Former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou said he’s “very close” to signing with either ONE Championship or the PFL for his post-boxing run, and ONE heavyweight king Arjan Bhullar would be more than happy to welcome him to Asia.
“Singh”, who finally faces interim titleholder Anatoly Malykhin in a title unification bout on July 14, said in an interview with MMA Fighting he’s not one to feel fearful an opponent, even if it’s one massive knockout power like Ngannou.
“He’s conquered the West, let’s bring him out to the East,” Bhullar said. “I have no problem with this. People are scared of him as well, but if you’re a fighter and you’re a champion, it doesn’t matter who it is, you step up. That’s what a champion does, win, lose or draw. And I have never run away from a fight. I have never shied away. I’ve lost, but I am not that guy. There’s no one that can say Arjan Bhullar didn’t step up. I might win, I might lose, but I will always step on that line, I will always sign the contract. I’m a man at the end of the day. That’s all you have when the sport is done, it’s the respect. Go for him.
“I hope he comes out East. I see you, Francis. The whole sport is watching. I hope he does well in boxing. It’ll be good for all the athletes if he makes a lot of money outside the UFC. It will be very good. I hope he’s successful doing what he’s doing, what he’s wanting to do. He seems to be in a happy place, all of those things as a competitor. Let’s get it on.”
As for as the potential match-up, Bhullar said he seems a lot of similarities between Ngannou and Malykhin, an undefeated 35-year-old Russian with a 100 percent finishing rate in 12 professional MMA wins.
“He was running through everybody and that didn’t work, and he didn’t know how to adjust against Stipe [Miocic],” Bhullar said. “There was a big hole, Stipe exploited it. And then same with [Derrick] Lewis after that. Then he had to learn to be patient and adjust and add some kicks and all those types of things, and some grappling. I mean, the grappling won him the fight. He was zero grappling when he first lost to Stipe, and then against Stipe he defended the takedown. I actually see similarities in Anatoly because of that. There’s a lot of questions he hasn’t answered yet.”
“But aside from that, he’s very dangerous,” he continued. “Obviously, he’s one punch, one kill type of guy. Until the end of the fight, he’s dangerous. He’s gotten better. He’s made adjustments, he’s more well-rounded, he’s much more dangerous now than he’s ever been. All of those things are accurate. But there are levels to grappling. And even those levels to striking. I don’t get hit. I’m very good at being evasive. You see my face after every one of my fights, not touched. Everyone is saying Anatoly is a killer, they were saying that about Brandon Vera as well, and Brandon Vera has eight limbs to hit you with, Anatoly has two hands. And Francis would have two hands.
“They’re nuclear bombs, I get that, but if you have a nuclear bomb and you can’t land it, what are you gonna do? Same thing with Anatoly. If your delivery system isn’t there to land a bomb, you can sit at home with your bomb. It means nothing. I don’t get hit. I’ve got that grappling. Obviously, he stepped up with Ciryl [Gane], but look at what Jon [Jones] did to Ciryl. So there are levels to grappling, and I can do that all night long.”
Bhullar has also competed in the UFC in the past, parting ways with the company after defeating Marcelo Golm and Juan Adams in 2018 and 2019. Bhullar won a decision over Mauro Cerilli in his ONE debut later that year before knocking out Brandon Vera to claim the heavyweight title in May 2021, but hasn’t fought since. With Malykhin up next, he said “it would be very, very interesting” to get the Ngannou fight later.
“More than anything, it’s a measuring stick,” Bhullar said. “Before I’m done, I wanna know what the top end of my capabilities. It’s for me. This journey as an athlete, is about me. I don’t care about Anatoly. I don’t care about Francis. I don’t care about anybody. I wanna know what was the highest level I could get to, and that was it. Ok, hey, I touch this and then I can be done one day and talking to my kids and tell them, ‘hey, dad was this good. This is the best I could have been.’
“I got that in wrestling and I wanna get that in this sport, whether that’s bringing Francis in, whether that’s Anatoly, whether it’s someone else. I want to know where my limit was and I don’t believe it’s Anatoly. Let’s see beyond that where it goes.”