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Canadian heavyweight Bhullar loses One Championship title in first defence

Arjan Bhullar Arjan Bhullar - Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

BANGKOK — Unbeaten Russian Anatoly (Sladkiy) Malykhin stopped Canadian Arjan Bhullar in the third round Friday to win the One Championship heavyweight title.

The loss, in the main event of the "One Friday Fights 22" card at Lumpinee Boxing Stadium, came in Bhullar's first MMA title defence since dethroning Brandon (The Truth) Vera in April 2021 in Singapore. Malykhin (13-0-0 with nine knockouts) came into the bout as the One Championship light-heavyweight and interim heavyweight title-holder.

Malykhin dominated the striking battle and battered Bhullar (11-2-0) in the corner to open the third round before taking him down. The bout was paused twice when Bhullar went through the ropes, but Bhullar could not get up when it resumed and the referee stepped in two minutes 42 seconds into the round with Malykhin pounding Bhullar from above.

Malykhin earned a US$50,000 bonus for the win.

Bhullar, a 37-year-old from Richmond, B.C., competes under the flag of India for One Championship.

Malykhin came forward as the fight began, stalking Bhullar. He backed the Canadian into the corner several times but Bhullar weathered the storm.

Bhullar's takedown attempt was stuffed and Malykhin cornered the Canadian again. Bhullar scored with the jab and Malykhin looked to punish the body.

Bhullar survived the round, taking the Russian into the second round for only the third time of his career.

Malykhin was the aggressor again in the second, with Bhullar looking to avoid damage and counter-punch. Malykhin continued to work the body with success and Bhullar began to eat more punches.

Malykhin, his eye showing damage from Bhullar's jab, went into the third round for the first time ever.

Bhular's only other loss was to Poland's Adam Wieczorek via submission in April 2018 in the UFC. He had won four straight since.

The 35-year-old Malykhin is now 5-0-0 in One Championship with four first-round finishes. He had fought three times since Bhullar's last bout.

Bhullar was sidelined for more than two years after winning the title due to injury and a contract dispute. He says his career ended up on hold after his management team asked to get "championship pay" after he dethroned Vera. It took a year to agree on a new deal.

He was originally slated to meet Malykhin at One 161 last September. But the fight was postponed when Bhullar needed surgery to repair a torn bicep tendon suffered in training.

The unification bout has had three dates since.

Malykhin won the interim heavyweight title in February 2022 when he knocked out Belarusian Kirill Grishenko in the second round in the “ONE Championship: Bad Blood” main event in Singapore.

The hard-hitting Malykhin then stopped Reinier (The Dutch Knight) de Ridder in the first round Dec. 3 to win the One light-heavyweight title.

There was some bad blood between Malykhin and Bhullar before the bout with the Russian dismissing the Canadian as "my baby chicken." But the two embraced in the ring after Friday's fight.

Bhullar won bronze at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro and gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in India. Bhullar, named Canadian Wrestler of the Year in 2009, finished 11th at the 2012 Olympics in London.

Bhullar turned to mixed martial arts because he didn't want to give up competition when his wrestling career ended. His first pro MMA fight was in November 2014.

He went on to win three of four fights in the UFC, but left when his contract ran out and turned down an offer to stay.

Bhullar wanted to know what plans the promotion had for India, only to learn the promotion was more interested in other locales.

So he went to One Championship which, with its eye on India's population of more than 1.4 billion, was only too happy to promote Bhullar as a big man from India.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2023.