Arjan Bhullar is on the comeback trail following his first professional loss in MMA, and he's hoping to channel the history of the Sikh community for inspiration.
Bhullar (7-1) was defeated earlier this year when Adam Wieczorek (10-1) submitted him via omoplata in the second round at UFC on FOX 29. The moment was a career low.
"It was devastating, and there's no two ways around it," Bhullar told ESPN. "I couldn't sleep, I didn't eat right. For me, it's one of those things, you can't pretend it didn't happen. I've lost in wrestling before, so there's a process I go through to learn what I need to from that, to process the feelings and emotions, what I did well, what I need to improve, and then I throw it away. The way I look at it, I was winning that fight, every second of that fight. Everything was going phenomenal until I got caught at the end.
"We have targeted what it was and addressed it as a team, and it won't happen again. If it happens again, then we got ourselves a problem. I've used it as an opportunity to get better, and I'd rather make that slipup now rather than when there's title implications down the road. There's always lessons to be learned on the way, and we've been preparing for the next goal now and making myself better in all aspects and training for a new opponent, which we have now."
Despite the loss, there was one positive moment that came from that fight, which will stay with Bhullar forever: He finally got the opportunity to wear a turban during his walkout to the Octagon. When he made his debut for the promotion late last year, he was prohibited from doing so, but after some educational conversations with the folks at Reebok and the UFC, he got the green light.
"It was special," Bhullar said. "It was historic and something that will be remembered forever. Any time you do something for the first time, you break through, it's unique and it's there forever. So to do that, for me personally, it's special for my legacy, but also it makes it easier now for other Punjabis to connect with the sport but also perhaps walk the same path."
Being a Sikh, with roots tied as much to Punjab, India, as to the Indian community in Vancouver, British Columbia, Bhullar is drawing strength from what previous generations had to endure and wants to use that as fuel heading into his next fight.
"I am who I am, and now people can also see how we come back from a setback, how we come back as a people," Bhullar explained. "Maybe things don't work out your way. That's what's made us successful as a people, as Punjabis, as Sikhs. When the cards are stacked against us, when things don't go well, we have been able to be successful because of the challenges in front of us, and that's how I foresee my next fight, to showcase that aspect of who we are.
"Look at what we've been able to do in the last 100 years, not knowing the language, not having a dollar in our pocket, facing racism and other challenges and yet still be successful as a people in North America. That's how I'm taking my next fight and attacking this thing and say, 'hey, we're able to overcome, preserve and still be successful no matter what,' and that's what this is going to be about."
Bhullar is scheduled to face Brazilian Marcelo Golm (6-1) when the UFC makes its promotional debut in Moncton, New Brunswick, on Oct. 27. It's a fight that was due to take place when Bhullar and Golm were both making their way up through the regional scene, and now it'll take place on a much bigger platform.
"He's in trouble, man," Bhullar said. "You don't want to get me at the mindset I'm at. You don't want to compete against me with what I'm bringing to the table. I've seen this guy's body of work, and he hasn't trained with world-class competitors, he hasn't competed against world-class competitors -- I've done both of those. He's new to this game. I see him conceding, I see him not liking being uncomfortable, I see him not having the insides to go to the places I'm willing to go. I'm going to push him and push him, and he's going to concede the victory."