Arjan Bhullar Gives His Thoughts On Every ONE Heavyweight Contender

Arjan Bhullar made history when he become the first-ever Indian MMA champion by finishing Brandon Vera at ONE: Dangal in May, and he now plans to clean out the division.

Speaking to ONE Championship, Bhullar gave his thoughts on heavyweight contenders, Vera, Kang Ji Won, Anatoly Malykhin, Mauro Cerilli, Oumar ‘Reug Reug’, Amir Aliakbari, Kirill Grishenko, Alain Ngalani, and Reinier de Ridder.

Brandon Vera

Starting off with the man he beat to win the title, Bhullar said that Vera is an extremely well-rounded, dangerous fighter.

“He’s world-class,” Bhullar said. “He’s fought the who’s who [of mixed martial artists]. He was knocking out everyone in the heavyweight division in the first round. He was the champion for five, six years. He’s very well-rounded, dangerous everywhere, likes to stand, great jiu-jitsu, and has a wrestling background. He’s very dangerous all the way around, but not enough for me.”

Kang Ji Won

Undefeated prospect Kang has burst on to the scene this year in the ONE heavyweight division with two stellar performances. So far in 2021, the South Korean has scored back-to-back finishes of Mehdi Barghi and Aliakbari. Bhullar however, sees holes in his game, but would still like to face him next.

“Kang Ji Won’s a young kid, undefeated, [and surprises] himself,” Bhullar said. “Still, he has a great future ahead of him. He can move like a middleweight — fast feet, fast hands, and tough. But he gets hit too much for my liking. He gets hit clean and hasn’t faced someone like me who can mix it up all the way together, who can hit him as well as take him down, which he has shown.”

Anatoly Malykhin

Malykhin improved his undefeated record to 8-0 in his ONE Championship debut at ONE: Fists Of Fury 2 in March, where he finished Alexandre Machado in the first round. The freestyle wrestler is considered one of the biggest threats to Bhullar’s crown, but the Indian-Canadian doesn’t think the Russian’s grappling prowess is good enough to compete with his Olympic level skillset.

“A good grappler, knows how to win, well-trained, and a big, strong dude. He’s all of those things. But the verdict is still out on him – is he well-rounded?” Bhullar questioned. “He hasn’t had to face a high-level wrestler yet that can shut him down on the takedowns and impose takedowns on him. So, what’s he going to look like when he’s getting hit and has to be in a stand-up fight? What’s he going to look like when he’s getting taken down? Those are questions that still remain.”

Mauro Cerilli

Former title challenger Cerilli is constantly sharpening his skills to work his way back up to another title shot. While Bhullar acknowledges the improvements he has made, he believes he is levels above the Italian, who he beat via a hard fought unanimous decision at ONE: Century in his promotional debut.

“Very, very tough fighter. Hard-nosed. He wants to win and has the will to win,” Bhullar said. “[He has] all of those things and is still getting better, as he showed in his last fight. I feel that he has improved and is still on the road to the championship. But he’s another guy who will not be able to close the gap against me.”

Oumar ‘Reug Reug’ Kane

Senegalese wrestling ace ‘Reug Reug’ rose to fame this year, with first-round finishes of Ngalani and Patrick Schmid, but his hype train was derailed by Grishenko at ONE on TNT 4. While Bhullar respects him, he couldn’t help but throw shade his way for the way the bizarre way in which he lost in his last outing.

“I love this guy,” Bhullar said. “Mon ami de Senegal (My friend from Senegal)! A traditional wrestler, big and strong. A great athlete, but soft throat – and I’ll leave it at that.”

Amir Aliakbari

Bhullar has expressed that he doesn’t like Aliakbari numerous times in the past, as he thinks the Iranian talks too much for a guy who has visible holes in his game.

“You have to respect his athleticism,” Bhullar said. “[He is] big, strong, knows how to win, comes from the wrestling world [and has] a lot of winning on the MMA side. But as an individual, I don’t respect him. I don’t like how much he talks. You know, we come from the world of wrestling, where we get to work and let the work do the talking. I understand the promotion on this side of things, but I think he’s gotten away from the hard work and what he was.

“There are holes in his game as well. If he can impose his wrestling, great. If he can keep you down, great. But if you can make him work – people like Heath Herring have given him trouble. Kang Ji Won starched him, showed the holes in his stand-up, which we see as well. And he hasn’t faced a high-level wrestler either, so there are definitely question marks there as well.”

Kirill Grishenko

Grishenko is coming off a big win over ‘Reug Reug’ at ONE on TNT 4, where he pushed the Senegalese to the limit. His wrestling-heavy style, coupled with his physical attributes, is what intrigues Bhullar.

“Another wrestler. I love how we have so many wrestlers signed up,” Bhullar said. “This guy is a Greco-Roman guy as well, and he put out the big scary monster of ‘Reug Reug’ in his last fight. Maybe they run it back. Maybe he gets another win, and he’s in the running for the gold.

“But that’s a guy that I like – long and rangy. Obviously, he’s tough, coming from the world of wrestling, he has the will to win but showed that he’s tough in the MMA world as well, which is different than the wrestling world. So, respect to him.”

Alain Ngalani

Although Ngalani has lost three of his last four fights and is a long way away from a potential title shot, he still has Bhullar’s respect.

“Alain, my homie! ‘The “Black Panther’. I love this guy,” Bhullar said. “I thought that ‘Reug Reug’ might be Alain 2.0, but the Instagram world is still dominated by ‘The Panther’, and when he’s on, he’s dangerous in the cage as well. I love what this guy is doing late into his career. Got to respect that. Still training, still looking to win, all of those things, and he looks amazing doing it all.”

Reiner De Ridder

Out of all the possible matchups for Bhullar, a super fight with two-division ONE champion de Ridder is the most talked about. The Dutchman has repeatedly called out the new heavyweight champion, as he eyes history and a third belt in ONE Championship.

Bhullar thinks de Ridder is good, but says he hasn’t faced anyone as good as him before.

“Last but not least, de Ridder. Out of the Netherlands, their two-weight champ,” Bhullar said. “Respect to him for that. Good grappler, respect there as well. But he hasn’t faced anyone like me. He’s beaten Aung La N Sang, and that’s about it.

“You know, Aung La has done great things in this sport, but he couldn’t stop a takedown if his life depended on it. He welcomes the ground game, and he played that game when he shouldn’t have with [de Ridder] because the stand-up is where he was miles ahead. So that’s up to him and his coaches and his approach. But at the end of the day, [de Ridder] did win, and he has two belts. Let’s see him defend. I will do the same, and if he’s still around, we’ll get it on.”

Who do you think Arjan Bhullar should make his first title defence against?

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