ONE Championship’s first trip to Qatar was officially revealed earlier this month, and the billing is already setting it up to be one of the promotion's biggest cards of 2024.
The promorion has added former ONE heavyweight MMA world champion Arjan Bhullar to the lineup, who will return to action against an in-form Amir Aliakbari at ONE 166 on Friday, March 1, inside Lusail Sports Arena.
The opportunity to take on another formidable contender in the ever-evolving division provides Bhullar with a shot at redemption after losing the world championship to Anatoly Malykhin this past June at ONE Friday Fights 22.
“Singh” put in a decent promotional run before succumbing to the Russian powerhouse. His promotional debut in 2019 saw him outwork Mauro Cerilli over three rounds, and that win led him to a world title tussle with longtime heavyweight titleholder Brandon “The Truth” Vera at ONE: Dangal in 2021.
Bhullar scored a finish in the second round to take the MMA legend’s strap, but he then went on a two-year hiatus from competition due to a combination of injury and contract disputes.
Malykhin rose through the ranks in his absence and won the interim in February 2022, booking him a date with the Indian-Canadian star on his return. When they eventually met this past summer, “Sladkiy” dominated proceedings before snatching the crown in the third round.
ONE 166: Qatar will mark Bhullar’s first venture to the Circle since that fateful evening. He’ll have all the motivation he needs to seek redemption on March 1, but Aliakbari will have plenty to say for himself.
The Iranian giant is now on a three-fight win streak, with three finishes over Cerilli, Vera, and Dustin Joynson. That run of form comes as a fitting response to the back-to-back losses he suffered when he debuted in ONE in 2021, which includes a defeat at the hands of Malykhin.
A win over Bhullar will undoubtedly set Aliakbari up for a run at the world title – and a much-needed rematch with the reigning king.
Both men are well-versed, well-rounded heavyweight stars looking to move toward a second clash with Malykhin, so fans can expect heat in the Middle East when their showdown takes place in Qatar on March 1.