Aung La “The Burmese Python” N Sang had a rough start to 2017, but he only became stronger and more dominant as the months wore on.
His year kicked off unexpectedly that January, as he filled-in under two weeks’ notice to unsuccessfully challenge then-undefeated middleweight world titleholder Vitaly Bigdash for the belt. The 32-year-old was then granted a rematch against the mighty Russian in June at ONE: LIGHT OF A NATION, and he seized his opportunity with both hands.
In front of his fellow countrymen at a packed and thunderous Thuwunna Indoor Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar, he defeated Bigdash in a five-round unanimous decision to claim the ONE Middleweight World Championship, and become the first Myanmar world champion in sporting history.
Once the judgement was announced, Aung La N Sang was rewarded with the prestigious belt and celebrated with his compatriots before giving an emotional post-victory speech.
“I cannot do this without God. I cannot do this without my teammates. I cannot do this without you, Myanmar!” he roared in the cage.
“I’m not talented. I’m not good. I’m not fast. But with you, I have courage, I have strength, I have what I need to win the world title!”
That was not the only celebration that happened. When Aung La N Sang returned to Baltimore, Maryland, he got a very special surprise from both his family and friends from his gym, Crazy 88 Mixed Martial Arts.
“My whole team greeted me,” he recollects. “They came to the airport to give me a big welcome, and then we had a little party. It was nice.”
As soon as the celebrations were over, it was time for Aung La N Sang to get back to work. He moved his Crazy 88 franchise to a bigger and better location in Owing Mills, experienced an immediate 30 percent growth in business, and then jumped into training camp for the biggest battle of his career— quite literally.
In November, he went back to Myanmar to face four-time Muay Thai and Kickboxing heavyweight world champion Alain “The Panther” Ngalani in the promotion’s first-ever open-weight super bout at ONE: HERO’S DREAM.
The two initially tested each other’s striking, as “The Burmese Python” refused to back down from the hulking knockout artist’s punches and kicks.
Aung La N Sang landed a pair of overhand rights, but Ngalani took him down and smothered him in an effort to exhaust the hometown hero. Instead, Aung La N Sang started tiring the hulking African out instead, forcing him to expend energy to escape a slew of submissions. With under thirty seconds left in the opening frame, Aung La N Sang submitted the behemoth with a tight guillotine choke.
Aung La N Sang capped off a historic year, as he became Myanmar’s first-ever world champion, set the records for most wins and finishes in middleweight history, and won the inaugural Open-Weight Super Match to be contested in ONE. He even met Myanmar’s State Counsellor and national leader, Aung San Suu Kyi in person.
Now, as 2018 rolls on, Aung La N Sang has been granted an opportunity to make history once more.
“The Burmese Python” will challenge Brazil’s Alexandre Machado for the ONE Light Heavyweight World Championship in the main event of ONE: QUEST FOR GOLD, which emanates from Yangon on Friday, 23 February.
By claiming the light heavyweight world title, the Myanmar hero can join Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen as only the second double world champions in ONE, and one of the few dual titleholders in the world.
As Myanmar’s most popular sporting icon and national hero, there are more eyes on Aung La N Sang than ever before.
It may be a heavy burden for some to carry, but it is an honor “The Burmese Python” carries with pride. So while Aung La N Sang has lofty ambitions for his legacy inside the cage, he also has some goals for his role outside of it, too.
“I have to portray myself as a world champion, I have to portray ONE as a company in a positive light, and I have to portray my people in Myanmar in a positive light,” he says.
“I need to be a good ambassador, a good human being, and lead by example.”