“The Burmese Python” Aung La N Sang prefers to look ahead to look ahead to the future, but even he cannot help but look back at this year and marvel at his achievements.
The Myanmar superstar rolled into 2018 off the back of capturing the ONE Middleweight World Title, and immediately jumped on the chance to become a two-division kingpin.
At home in front of his fans at ONE: QUEST FOR GOLD in February, it took him less than two minutes to earn a jaw-dropping first-round TKO against Alexandre “Bebezao” Machado and win the ONE Light Heavyweight World Championship.
It is a moment in his career than Aung La N Sang will never forget.
“It was an honor,” Aung La N Sang says.
“When Roger Gracie vacated the belt, I asked if I could fight for the vacant belt. It’s not done by many fighters, and it’s something I want to have accomplished in my lifetime. To be able to do that was an honor.”
Following that victory, the 33-year old was then matched up with Ken Hasegawa for the first defense of his middleweight belt at ONE: SPIRIT OF A WARRIOR in a contest that ended up as the 2018 Bout Of The Year.
That was also his fourth straight win in his native country, and he knows the passionate support he receives from the Myanmar crowd gave him everything he needed to surge ahead to get that win.
“It’s different when I fight in Myanmar,” Aung La N Sang explains.
“I have the added pressure that the whole country is watching and the whole country wants me to win. I have people taking selfies with me in the locker room as I’m about to go out, but when I do go out and fight, it gives me extra motivation.
“I keep myself sharp with the crowd yelling for me. It’s extra motivation for sure.”
Aung La N Sang received praise for starting 2018 with a pair of TKO victories, but credits his new team at Hard Knocks 365 for helping him prepare for both of those match-ups.
In fact, after the results he saw in those first two bouts, he decided to uproot his family and relocate to Florida so he could begin training there full time.
For all the great things that Aung La N Sang did this year, that decision actually stands out ahead of the rest.
“I needed to be here full-time,” he reveals.
“It only made sense because my training partners are amazing. My coaches understand me. My trainers don’t just care for me in training – they care for me as a person, so it was a good fit for me.”
The move paid huge dividends almost immediately as Aung La N Sang had one more title defense against Mohammed “O Lutador” Karaki at ONE: PURSUIT OF GREATNESS in October to close out his competitive year.
The middleweight king was dominant in every facet of mixed martial arts and hit a hat-trick of TKOs for the year as he stopped his Lebanese challenger little more than two minutes into the opening round.
As memorable as his bout with Hasegawa might be to the rest of the world, “The Burmese Python” says he enjoyed the win over Karaki the most because it showed he was starting to reach his full potential as an athlete.
“I went out there, and I was able to implement my game plan from the start and got it done quick,” he describes.
“As far as the matches go, I feel like that was the best match. Improving my skill sets, getting certain skill sets improved and then getting my weaknesses improved, that’s been my biggest accomplishment this year.”
Never one to sit back and live off his past deeds, Aung La N Sang is already gearing up for 2019 with his next title defense set for 31 March in a rematch against Hasegawa at ONE: A NEW ERA.
His focus is already directed at that showdown, but he is willing to acknowledge he will always look back on 2018 with pride.
“2016 was the best year I ever had, and then 2017, up to that point, was the best year, but then 2018 was the best year so far. I could say that in 2016, I could have said that in 2017, but by far, 2018 has been the best year,” Aung La N Sang says.
“I feel very blessed. I wish every year was like this! It’s been a phenomenal year, but I feel like there’s still a lot more I can show.”