KB Bhullar’s first meeting with Curtis Millender back in September lasted just 94 seconds, but included an inadvertent low blow, ended as a result of an accidental eye poke, and saw the two depart the cage on less than amicable terms.
In each instance, Millender was the one on the receiving end, and when Bhullar ventured over to speak with the UFC veteran following the stoppage, it appeared that he was waved away or dismissed by his frustrated foe.
“I never saw that there was bad blood,” Bhullar said when asked about the first meeting between the two as he readies to share the cage with Millender again this week at Unified 50. “I think he was just upset in the moment, and he felt that — I don’t know what he was feeling, only he knows what he was feeling, but there was never bad blood. I think it’s just the heat of the moment because it’s a fight, you know?”
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The no contest verdict at Unified 46 ended a perfect run in the promotion for the Edmonton middleweight, who made his first start for the company with a first-round submission win over Corey Atkinson at Unified MMA 35 four years ago. He added three more victories over the next 10 months, including a middleweight title win over Matt Dwyer before ultimately securing an opportunity to compete in the UFC.
When his time on the biggest stage in the sport came to a halt, Bhullar was right back inside the Unified MMA cage, picking up where he left off, securing victories over Anton Tokarchuk, Brandt Dewberry, and Strahinja Gavrilovic.
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“It’s good to fight at home, but it’s also the fact that they’re willing to bring in the type of competition that we need in order to grow; that’s awesome, too,” said the Alberta native. “They initially had a very grassroots development where they started small, but now they’ve become the premier promotion in Canada.
“Right when I started fighting for them — when I made a return to MMA — they offered me the kind of competition and the kind of schedule that I needed to stay consistent and keep at it. With the level of consistency in the shows and the level of competition that they’re willing to bring in, it makes it so it’s an easy fit.
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“When you have a company that is willing to do four, five shows a year and you have a fighter that wants to fight four, five times a year, and it’s at home — why not? They’re willing to fly people in from all over the world — it’s a great company.”
Competing four or five times in a calendar year is considered a lot in the fight game, as unforeseen injuries and any number of issues can crop up and scuttle a chance to make the walk to the cage.
But Bhullar, who fought thrice in 2022 and was forced to withdraw from another opportunity, wants to do his best to get in there as many times as possible, prioritizing gaining experience and being able to remain on the grind, above all else, at this stage of his career.
“If you look at some of the legends of old, the great fighters of old, they fought often,” began Bhullar, who carries an 11-4 record into his rematch with Millender on Friday night. “It’s about practice and being able to continuously put yourself in (a) training camp and fight settings, and (b) be comfortable with that.
“When you have an active schedule like this, it’s not always the fights themselves that are tough — it’s what’s happening between the fights with training camps — and being able to set yourself to a pace where you can keep the grind going has been a big thing for me. I’m able to withstand the rigors of back-to-back training camps and keep performing, and above all else, stay hungry to keep getting better and improve.
“You just have to accept that,” he said of his stumbles away from the Unified MMA cage. “A hockey player is offered 82 opportunities a year to win and lose, and in my sport, you’re lucky if you get five squeezes in a year, and that’s insane. A guy that is fighting five times a year is nuts, and myself, I’ve always been willing to take on challenges, and I’ve always been willing to put myself in uncomfortable situations.”
While he was admittedly disappointed about only getting a two-fight audition in the UFC before being released, the 31-year-old fighter has been able to see the experience for what it taught him, appreciate the lessons that he learned, and do his best to work on bettering himself, the same way he has following each and every setback over the course of his career.
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“My UFC debut was on a week’s notice,” he said of his October 2020 meeting with Tom Breese. “I’m willing to challenge myself in this sport, and I recognize that if you don’t win, it’s up to you to be able to swallow that pill, go back, recognize why you didn’t, and build on it for the next one.
“I got my UFC debut with only eight fights ever; I had eight fights, period,” he added “Recognizing that, I have a hunger to gain experience above all else. I have a hunger to improve above all else. And I’m willing to improve above all else, and I’m willing to go through whatever tribulations it takes to improve.
“Every time I have a setback, I’m able to look at it, evolve, and understand why.”
And after not getting the chance to really get into the swing of things with Millender last time, Bhullar is hoping this week’s rematch provides him with the opportunity to showcase his talents once again and get things moving in the right direction before hopefully getting a few more squeezes in over the rest of the year.
“I think that fight was going to be a great fight — it had the makings for it, but it got derailed with the foul, and these things happen,” he said of their first encounter. “I’m excited to showcase my skills again and test myself against him.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to finish this fight. I want to showcase my skills, showcase my improvements, and come out with a victory.
“And then if the body allows, absolutely, let’s get four or five squeezes in.”