When Edmonton mixed martial arts fighter KB “The Bengal” Bhullar steps into the Fight Island ring in Abu Dhabi on Saturday for his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut, there will be no cheering.
But that won’t bother Bhullar, 28, when he meets English middleweight Tom Breese.
“This whole year, I’ve been to a few different arenas where there is no crowd,” Bhullar told CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM. “It has its own peacefulness to it. You feel that it’s truly just yourself and your opponent there and you can just get fully absorbed in the sport itself.”
Though Bhullar has been training in mixed martial arts since he was 16 years old, his promotion to the UFC came as somewhat of a surprise.
Bhullar was to appear on Dana White’s Contender Series in November, where aspiring mixed martial art fighters compete for a chance at a UFC contract.
Then, Russian fighter Roman Kopylov had to pull out of his scheduled fight in Abu Dhabi against Breese, after he tested positive for COVID-19. Bhullar got a call from his manager, saying he had a big opportunity for him.
“The UFC was scrambling to find him [Breese] an opponent and I jumped on the opportunity,” Bhullar said. “I was like, let’s go, absolutely.”
Edmonton AM7:25Edmontonian KB “The Bengal” Bhullar enters Fight Island
Not only did Bhullar get the call to fight Breese on Oct. 10, he also got a UFC contract.
“That is akin to being signed to the NBA, the NFL, the NHL. This is the biggest MMA sports organization in the world,” Bhullar said.
Bhullar started training in taekwondo at age 14 alongside his younger brother, and started MMA by the time he was 16. He turned pro in 2012.
However, Bhullar’s younger brother was badly injured in a match in 2014, fracturing bones in his face.
“It left a bad taste in my mouth for a long time regarding MMA and what we do to people,” Bhullar said. “I hated the sport for a while and it took a lot of soul-searching to get back into it.”
Bhullar took some time off from fighting and went back to school. However, the pull of MMA was strong and he returned to competition in 2018.
He now trains alongside MMA heavyweight Tanner “Bulldozer” Boser.
“This sport is a part of me,” Bhullar said. “It is what I am and has defined my identity since I was a boy. It’s inescapable.”
He said he’s now blessed to have a strong following from his hometown Edmonton crowd.
Ready to fight
Getting called up to the UFC came with challenges.
When Edmonton AM reached Bhullar, he was in Abu Dhabi trying to get used to the time change, as the fight is scheduled for around 4 a.m. Edmonton time.
He also had a lot of weight to cut. Bhullar said he usually weighs between 200 and 205 pounds, but has to get down to 185 pounds to fight in the middleweight category. He said he trims the last 10 pounds in the 24 hours before the weigh-in.
“It’s a temporary thing,” Bhullar explained. “It comes right back. For those at home, thinking this is a rapid weight-loss thing, it’s not. It’s kind of abusive to the body and I wish it never existed, but it’s part of the sport.”
While the stakes are high for his first UFC fight, Bhullar said he treats every match like it’s the most important of his life.
“I have to perform well every single fight, because my wellbeing is on the line,” he said. “Having a bad day in this game is not like having a bad day in other sports. We can get hurt in there.”
“My goal is to go in there and decimate my competition and win.”
With files from Ariel Fournier