By becoming the ONE Middleweight and Light Heavyweight World Champion, he has earned the respect of martial arts fans across the planet and inspired a nation after taking a long road to the top.
The 34-year-old has had to battle adversity and show tremendous spirit to overcome the challenges he faced in life, which he remembers ahead of his rubber match with Vitaly Bigdash at ONE: INFINITY 1.
Born And Raised In Myanmar
Aung La N Sang’s family moved from Myitkyina to Myanmar’s biggest city so he and his siblings could attend the Yangon International School. His father supported the household as a merchant working in the country’s jade industry.
Aung La N Sang scored impressively high grades and was enthusiastic about sports and played on several of the school’s varsity squads, but he was disappointed by his teams’ inability to match others from schools in neighboring countries.
“When we played soccer, when we played volleyball, and when we played basketball, we would lose,” he explains.
“We would lose in most sports, and that kind of made me mad. It was just sad. I guess the coaching was not that good. We did not know anything about strength or conditioning.”
When his senior year came to a close, he planned to study abroad in the United States, and one day hoped to return home and make life better for a new generation in Myanmar.
“There is a big level of difference [when it comes to coaching] in Myanmar versus elsewhere and hopefully, in my lifetime, I can close that gap,” he adds.
A New Beginning
In 2003, Aung La N Sang left Myanmar to study Agriculture Science at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA. He was a focused student, but after a year, he discovered a new passion when he spotted a big Samoan classmate hitting a heavy bag in the campus gym.
He was intrigued and that afternoon, he formed a quick friendship that led to “The Burmese Python” toward life as a martial artist.
“He took me to the [Carlson] Gracie affiliate in South Bend, Indiana, which was about 45 minutes south [of my university],” he recalls.
“Ever since then, I started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, fell in love with BJJ, and fell in love with martial arts.”
The Myanmar native made trips to the gym a few times a week, and by May 2005, he made his professional mixed martial arts debut as a light heavyweight.
His opponent was bigger than him and won via TKO halfway through round one when the ringside doctor stopped the match because of Aung La N Sang’s swollen cheekbone. Despite the setback, his enthusiasm for competition in his new sport only increased.
“It made me like martial arts. That excitement, that thrill? I was hooked on it,” he says.
“I kept wanting to train more and get better, and then as soon as they said they had another bout, I said, ‘Yeah, I am down for it.’”
Aung La N Sang started competing in his natural division at middleweight and won his next five matches in the first round. He did that while he finished his degree and supported himself by working at a dairy farm near campus.
After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in 2007, he relocated to Columbia, Maryland, to live at his sister’s house and find a stable job. There, he also started training at Crazy 88 MMA gym in Baltimore. However his time there was short-lived as he took a job as a migratory beekeeper in Florida two months later.
Over the next year and a half, Aung La N Sang realized he was not happy with the way his day job negatively affected his performance when the time came to compete.
He ultimately decided to step away from the security of full-time employment to pursue his dreams of becoming a martial arts World Champion. “The Burmese Python” moved back to Maryland and rejoined Crazy 88. There, with a new focus on training, he started to collect wins.
“You reap what you sow,” he says. “If you do not put in the work, you are not going to get the benefits.”
World Championship History
After improving his record and winning his 15th professional bout, Aung La N Sang joined ONE Championship in 2014 and made an instant impact on the global stage. He tore through his first four opponents and earned a shot at the ONE Middleweight World Title on short notice.
With just two weeks to prepare for the first match of his rivalry with Bigdash in January 2017 and was defeated. However, when he got a rematch five months later after a full training camp, “The Burmese Python” became the ONE Middleweight World Champion at home in Yangon.
The contest was the bout of the year, but more significantly, it gave Myanmar its first World Champion in any sport.
“It felt unreal. This is something I have been working for my whole life, and it came true right in front of my hometown fans,” he remembers.
“I was amazed and happy, and I felt very blessed. I come from a very humble beginning. Coming from a small town in Myanmar, it is unbelievable and an honor for me to win a World Championship.”
The success did not stop there. Since then, the 34-year-old has been on an incredible run. Inspired by his return to Florida and work with coach Henri Hooft at Hard Knocks 365, he enjoyed a remarkable 2018 by winning the ONE Light Heavyweight World Title and defended the middleweight belt twice – including an effort against Ken Hasegawa that saw him claim honors for the best bout and best KO of the year.
His success continued with a pair of wins at the biggest shows in ONE history last year – including a stunning KO of ONE Heavyweight World Champion Brandon “The Truth” Vera.
Throughout his time on the global stage, “The Burmese Python” has also been honored in Myanmar, and has used his status to help his countrymen by supporting good causes and inspiring them to follow in his footsteps.
“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, work hard, and put their mind and soul into it,” he says.
“As a sports role model, I inspire the country as a whole by being the best fighter that I can be. We’ve never had anybody from Myanmar compete at a world-class level. It’s an honor for me and something I take great pride in, and something that really motivates me.”