Ken Hasegawa has been given a chance to become a World Champion in his first ONE Championship appearance. However, in order to claim the belt, he must go to Myanmar to defeat the country’s biggest sports hero, and the best middleweight in the world.
On Friday, 29 June, the Japanese warrior will head to the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium in Yangon to face two-division ONE World Champion Aung La “The Burmese Python” N Sang for the ONE Middleweight World Championship. The bout takes place as the main event of ONE: SPIRIT OF A WARRIOR.
“It will be my toughest match ever, and he will be the strongest opponent I have ever had,” the 31-year-old from Yokohama, Japan says.
“I really like the idea of facing a national hero in his home country. It is going to be one of the biggest challenges of my life.”
The Japanese third-degree judo black belt is no stranger to a big challenge.
When he made his mixed martial arts debut in November 2010, he competed in openweight matches against heavyweights, and won his first eight bouts en route to the DEEP Openweight Championship.
Despite successfully defending the belt on two occasions, Hasegawa opted to relinquish his title.
He felt undersized, and wanted to compete in a division that was closer to his natural weight so he could test his skills on the international stage.
“To compete abroad, I whittled down to light heavyweight, middleweight, and even to welterweight,” he explains. “But going to welterweight did not suit me, so I went back to middleweight.”
A trimmed-down Hasegawa continued to have great success through an effective combination of grappling and striking, and became the top-ranked middleweight in Japan. He improved his professional record to an impressive 16-2-1 – with six of those victories coming via knockout and another four via submission.
Even though the Japanese warrior has overcome many challenges during his mixed martial arts career, defeating “The Burmese Python” in front of a home crowd will be his toughest assignment yet.
Lately, Aung La N Sang has been in terrific form at the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium. He is riding a three-bout win streak, with all of those victories occurring in Yangon.
First, the Myanmar hero edged out unbeaten World Champion Vitaly Bigdash to claim the ONE Middleweight World Championship in June 2017. He followed that up by submitting Alain “The Panther” Ngalani in the promotion’s inaugural Open Weight Super-Bout in November.
His latest effort was arguably the most impressive, as he knocked out Alexandre “Bebezão” Machado in a record-setting 56 seconds to earn the ONE Light Heavyweight World Championship in February.
Hasegawa has studied each of those bouts, and is now quite familiar with his adversary’s many talents.
With that in mind, he believes he poses a much more dangerous threat to the “The Burmese Python” than any of his previous adversaries.
“I am not like the opponents Aung La N Sang has had before, who gradually get hurt and slow down,” he says.
“I get stronger after I get hurt, and I can still move forward aggressively after I get tired. That is how I am different from his former opponents. My mind is strong.”
Aside from his endurance, Hasegawa prides himself on his well-rounded skill set, versatility, and dynamic scrambling ability.
Ultimately, the Yokohama native believes that will lead him to a stoppage victory, and the gold.
“I prefer to not reveal my game plan, but I am looking to set the pace with the striking, and I would like to finish Aung La N Sang with a rear-naked choke,” he says.
“My goal is to win this upcoming bout and become the ONE Middleweight World Champion.”
Yangon | 29 June | LIVE and FREE on the ONE Super App: http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast