office. The stories of these athletes and their personal journey’s to greatness resonated with audiences around the globe like never before.

Sultan, which starred yet another Bollywood superstar, Salman Khan, quickly became the fifth highest grossing international movie of all time from Bollywood (now seventh place). It also is currently the seventh highest grossing movie of all time in Indian cinema (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPxqcq6Byq0).

Ironically the movie starring Salman Khan, even though it was fiction, is about a wrestler who goes on to become an MMA fighter. Insofar as the transition from wrestling to MMA fighting goes, Sultan is very similar to the true life story of Arjan Singh Bhullar.

There are many layers to the Bhullar family’s story and it would make for a perfect Bollywood movie. With Arjan’s current success in MMA fighting, I am sure that one day when all is said and done and Arjan has wrapped up his MMA career, his life and that of his family will be immortalized on screen and surely become a hit with audiences around the world. (http://indianexpress.com/article/entertainment/bollywood/salman-khans-sultan-earns-rs-500-crore-at-international-box-office-2923539/)

Not to be outdone by Salman Khan’s Sultan, the champion of the box office battle ultimately, was the true story – Dangal (which in Hindi means – ‘wrestling competition’ and the entire setup where wrestling happens). This movie went onto become the number one grossing film in Hindi cinema of all time. And after its recent opening in China it crossed the 1,000 crore mark (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/hindi/bollywood/box-office/dangal-vs-sultan-box-office-collection-aamir-khan-film-beats-salman-khan-starrer-to-become-2016s-highest-grosser/articleshow/56336544.cms).

Dangal also became the first ever film from India to be screened at the seventh annual Beijing Film Festival. A few days ago it was released on 9,000 screens which was the largest release for an Indian film in any territory in history and it was greeted with an overwhelming response by critics and audiences alike. (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/hindi/bollywood/box-office/dangal-worldwide-box-office-collection-aamir-khan-starrer-crosses-1000-crore-mark-post-release-in-china/articleshow/58680172.cms)

Dangal also won four awards at the 62nd Filmfare awards (Best Film, Best Director, Best Action and Best Actor). This movie culminates with a gold medal win for Geeta Phogat at the Commonwealth Games in Dehli in 2010. These are the same games where Arjan’s match was the main event in the heavyweight freestyle wrestling category for men. Arjan in spectacular fashion, with a pin, in the final round, won the gold medal (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egGVdLIbEQw).

In this clip below from 2010, the Indian news media explains that the gold medal is being added to the Canadian tally of medals and not the Indian total because Arjan was born in Canada. The commentator also states in Punjabi that he’s sure that ‘Arjan had vowed to win a gold medal and only a gold medal in the country of his father’s birth’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-tFBLxoy-Q

I met Arjan some years ago and it was quite by chance or ‘coincidence’, if you believe there are such things in life. I personally believe that everything happens for a reason and that there are no mere coincidences. I along with my friend Arjan strongly believe that there are “meant to be’s” instead of coincidences!

The Bhullar family wrestling story is one of the greatest untold stories in the world of wrestling and sport, and I was amazed to learn quite recently that the full details of this amazing story are still not really out there, other than in bits and pieces here and there.

The next great motion picture about wrestling and sports lives within these people and the experiences they’ve had to date in the world.

Arjan himself has been through many ups and downs and becoming a gold medalist, university and national wrestling champion, and an Olympian wasn’t always a sure thing. He has a very powerful personal story of hardship and triumph.

In the many hours I’ve spent speaking to Arjan, he has told me some amazing stories of his journey on this planet thus far and one of the stories that stands out to me is when he tells me about the time that he injured himself wrestling and then was almost simultaneously hit with a severe medical condition that almost ended his life, let alone his wrestling career.

Arjan was badly injured during a wrestling match and suffered his first major injury as an athlete at 19 years old. He blew out his knee and had to come home in a wheelchair from a wrestling tournament. It was the first time in his life that he wasn't able to physically do what he was passionate about. Reflecting back on when he was injured, Arjan said that “It allowed me to really reflect and realize not to take anything for granted”.

To further complicate things on his road to recovery, he contracted a life threatening infection from overseas which the local health industry couldn’t figure out. The infection created sores on his scalp, and his hair fell out in chunks. The infection spread rapidly through the protein in his hair follicles. When I asked him about that time Arjan stated “Forget about wrestling I wasn’t sure if I was going to live or die. I just wanted to get better and be healthy again. Being on medication for 6 months, including morphine for the pain to help me sleep was brutal. By the grace of God, one doctor finally figured out what to do and I was able to get better with the help of those around me”.

Arjan and his mother have told me how he couldn’t even leave the house for over 6 months when he was sick and when he eventually did return to the wrestling mat he couldn’t win a match that first year in university. Arjan even contemplated quitting wrestling at one point thinking he just might not be able to compete again at the level he wanted to. But being the person he is and knowing that, ultimately, quitting was not an option, he persevered and here today is the champion we see before us.

Arjan remembers vividly those tough days while he was seeking treatment and he says about that time; “that’s when I learned what a mother’s love is truly all about”. He then told me that she is the one that was mostly responsible for nurturing him back to health during those trying times when the future seemed so uncertain and bleak.

I remember the first time I got into his car, when we were going to a banquet, where his students from UFV were set to receive accolades for their accomplishments. Arjan had a medal dangling from his rearview mirror and I asked him where it was from and he said that it was the first medal he ever won in his university career after that long string of losses in the beginning. It was dark that evening and I when I looked at the medal I thought the medal was a bronze at first and I said “oh so you won a bronze to start with that’s pretty awesome” and he says “nah man that’s a gold medal, are there any other kind?!”

You have to know Arjan to know that he doesn’t mean any disrespect when he says that. He himself won a bronze at the Pan American Games in Rio De Janeiro in 2007 and another bronze during his university career as well.

Arjan has the heart of a champion and winning gold and being the best is always at the forefront of his mind. A true competitor when it comes to athletics and when he suffers a setback, which he has several times in life, he always makes sure he learns from it and accepts that those times are there to teach you for a reason to ensure future greatness. His philosophy is that you “either win or learn” and that there is no such thing as losing.

Now in 2017, many years after defying the odds and accomplishing all he has since that very tough start to his university wrestling career, Arjan Singh Bhullar is about to shake up the world of Mixed Martial Arts in a major way. He is currently knocking on the door of the biggest fight promotion in the world, the UFC, to get his chance at becoming the heavyweight champion and represent Canada, the country of birth and India (where his mother, father, and grandparents were born), and over a billion South Asians around the globe.

Arjan is vying to represent his people globally and when I say ‘his people’ I mean all underdogs in life, the marginalized, the people battling the tough times in life and working hard at whatever it is they do in life, the world over, regardless of race, color or creed.

A true people’s champion is what this man already is and now he is vying to make history and become the first Punjabi to fight in the UFC and be the ambassador for over a billion people in the sport.

This Bhullar family and what they have accomplished on the mat and as a family unit, since Arjan’s grandfather came to Canada in 1959, is truly remarkable and something families and individuals around the world can look to as an example of what can be accomplished by a unified family.

When he enters the cage, Arjan says that he represents people from all walks of life from all over the world. All different races, religions and creeds who are fighting their own battles in life and making progress, inch by inch, day by day.

"For me when I enter the cage, I feel as if my whole family, the entire South Asian population, all Canadians and all of the people battling their way through life are with me in there." – Arjan Singh Bhullar. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qg9oybWEcy8)

Arjan believes that in life you should always “just risk it” and do what you are meant to do and go for greatness, become your best self and be extraordinary in the way that God meant you to be. “Find your true purpose and do not let your music die inside of you in this life. Let that tune out so the world can hear it while you are alive so it can inspire the people and fulfill your journey on this planet” is what Arjan believes. “We are here for but a blink of an eye in the grand cosmic scheme of things, so make that time count”.

In a world where sibling rivalries, in the Indian community and many other communities is beyond brutal, the story of the Bhullar brothers all sticking together is as remarkable as the success they’ve had on the wrestling mat.

Arjan is the product of decades of planning, nurturing, sacrifice and hard work by him and his family and now he is leading the way for the next generation of Bhullars and many others around the world. He is inspiring many by continuing his journey in sports, this leg of it being through the channel of Mixed Martial Arts.

First and foremost I’ve found that Arjan is a kind, caring and gracious human being. His mother deserves a lot of credit for that. Arjan comes from a hardworking and tight knit family who are amazing people. He is astonishingly intellectual and very well spoken.

Arjan is many different things, this list is by no means exhaustive; he is a farmer, earned a political science degree from Simon Fraser University (SFU), an Olympic wrestler and a Commonwealth Games gold medalist, a five time national wrestling champion and the first wrestler in history to win University national titles for the Canadian (CIS) and American (NAIA) leagues in the same year. He was also named Athlete of the Year at Simon Fraser University.

In 2008, he was named the Canadian Olympic Trials Champion. In 2009 he was named Canadian Wrestler of the Year. In 2011 he was named Sport BC University Athlete of the Year, and won the bronze medal at the University World Championships. In 2007 he won a Bronze medal at the Pan American Games.

He is also the recipient of a silver medal marking the Queens Diamond Jubilee, presented by the Prime Minister of Canada to select Canadians for their service to Canada.

Arjan also helps out at the Bhullar wrestling club which his family started in the 1970s. The Bhullar family volunteers their time to coach kids that otherwise might not be able to participate in the sport. They are making sure that the tradition of wrestling continues in their hometown of Richmond, B.C. Kids pay a minimal fee just for the cost of insurance. The rest of what is needed is supplied by the Bhullar family with the main training facility being the akhara which is located on the family compound on the cranberry farm they live on in Richmond. (Akhara - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZyf0d6dpys&t=5s)

Arjan is also the co-founder and co-coach of one of the best wrestling programs in Canada at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV). Under his guidance and that of his co-coach and co-founder Raj Virdi, this year they guided heavyweight wrestler Brad Hildenbrandt to winning gold and helped him become National Champion. (http://www.varsityletters.ca/cascades-olympian-mentored-hildenbrandt-wins-ufvs-first-ever-u-sports-gold)

In women's wrestling they guided Karla Godinez to becoming the Rookie of the Year in Canada. Within 6 months of founding the wrestling program a few years ago at UFV it became number one program in the country.

The program at UFV was completely self-funded when it began. When he first came to the University of the Fraser Valley with his idea, Arjan was told that he could wait until the university was ready to fund a wrestling program or he could do it on his own. (http://www.ufvcascades.ca/varsity-teams/wrestling)..

Arjan decided not to wait. His belief is that in life some people will buy into a vision but everyone will buy into a winner, so he set out to build a winner and completed his vision in record time. (http://www.ufvcascades.ca/coaches-staff/arjan-bhullar/)

He takes no salary along with his co-coach, Raj Virdi and they do it for the love of the sport and moreso than that even, they do it to change lives and provide opportunities for students that otherwise might not even have a chance to attend university or continue their wrestling careers after high school. They do it to create a better future for our communities. (http://www.ufvcascades.ca/coaches-staff/raj-virdi/)

Along with everything else he does along the way, Arjan made the time to co-found Kids Play which is a nonprofit organization working towards keeping kids away from the lifestyle involving drugs, gangs, and violence. Kids Play holds sports tournaments, conferences, and other projects for the youth community to learn about the opportunities they can seize within life.

Currently Arjan is the CFO of Kids Play and he co-founded the organization with Kal Singh Dosanjh (a veteran law enforcement officer), who is the CEO. (http://kidsplayfoundation.com/)

Never satisfied along with everything you've read above, Arjan, only 31 years old, has set out to make history once again. This time on one of the grandest modern day stages of all.

He is currently undefeated in his MMA career and has never lost a round in the cage. He is the best wrestler that is not yet in the UFC.

The only question now remains, when will he become the first Punjabi, Sikh in the UFC and represent over 1.7 billion South Asians around the globe. His goal is to become heavyweight champion of the world in the UFC and if there is anyone in the world destined for this it is Arjan Singh Bhullar. He humbly states that his lofty goal is to use this potential platform to help his people and all of humanity. His inspiration came from watching the iconic Muhammad Ali.

Over the time I’ve known him I truly believe that God is developing his voice for the greater good and it’s going to run through the cages of the UFC. The octagon is going to help create one of the next great voices in the world. You heard it here first in 2017! ☺ (http://www.prweb.com/releases/2017/05/prweb14348979.htm)

Arjan and his people come from a long line of warriors and people who never quit (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sikhism). It's the foundation of the Khalsa and his motivation to become UFC heavyweight champion is not for the accolades, fame or fortune but to continue the legacy of his forefathers and the founders of the Khalsa. All of this runs deep in his veins and all someone has to do is spend some time talking to Arjan and you realize his 'why' has deep roots and is stronger than most others (http://www.vancitybuzz.com/2016/04/arjan-bhullar-wrestling-canada-sikh-community/).

In a recent email to the UFC after they contacted him about being placed in their prospect database for the future Arjan stated the following in his bid to be given the chance to fight in the world’s biggest MMA fight league:

“We believe that if the UFC were to sign me that this would be a great opportunity for the sport to grow in the Indian diaspora and in India itself. Historically Sikhs have been known as the warriors amongst the Indian population and the group that is behind me believes that I can be the face of MMA for Indians and all South Asians; I believe I can be a uniting force in some way in this regard. The potential here is immense. In the times we live in, we believe that sport can unite divided communities and bring people together.”

“The sixth Guru in our religion of Sikhism, Guru Hargobind, is the one that really took the importance of physical strength to the next level. Wrestling was one of the things that he taught to our people. The sport is embedded in our history and can be the perfect feeder for creating future MMA stars in India. My father was a celebrated champion in India, and thus my deep connection is with the people there. The lead videographer for One Billion Strong is also a former wrestler, and upon my request has cut the trailer below within the last 48 hours specifically for this correspondence with you.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guru_Hargobind).

“One project that we are currently finishing up is a documentary similar to the "One in a Billion" Netflix piece done by the NBA, covering Satnam Singh being the first Indian drafted into the league. He is also Sikh and comes from the Punjab state of India, where my parents come from.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVYfHkrXBbU&t=5s)

Our documentary is titled "One Billion Strong". This project followed me into my last fight and will be wrapping up shortly, ready for distribution soon thereafter. We will be travelling to India next to shoot the final scenes in June. Our thought for the documentary is that we are "One Billion Strong" and it's not just about me as an individual but that I represent over a billion people each time I enter that cage.”

“If the Indian market has one of their own carrying them on his back and taking them into the ring each time I fight there will be a great sense of pride for the nation; much like Michael Bisping for the UK, Cain Velasquez for Mexico, and Connor McGregor for the Irish.”

“Having been born in Canada myself I am very proud of the country I was born in and we will also have this nation behind us each time we enter the cage. I have already represented Canada around the world and it culminated with a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games; the Olympic Games in London was the last of my wrestling appearances for Canada and we went out on a high. I was the first person of Indian heritage to have represented Canada at the Olympics in freestyle wrestling.” (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/olympic-hopeful-follows-fathers-footsteps-in-wrestling-ring/article535602)

To witness history as it unfolds and follow the journey you can tune into Arjan’s journey at: www.facebook.com/ArjanS.Bhullar and http://www.arjanbhullar.com/

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