“The Dragon Leg” Tial Thang is enjoying a successful start to his professional mixed martial arts career while being supported by a pair of famous mentors.
The bantamweight rising star – who returns to action against “The Terminator” Sunoto at ONE: BAD BLOOD on Friday, 11 February – has been primed for success on the global stage by former two-division ONE World Champions Aung La “The Burmese Python” N Sang and Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen.
Those Sanford MMA teammates have stood beside Tial Thang for years, particularly Aung La N Sang, who also hails from Myanmar.
Their relationship began when “The Dragon Leg” witnessed his compatriot’s incredible success in ONE and reached out to ask if they could train together. Once they did, the pair quickly grew close.
“From the beginning, he guided me through, he showed me the direction, and not only in fighting,” Tial Thang says.
“Outside of fighting, he’s like a big brother to me. He’s helped me with everything. Our kids hang out together. We hang out together almost every week. Everything is learning. Every day, I’m learning from him.”
For his part, the former ONE Middleweight and Light Heavyweight World Champion had some early reservations about working with Tial Thang, but those feelings quickly dissipated once he witnessed the 28-year-old’s commitment.
And as the years have gone by, he’s grown even more impressed with “The Dragon Leg” – both personally and professionally
“I wasn’t so sure about him because people are flakey, but he stuck with it. He stayed. He moved his whole family down there,” Aung La N Sang says.
“Since 2016, our relationship has become like a brother and brother, and not just like a coach [and student]. We’re like brothers now. He can come down to my house, and for training camp, he lives with us. He eats with us. He takes care of my kids when they need him and when we need him.”
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Originally, Tial Thang began training with Aung La N Sang at the latter’s old gym in Baltimore, United States. He then followed the 36-year-old to Sanford MMA in Florida with the goal of taking his career to the next level.
Aung La N Sang was certainly the catalyst for that gym switch, but Tial Thang has been thrilled with every aspect of his new team.
“Of course, it’s because of Aung [that I came here], but the facility, the training, the people that we have here, is phenomenal, and I really cannot wait to show the world what I’ve been working on here,” he says.
“If you’ve been to a gym and if you see what the MMA world looks like, and if you see Sanford MMA, you will see the difference when you walk in there. To get accepted [into] such a great team like Sanford MMA was an honor.”
The 32-year-old Nguyen made a similar switch to Sanford, and that’s where “The Dragon Leg” became acquainted with the former ONE Featherweight and Lightweight World Champion.
Since that time, the Vietnamese-Australian superstar has been a huge inspiration for the upstart from Myanmar, both inside and outside of the Circle.
“Having Martin as a friend – who is a family man, who loves his family more than anything, and who is a World Champion – it’s all a benefit to me,” Tial Thang says.
“He’s a great human being, not just a fighter. He’s a great friend, he’s a great father, and he helped me a lot with my striking when he was here when we were working together.”
With such great role models, the Hakha native has big footsteps to follow in as he continues to push forward in ONE Championship.
But when it comes to both of his mentors, he’s developed incredibly strong bonds that extend far beyond martial arts.
“I see Martin and Aung as two big brothers that I always hang out with,” Tial Thang adds.
“If I need someone to talk to, they’re the two people that I will talk to. It is an honor to be their friend.”