ONE Middleweight World Champion Aung La “The Burmese Python” N Sang may be leading a martial arts movement in his home country of Myanmar, but he is also making a difference within Baltimore’s martial arts community in the United States.
The 32-year-old has been training at Crazy 88 Mixed Martial Arts in Elkridge for the past ten years, but has since become a coach, manager, and part-owner of the gym’s second location in Owings Mills.
It is in that second location where he builds confidence, teaches valuable life skills, and passes on traditional martial arts values to his students. For the champion, it is where his passion lies.
“I love martial arts, and I want people to love it as well,” he states. “I also think it is a positive thing, since martial arts is good for everybody. Age does not matter, and where you come from does not matter — everybody is the same when you are training.”
Crazy 88 Mixed Martial Arts was founded in May 2005 by Julius Park, an Ivy League graduate and BJJ black belt with the intention of helping people achieve their personal goals through martial arts.
Though Aung La N Sang may have started his martial arts journey at a Carlson Gracie affiliate school in South Bend, Indiana, he relocated to Maryland after graduating from Andrews University in 2007 to be closer to his sister. He stumbled upon Crazy 88 there, and has made it his gym home ever since.
In the years to follow, the ONE Middleweight World Champion has grown considerably, both as a person and an athlete. His career has only gotten bigger, especially since debuting in ONE Championship back in 2014, and his popularity has risen tremendously. He has also become a leader in the gym, and someone many aspiring young talents have looked up to.
In 2015, a business opportunity popped up. Jon DelBrugge, who at the time was the coach, manager, and part-owner of Crazy 88’s Owings Mills location, wanted to take a step back to focus on his own professional career. That led the Myanmar-born and bred athlete to buy into the company, and take over those duties.
As a coach, Aung La N Sang has been very active. He works with students from the ground up, and helps them achieve their objectives, be it to lose weight, learn self-defense, or even compete.
“Being able to have a positive effect on somebody’s life is very rewarding,” he says, “and being able to help another person achieve their goal is very satisfying.”
While he guides others in their own respective journeys, it has also benefited him in his professional career. Through coaching, he has been afforded the luxury of better understanding all aspects of martial arts.
“It helps me with my game, too,” he admits. “Like, I can see openings from the outside as a coach, just by having an eye on what’s happening in the ring. I can see strategically how to attack better or defend better, and you understand the game better from a different view.”
Aside from achieving goals and better understanding the art of combat, the most fulfilling thing for Aung La N Sang is seeing the overall transformation of his students from beginning to end.
After all, those martial arts values he is passing to his students, both children and adults alike, are a treasure that will carry over into all aspects of their lives.
“You could see somebody like a 13-year-old kid become more confident, have more set goals, and go after them. It is really satisfying to see that,” the world champion states. “A lot of kids these days lack the focus and discipline, and what we are able to do at Crazy 88 is have them see what their goals are, be disciplined in their life, and achieve those goals.”
“It also translates into other areas of life. Say if they do not compete and do something else, they can set goals, go after those, and be determined. That is the kind of influence I want to give — not just to the younger people, but all who come through our doors.”
Ever since Aung La N Sang defeated previously-unbeaten titleholder Vitaly Bigdash for the ONE Middleweight World Championship at ONE: LIGHT OF A NATION last June, the gym has seen more people walk through those doors.
The gym has seen a 30 per cent increase in foot traffic, which is great, because the franchise left their original Owings Mills location for a bigger facility in the same neighborhood earlier this September. “It is awesome. There is so much space now,” the champ says of the venue. “We will be able to run multiple classes a night, at the same time, so I am excited.”
“The Burmese Python” has another reason to be motivated. He will return to Yangon’s Thuwunna Indoor Stadium in Myanmar on Friday, 3 November, to battle Muay Thai and kickboxing heavyweight world champion Alain “The Panther” Ngalani. The five-round open weight bout is slated as the main event of ONE: HERO’S DREAM.
Between holding a world title, leading a martial arts movement in Myanmar, and helping his local community, Aung La N Sang is certainly living the dream.