Aung La “The Burmese Python” N Sang had big plans for 2020, but a global pandemic and a new rival threw a wrench into those ambitions.
The Myanmar icon, who came into the year as a two-division ONE World Champion, tested positive for COVID-19 in July. After battling symptoms, “The Burmese Python” recovered and returned to action on 30 October to defend his middleweight belt against top contender Reinier “The Dutch Knight” De Ridder.
In the main event of ONE: INSIDE THE MATRIX, De Ridder quickly took the Sanford MMA representative to the mat, secured a rear-naked choke, and took Aung La N Sang’s spot atop the middleweight mountain.
Despite the difficult year, Aung La N Sang is focusing on the positives and setting lofty goals for 2021 – topics he touched on during this exclusive interview.
ONE Championship: Your 2020 did not go as planned in the Circle, but what are your takeaways from the year from a personal perspective?
Aung La N Sang: I know it doesn’t show in competition, but I feel like this year, I’ve made a lot of improvements in my game. I know the fight [with Reinier] didn’t show it, but next year, it will show. I’ve worked with the coaches on little details and little parts of my game. I’ve become so much better as a mixed martial artist. I’m not too worried. I’m more excited than anything.
On a personal level, my wife gave birth to our daughter. And having a daughter is a different experience from having a son. My daughter is healthy. She’s ten months old now and already walking. This year has been a great year despite the coronavirus and losing my middleweight belt.
ONE: You mentioned that having a girl is different than having a boy. As 2020 was the year of the “Girl Dad,” what are those differences, and how has it changed you?
ALNS: With a boy, you want them to be like you. You want to wrestle with them. You want to teach them to be strong.
For a girl, it’s a different experience. You want to protect them and hide them from all of the bad in the world. You want to just be there to love them and care for them. You want to shield them from all of the bad things in the world.
With a boy, you want them to stand up and face all these bad things. That’s definitely a different outlook from having a girl and having a boy.
ONE: The match against Reinier did not go your way, but you mentioned feeling that you’re a better martial artist today. Take us back to that night – what lessons were you able to learn from the result?
ALNS: I’ve got to be more cautious. I can’t go into a fight with just one thing on my mind. I went in there just to fight the fight.
If you know my opponent, you know he wasn’t going to fight me. He was going to use jiu-jitsu. It was a very good game plan, and I should have done more jiu-jitsu rounds. We have high-level jiu-jitsu guys in our gym, and I neglected a lot of doing a lot of jiu-jitsu rounds.
He had one way of winning, and I let him capitalize on that.
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ONE: They say you learn more from a loss than you do from a win. Does that hold true in your opinion, and how does this motivate you for your next bout?
ALNS: Yeah, for sure it does. It also gives me that extra hunger. I don’t just want the belt back; I want to take out every contender in the middleweight division.
It adds more fuel to me wanting to get my belt back. It adds more fuel to my training. It adds more fuel to me being the best martial artist I can be.
ONE: You’ve mentioned the hunger to get the ONE Middleweight World Championship back, but is there anyone else you’re looking to compete against next year?
ONE: Looking at those contenders and how both divisions continue to deepen with exciting talent, what are your thoughts on where the middleweight and light heavyweight divisions stand for 2021?
ALNS: Both divisions are exciting because everybody brings that knockout power. Everyone has a full skill set. You know for a fact, in either division, especially in ONE, they’re going to be exciting.
There’s not a single boring matchup. And that’s what I like. I like to put on shows for fans, and I like to entertain. First and foremost, we’re mixed martial artists, and then we’re entertainers. I know at both weight classes, every bout we have in ONE Championship is exciting and full of finishes.
I’m just excited to get back into the ONE Championship Circle in 2021. I know in 2020, I haven’t shown what I’m capable of and what I’ve been working on, but it will come. There’s going to be the right opponent who’s going to fight me.
ONE: What are your goals for 2021?
ALNS: I want to get three-to-four fights, but it’s not really up to me. I want to prepare myself to take three-to-four fights if they’re presented to me. I want to improve as an athlete and be the very best version of myself.
ONE: When Aung La N Sang steps back inside the Circle in 2021, what can your fans expect?
ALNS: You’re going to see the most prepared version of myself — the most athletic, the sharpest, and the most driven version of myself in 2021. I’ve got great training partners, and I’m working a lot on my ground game now.
In 2021, I’m going to get my belt back and then defend my light heavyweight belt. The fans can expect exciting bouts from me from the beginning of the year to the end of 2021.