Aung La N Sang has answered the call. Now, he is being rewarded with the golden opportunity of a lifetime.
With Marcin Prachnio forced to withdraw from his scheduled title match due to injury, the “Burmese Python” is stepping in to challenge ONE Middleweight World Champion Vitaly Bigdash for the belt at ONE: QUEST FOR POWER, which broadcasts live from the Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia on Saturday Night, 14 January.
Though he took the fight on less than two weeks’ notice, the Myanmar hero feels he is the one who has the edge.
“It is a good match-up for me,” the 31-year-old says. “Honestly, I think I have an advantage in striking, grappling, and everywhere. I have more experience than he does, and I have fought higher-caliber fighters than he has. I am pretty confident for this fight, and if people count me out, they are going to be very surprised.”
Aung La N Sang, who trains out of Crazy 88 MMA in Baltimore, Maryland, is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt with a solid Muay Thai and Western boxing background. He currently holds a 19-9 record, with 11 of those wins coming by way of submission and another seven by TKO.
Despite riding a four-fight win streak and being undefeated in his ONE campaign, The Burmese Python thinks he is being unjustly pegged as the underdog.
“[It is] probably because of my record,” he begins. “It is not the best record, but it would be stupid to not give me a chance for this fight because I am a tough fight for most people, and I feel like I am better than him at everything.”
The record is certainly deceiving. This contender has paid his dues, and did so on his own terms.
Aung La N Sang emigrated to the United States from his homeland in 2003 to study Agriculture Science at Andrews University in Michigan. The following year, while he was working out at the school’s gym, he saw a large Samoan student hitting the heavy bag. He was in awe.
“I was like, ‘wow, I would love to do that,’ and he was into mixed martial arts,” Aung La N Sang recalls. “So he took me to the [Carlson] Gracie affiliate in South Bend, Indiana, which was about 45 minutes south [of my university]. Ever since then, I started training jiu-jitsu, fell in love with jiu-jitsu, and fell in love with mixed martial arts.”
He progressed quickly. The “Burmese Python” made his professional MMA debut in 2005, and spent the next few years competing primarily throughout the American Midwest. In addition to his collegiate studies and his MMA training, he worked at a dairy farm near his campus to get some extra income.
After graduating in 2007, he relocated to Columbia, Maryland, to be closer to his sister and to find a stable job. But what he found was Crazy 88 MMA, a Baltimore-based gym a mere 30 minutes away. He refined his skills there, but left two months later for life as a beekeeper.
Only a year and a half into the new gig, however, Aung La N Sang realized the job was not sweet enough to keep him away from the sport he loves. The middleweight knew he had potential, and wanted to see that potential through.
The Myanmar fighter reflects on a lesson he learned from his college days as a dairy farmer and has applied it to his training.
“You reap what you sow,” he says. “If you do not put in the work, you are not going to get the benefits.”
Aung La N Sang has put in the work. Although he may not have “the best record,” as he previously mentioned, he debuted only a year into his martial arts training. Every fight was literally an on-the-job learning experience, and only in recent years has he come into his own.
That has been readily apparent in ONE Championship. Ever since signing with ONE in 2014, Aung La N Sang has been unstoppable. In addition to winning all four of his fights with the Asian promotion, including his most recent victory over ex-ONE Light Heavyweight World Title challenger Michael Pasternak last October, he has become a symbol for his home nation.
Now, the hero has an opportunity to not only accomplish his longtime goal, but to inspire a country through that accomplishment and lead by example.
“I want to be able to say I am a world champion,” he explains. “I come from a very humble beginning. Coming from a small town in Myanmar, it is unbelievable and an honor for me to do that.
“Also, by winning this world title, I can motivate people in my hometown and home country to let them know they can succeed at the highest level if they choose to and work hard, and put their mind and soul into it.”