Back in 2018 something totally unexpected happened in the world of combat sports. The UFC completed a ‘trade’ with ONE Championship, sending former flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson to Asia in exchange for Ben Askren.
Trade is in quotes there because it wasn’t like a trade you’d see in the NBA or NHL. In this situation what actually happened was both the UFC and ONE agreeing to terminate the contracts of both fighters so that both could then negotiate with the other promotion.
This was the first time we’d seen this in MMA and it hasn’t happened since. However, according to ONE heavyweight champion Arjan Bhullar we may have had a second trade between the UFC and ONE.
He told The MMA Hour that former UFC flyweight and bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo was the architect of the proposed trade.
“There was also another opportunity that came toward us through all this and that was Henry Cejudo wanting to come to ONE on a trade,” Bhullar said (ht MMA Mania). “He couldn’t get his stuff worked out on his end and that went high up in the UFC and that was being explored. It was brought to me [wondering] hey what do you think? That’s something I leaned on [training partner Daniel Cormier] for.
“I liked what he said and he was giving me some good food for thought. Then I got to thinking; this would be a huge thing. Because I know Chatri [Sityodtong] and I know ONE, and I know Dana [White] and the UFC, I feel. Askren wasn’t a good representation of how ONE athletes can compete. He was two years retired, bad hip, but you make that deal because you’re getting D.J., a G.O.A.T., and you make that happen.”
When asked if he would have welcomed the ‘trade’ back to a promotion he left in 2019, Bhullar didn’t seem sure either way.
“Why would I consider it? This is before we got a deal done, number one. Number two, I’m telling you what my thought process was. Could this work as a competitor? What draws [me] to it? I always want to fight the best in the world. Whether they come this way, whether we go that [way to the UFC].
“They’ll never co-promote with anybody, I do feel that. If they co-promote with ONE, that would be phenomenal. We just signed that Amazon deal, we’re in the U.S., we’re in Canada, big-time deal, groundbreaking breaking news today. We’re gonna have a U.S. event so we’re making moves coming this way and if that ever happens; awesome. But like I said, when this was presented, this was the thought process and the pattern. I thought Henry would be phenomenal for ONE in terms of ‘Mighty Mouse,’ Adriano Moraes, John Lineker.”
Before switching to MMA Bhullar was a high level freestyle wrestler who represented Canada at the Commonwealth and Pan American Games. He started his MMA career with a 6-0 run that got him signed to the UFC in 2017.
In his debut, at UFC 215 in Edmonton, Bhullar beat Luis Henrique by unanimous decision. He lost his next fight, to Adam Wieczorek, by omoplata. Bhullar fought twice more for the UFC, beating Marcelo Golm and Juan Adams, before departing the company.
Bhullar joined ONE as a free agent in 2019 and debuted with a unanimous decision win over Mauro Cerilli at ONE: Century Part 2 in Tokyo. Last April, at ONE: Dangal in Singapore, he defeated Brandon Vera by TKO to win the ONE heavyweight title.
Despite announcing his retirement in 2020, Cejudo is still under contract with the UFC. Since retiring Cejudo has claimed, on multiple occasions, that he’d like to return to the Octagon. Each time he has said this, UFC President Dana White has claimed he is not interest in making that a reality.
Since Bhullar discussed this hypothetical trade, Cejudo’s management have spoken to MMA Fighting to deny any sort of trade was ever on the table.