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  • Himel Don Khandker

Background Check: Getting to Know KB "The Bengal" Bhullar

KB Bhullar is an MMA Middle-weight fighter who has made great strides forward as a representative for South Asians everywhere. Our writer, Himel, took the time to interview and dive deep into who KB Bhullar is and his approach to MMA. With 9.86k followers on Instagram and features across the MMA universe, KB is a force to be reckoned with. During our conversation with “The Bengal” we spoke about MMA, the UFC experience, corporate jobs, and some of his haters.

KB Bhullar: I'm just coming back from Las Vegas, my teammate Tanner. He fought the co-main event at the UFC this past weekend. He did super awesome, so we're all really stoked for him. We came in from Vancouver or stayed at one of those internment camp hotels for a little bit and now we're back home in Edmonton. So I’m happy to be home.

Himel: How was that experience - I know you've cornered Tanner before. What was it like this time around especially with his spectacular finish?

KB Bhullar: It was awesome. Tanner came into that fight ready in shape, he fought just three weeks past and he got the call up again. So you know he's the kind of guy that's ready all the time so he jumped on that opportunity and got a big win. So super proud.

Himel: In terms of losses. I know you'd mentioned once that you don't consider yourself undefeated. You mentioned you were practicing jujitsu while you took a break from MMA and you had some wins and losses at that time. Now that you’re a few months removed from the UFC, what do you think you’ve taken away from your experience at the grandest stage for mixed martial arts?

KB Bhullar: Ultimately, I feel a sense of disappointment to tell you the truth. I feel like I need to grow from this in terms of not viewing it as a defining moment of myself, but to grow from it, learn and look at exactly what happened and be able to move forward. I've been doing this sport since I was a kid. I've been training since I was like 14 and ultimately I felt like - what made me mad at myself with no one else to blame myself was that I just didn't showcase my skills in my last fight. I finished the fight with the full gas tank. I left the fight feeling like I didn't leave it all out there. I've never done that in the past, I've always done my best to either finish the fight or get finished but I've never had that feeling of disappointment in myself where I just felt like I didn't do enough in there, you know. So that was disappointing, I was upset at myself for that. But with that being said, you know each fight is a lesson. Each fight is an opportunity to grow from. You can't view each loss as a defining moment. Like for example, even Tanner, his last two fights… people would say one moment you lose and you're the fucking scum of the earth worst person in the world. Everyone hates you. Everyone thinks you suck and then you get back in the win column and you're hot shit again. So that's kinda the interesting part of this sport. In the end, it's an individual sport. You are the one in there alone, and you're the one that gets all the glory and you're the one that gets all the hate.

Himel: In a meta sense, when looking at UFC fighters that have a really long journey to UFC gold whether that's a a Robbie Lawler or Mike Bisping, or as of late, we've seen a lot of like comebacks - Jan Blachowicz he was almost cut from the UFC at one point and you know nobody suspected him of being a contender for the gold. He not only got the title but he beat the undefeated Adesanya and gave him his first loss. Then you’ve got Charles Oliveira who is the most unlikeliest, but hottest thing in the lightweight division right now. There’s been a lot of comeback stories occurring at the meta-level of the sport.

This sport is a parallel to life, it’s not a straight road. It's not just keep winning and winning and winning. That very rarely happens. So even behind that story, there’s always obstacles to overcome.

KB Bhullar: This sport is a parallel to life, it’s not a straight road. It's not just keep winning and winning and winning. That very rarely happens. So even behind that story, there’s always obstacles to overcome. There's always adversity to overcome and you have to learn to keep going, you have to learn to not give up - not just in the fight but in life. You have to just keep going and you have to keep trucking forward if you believe in something, whatever it is that you're pursuing in your life. If you believe in the work and you believe in what you're pursuing then you'll be willing to go through the hard times with it. If you hate what you’re doing every day, then you're not gonna be willing to put up with the tough times. I still love fighting and I still believe in myself and my abilities and I know I'll be back.

Himel: I know you're a big reader. What chapter are we in, in the book of your life?

KB Bhullar: That's up to me, I have to keep fighting. I want to fight soon. I’m trying to have [a fight] arranged for August. That's how you become a better fighter as you keep fighting. I've had ten professional fights and eight of those ten I've won up to my UFC debut. I was previously undefeated but truthfully it's those tough fights and the adversity that I seek to grow from. You know, with an undefeated record sometimes comes innocence and you need to get some of that innocence taken away from you to grow. You need to learn and keep fighting tough guys. Tough competition is the best way to learn. That's why I just wanna keep challenging myself, keep growing and we'll see where the road takes me,

Himel: What was it like working with the UFC’s performance center?

KB Bhullar: Very cool, it's like Professor Xavier's Institute for Gifted Children. If you had the opportunity to just live there in Vegas they will take care of you and everything from physiotherapy to your nutrition, to your actual combat training, it's all taken care of for you. It was very cool, I had a couple of nagging injuries the week of my fight, like every fighter does. Having the physiotherapy team there take care of you, made you feel amazing.

Himel: Just after your last fight you'd posted among a bunch of other slides, a hilarious Katt Williams clip about haters where he says, essentially, that you need the haters and you should be grateful for them. Were you getting a lot of hate and was there a specific message you were trying to send?

You can't get steered in the direction of the hate that you're receiving. Just let go and just embrace it and if you're getting hate in the end, maybe it's 'cause you're doing something right. If there's an audience of haters, then that just means that there's more people seeing you in the end.

KB Bhullar: When you're under the microscope of the UFC, when you’re in the biggest promotion in the world, there comes all the eyes watching the good and the bad. And when you lose, the tithing is there's just a lot more people that are willing and able to shit on you. You have your Instagram right there and it’s an open window for anyone to come in and say whatever they want because you’re somewhat of a public figure. Because it’s an open window, there’s a lot of negative people. You just can’t let it bog you down. You can't get steered in the direction of the hate that you're receiving. Just let go and just embrace it and if you're getting hate in the end, maybe it's 'cause you're doing something right. If there's an audience of haters, then that just means that there's more people seeing you in the end. Fans of fighting are often the most hateful like compared to other sports. I don't know what it is, but fans seem to think that they are the best fighters in the world and they would do something totally different when they’re in the cage. With that being said, there's also some really nice people online too. There’s good and bad but the floodgates really open for the bad when you lose.

Himel: MMA is a sport where the “math” never adds up right? Someone can come in with all of these stats and history and winning streak and get completely crushed by a massive underdog. For instance with you, you were undefeated, you’ve got the credentials and the experience. But it could just be the wrong night for the wrong persona dn the expected outcomes will invert.

KB Bhullar: MMA is different in the sense that there's a shorter lifespan for the athletes. It's not like basketball where you have 82 games a season. You have one bad game on Wednesday - well you're gonna play on Friday anyway, so you can steer that ship right by Friday and be all good quickly. But fighting, you know you get to have this opportunity on this date and you're getting ready for that day for months on end. If you perform wonderfully that day, awesome. You’re set for the next couple of months until you fight again. But the sheer aspect of the time in between competitions means there's a lot less opportunity for failure. Not to mention the consequence of grave injury, you can get terribly hurt in this sport and that can put you off for a while so there's that dance being played.

Himel: Despite all of this inherent danger and a loss meaning a little bit more than in other sports, is it worth it?

KB Bhullar: Of course it is. It is cliche to say, a lot of fighters say it’s’ the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. With MMA, that’s so true, the glory of winning - the feeling of winning is the best. But outside of just the competition, the pursuit of training and being a better martial artist and improving the technical side and the mental aspect of the game, developing your confidence to assert your skills in competition is where I feel is where you’re spending 90% of your time. In the end, the time you spend in the cage is minimal compared to the amount of time that you're spending developing your ability to fight in the cage. That is the time you must enjoy, the time you spend training is what you must enjoy. I think I'm a natural born performer. I love to fight. I love that aspect but I also love the time in developing myself, cultivating my skills, training and getting better.

Himel: What I'm hearing is you're in love with the idea of continuous growth.

KB Bhullar: Yeah, the continuous growth, the failure, the shittiest parts of it. You go to the gym, you spar, you get your ass kicked and then you wonder why. And then growing from that. The ups and downs and everything in between, I love this game.

Himel: Have you been keeping up with Arjan Bhullar? He recently won the ONE Championship heavyweight title. What do you think that means for MMA in general and what do you think it means for Brown MMA specifically?

KB Bhullar: Man it's an amazing accomplishment. What can I say? Amazing achievement by him. He’s such a big ambassador to the community and he has such a deep history with his family in the game. That's a guy who’s been at it for a long time, he’s an Olympian right. Kids that are maybe considering starting the sport should look at a guy like that and be like wow, we can do something like we can be great at this. What a great role model for them.

Himel: He talks about this a lot, the Indian subcontinent, we have a rich history of fighting and combat sports going back to ancient times. Do you think that this may be a talent that maybe our diaspora is not tapping into as much because there's a prevailing narrative around having to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, whatever… Do you think there's a potential here that maybe previous generations haven’t tapped into that we may be seeing up and comers exploring wow that we have trail blazers like you and Arjan showing that people like us can be in these spaces?

KB Bhullar: When you dissect it from the perspective of our parents, our parents moved here and they wanted the best for us so that we were financially secure and educated. When you think about sports, that’s a risky endeavour because not many people make it to the highest level of whatever sports they’re playing. So I can understand from their perspective why they would want their children to pursue an education that has a high level of prestige and safety. But at the same time now when you see athletes of our heritage that are competing at the highest levels of sport. Sports itself is showing that you can make a living doing it. I hope that can inspire younger people to pursue it more. I've gone to university and had a postsecondary education. But the lessons I learned in my life - the real lessons - aren't from the time I've spent in school. It's from the time that I spent on the mats, the times I spent in just doing martial arts. That's where all the real lessons have come for me. My true education is in the school of Hard Knocks, and not what I did in university. So I hope that kids come up - whatever sport they’re passionate about, whether it’s basketball or football I hope they have the courage to pursue it. There’s gonna be friction with your family, no matter what. That’s not just because you’re Indian, I think that’s gonna be with any family that sees that their kid wants to pursue something as fucking nuts as fighting. Regardless of sport, fighting is at the helm of crazy right? You can do it, you just have to be driven. You just have to be willing to go through the hard days and be willing to go through the suffering that comes with it - regardless of what you do, whether you’re slaving away at a 9-5 in a corporate office or this. If you’re not willing to believe in that job giving you happiness in the end, then you’re just going to be sad. Look at myself: all my life I dreamt of the moment I’d make it to the UFC. It didn't go the way I wanted it to. It went the complete opposite of the way I wanted it to but I’m willing to stick to my guns and keep going because in the end, I believe in what I’m doing. If I could offer young people any advice, it would be that: be willing to stick through the hard times.

Himel: You once said that by staying in your accounting job, you were doing your soul injustice by not pursuing MMA.

KB Bhullar: I hated it.

Himel: What would you tell people who are in those corporate jobs that don’t align with what they want to do but don’t know how to get out?

KB Bhullar: I had a choice. I had a five year absence from the sport because my little brother was competing and got terribly injured. It left a sour taste in my mouth for a very long time. I hated MMA for a bit. It made me want to go back to school. I was in school and I was still training very hard. Once I got my degree, and got my job - I had a great job by all standards. I was working at one of the most prestigious accounting firms in the world. But no matter how prestigious of a place you’re working in, accounting is accounting. If you don’t like it, then it’s just accounting in the end. I couldn’t relate to the individuals in my environment. We were so different. I’m used to being around fighters. Fighters are straight up cartoons. Fighters are just wired differently. When I was around these people in corporate jobs, they felt so safe and risk averse. I felt like a ticking time bomb. I’d come home and click away on the computer on spreadsheets, with something due the next day, getting paged by my boss at 1am about a client… I was stressed out of my mind. My dad’s looking at me and he's like “KB, what the fuck you are doing?” I was like “I’m working, dad.” He was like “You’re working? Man you should be fighting, what are you doing?” He was on my ass, he was like you should be fighting, you’re not meant to be doing this. You’re meant to fight, you’re not meant to do this. My own father told me that was a big deal to me. Tanner, one of my best friends and training partners for years, was fighting in Australia, Russia, Kazakhstan, in front of Chechen dictators… I was seeing his journey and sitting shotgun with him. He himself was like “What are you doing, you’re miserable man.” He could tell something was off when I’d come into training. He gave me this book called “The Alchemist”. He didn’t even say anything, he was like, just read this. I went home, read it in a day or two, and I wrote up my resignation at Ernst & Young and told them I’m not going to be working here anymore. I lined up a fight within 5 months of me quitting. I got back into fighting shape and then took the fight in November.

Rapid-fire questions.

In an alternate universe, who is KB Bhuller?

A paleontologist, 100%.

How do you make tough decisions in life?

You gotta go your gut.

Are we seeing you in ONE Championship anytime soon?

I don’t know.

Have you ever thought of Super Fight League?

I was supposed to fight in Super Fight League five years ago but I broke my foot. I threw a kick and it got caught on someone’s elbow and just broke.

What are you reading right now?

“A Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller. It’s written by the same lady who wrote “Circe” which is a book about Helios’ daughter, who’s a half god who’s banished from the kingdom of the gods and has to live on an island and she becomes a witch. It’s a dope book.

Why do you like to read books versus most people who prefer Netflix?

It’s so easy and convenient to watch Netflix. When you read, there’s a bit of a skill, practice, and habit that you need to develop to read effectively and enjoy it. If you want to get into reading, start with a 15-minute window in a day to read. Don’t think about reading fast. Just digest the book and take in the joy of reading slowly, think about the work this writer put in to piece this together. 15-minutes a day, and then stop. Eventually your mind will just have a habit of doing this better. Even with writing, don’t just send emojis when texting… Write proper English - and you’ll develop your writing skills. If you do these two things a day, you’ll be a better writer and reader. There’s a lot of good entertainment on Netflix, but I think that stuff interferes with your sleep and overall health. If I have the option to sit and melt my mind on Instagram or watch TV, or read and learn something I’d rather enjoy a good story.

Have you always been a deep thinker?

I don’t know if I’m a deep thinker. I think… I don’t know how deeply I think but I try to think.

Did you end up completing the Pokedex?

I gave back the switch to my friend Shawn.

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