Olympic wrestler makes the switch to boxing, but the long hours of training haven’t changed (w/video)

Published: November 19, 2013


Richmond’s Arjan Bhullar always fights his own battles — literally.

So when the Olympic freestyle wrestler and 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medalist makes the switch from the mat to the ring in his debut boxing match Thursday, it will be no different.

“That’s the beauty of it that I like, there’s not a team there with me … it’s just you against the other man,” the 27-year-old athlete confidently told Vancouver Desi after an intense training session at the North Burnaby Boxing Club Monday night — his last session before the big match.

Freestyle wrestler Arjan Bhullar has taken up boxing with coach Manny Sobral at the North Burnaby Boxing Club. Bhullar won gold at the 2010 Commonwealth games. Ric Ernst / PNG

Bhullar has been training at the club for the past six months with International Boxing Organization champion Manny Sobral. The pair teamed up as Bhullar was winding down from the 2012 Olympics in London, where he lost on technical points to the eventual bronze medalist.

“It was an awesome experience — bittersweet, obviously, with the result,” Bhullar admit. “(But) that’s what’s driving me to reach newer heights and keep training.”

And boxing was a natural step.

“Muhammad Ali’s been my idol growing up,” said Bhullar, adding he’s always followed and loved the sport.

It also helps that boxing and wrestling are “very similar.”

“The mentality is the same to be an elite-level boxer, elite-level wrestler you have to … step into the ring with certainty,” said Bhullar. “The mindset’s really the same — the work ethic, everything.

“Hard work, long hours in the gym, a lot of sacrifices.”

For the past six months he’s been dividing his workouts between wrestling and boxing. With his new position as head coach at the University of Fraser Valley he’s been hitting the mat two to three times a week, working on cardio and weight lifting at the gym most mornings, on top of two to three training sessions with Sobral at the boxing club.

“I’ve got a full schedule just like it was before the Olympics,” said Bhullar.

His evening sessions with Sobral are spent in the dimly lit boxing club, where he trains alongside seven other amateurs also making their debut Thursday night. The training consists of a lot of drills, like sparring, shadow boxing, footwork, pads, or skipping. While the sessions only last about an hour, it’s not long before the small room heats up, the music barely audible over the heavy breaths and smack of the pads and punching bags.

“We’re trying to train all energy systems, aerobic, anaerobic — you need both,” said Sobral. “Boxing is one of those unique sports where you need both to be good at it.”
And according to Sobral, Bhullar’s dedication and training has certainly paid off.

“He’s got an incredible sense of distance, so he knows where his opponents are,” he said. “It’s the sweet science after all. (Giving) a guy fakes, making the guy feel like you’re going to the left but you go to the right, so (Bhullar’s) really good at that.”

“He’s a very deceiving boxer because he doesn’t look like a 250 lb. strong guy, but when he starts sparring with these guys, they realize very, very quickly that he’s no slouch.”

Former freestyle wrestler Arjan Bhullar has taken up boxing with coach Manny Sobral at the North Burnaby Boxing Club. Bhullar won gold at the 2010 Commonwealth games. Ric Ernst / PNG

After just six months of training, Sobral has full confidence in Bhullar’s upcoming match and can foresee the budding athlete as a MMA star in the future.

But Bhullar’s not ready to fully commit to boxing just yet — he’s waiting to see how Thursday night goes before he “(makes) the decision whether to prepare for the next Olympics or change disciplines.”

“It’s one thing in training and another thing when the lights are on,” said Bhullar.

But when asked whether he’s as confident as Sobral for his upcoming match, he responded with a definitive, “Hell yeah.”

Bhullar’s first match is part of the second annual Confratellanza Italo Canadese/NBBC A Night of Fights at the Italian Cultural Centre Thursday, where he’ll square off against opponent Ricky Keohavong for three rounds. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and tickets are $100, which includes dinner, beer and wine. To purchase tickets, email patholmes14@me.com.


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