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Anatoly Malykhin (left) was set to face Arjan Bhullar. Photo: ONE Championship

Exclusive | ONE Championship: Arjan Bhullar withdraws with injury from heavyweight MMA title fight against Anatoly Malykhin

  • Interim champ and coach blast ‘chicken’ Bhullar after latest setback sees long-mooted title unification bout scratched from September’s ONE 161 card
  • Door could be open for Reinier de Ridder to challenge for a third divisional throne with Marcus ‘Buchecha’ Almeida appearing to rule out quick return

ONE Championship’s efforts to clear up the heavyweight MMA title picture have taken another hit, with a source telling the Post that Arjan Bhullar has withdrawn from next month’s fight against Anatoly Malykhin.

Bhullar (11-1) has not fought since winning the belt in May 2021, entering a lengthy contract stand-off that prompted the martial arts promotion to create an interim title, which was won by Malykhin in January.

A unification bout was finally set as the main event for September 29’s ONE 161 card in Singapore, after months of back-and-forth on social media between the pair.

But 36-year-old Canadian Bhullar has pulled out with an undisclosed injury, leaving the featherweight Muay Thai title fight between champion Petchmorakot Petchyindee and challenger Tawanchai P.K. Saenchai at the top of the bill, as things stand.

A screenshot from Anatoly Malykhin’s Instagram story mocking Arjan Bhullar.

Phuket-based Malykhin (11-0) did not publicly comment on Bhullar’s withdrawal, but shared a thumbnail of the Post’s exclusive on his Instagram story with a chicken emoji covering the divisional champion’s face.

The undefeated 34-year-old Russian’s coach at Tiger Muay Thai and Bangtao, John Hutchinson, gave a withering assessment of Bhullar in a comment on the post.

“Biggest chicken of a champion in history,” he wrote. “Say goodbye to the belt.”

ONE on Prime Video 1 results: DJ knocks out Moraes, Nong-O retains

Bhullar’s withdrawal could open the door for surging contender Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida, who submitted former interim challenger Kirill Grishenko with a heel hook in 64 seconds on Saturday morning’s ONE on Prime Video 1 card.

But in an emotional post-fight interview, the Brazilian appeared to rule himself out of a quick return to the ONE Circle, following an emotional few weeks mourning the tragic death of his fellow multiple-time BJJ world champion Leandro Lo.

“Being honest, I don’t even know how I did it, to keep this three weeks training,” he said. “My coach saw me crying every day. So I learn we have to live life now. I just want to think about today, I don’t think about tomorrow. I want to take a rest.”

That could see two-division champ Reinier de Ridder get his wish to challenge for a third title in MMA.

The middleweight and light heavyweight king repeated his call-out to both Bhullar and Malykhin after making light work of his latest challenger, Vitaly Bigdash, last month.

“They’re talking about doing Malykhin and Bhullar first, but f*** that s***, man,” the undefeated Dutchman said. “Let me get my shot first. Both of them in the same night, I don’t care.”

Reinier de Ridder celebrates with his middleweight title after submitting Vitaly Bigdash at ONE 159.

ONE has appeared reluctant to allow De Ridder to contest for a third divisional title, but the dominant 31-year-old is determined to get in a fourth fight in 2022.

“Malykhin has strong punches, but he’s very short, throws a lot of hooks, a lot of short stuff. He’d be pretty good to take down,” De Ridder said last month.

“Bhullar throws good punches but he doesn’t have a lot of power. He won’t be the first wrestler I’ve faced. I take wrestlers down. I choke out black belts, I choke out strikers.”