Aung La “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 in January, as he filled-in under two weeks’ notice to unsuccessfully challenge 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, 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.”
Once 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.
He 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 him out, 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 an 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 held in ONE Championship. He even met Myanmar’s State Counsellor and national leader, Aung San Suu Kyi in person.
Now, with the super matches out of the way, he is ready to defend his ONE Middleweight World Championship. The “Burmese Python” is returning to his normal weight class with one simple, yet incredibly difficult goal in mind.
That is, as he puts it so eloquently, to “stay world champion until I retire.”
There is no shortage of contenders. For instance, Bigash desperately wants a chance to avenge his lone blemish, and would love to engage in a trilogy match with the Myanmar champion. Also knocking at the door of title contention is the surging Leandro Ataides, as well as other top-notch martial artists who are constantly seeking a way into ONE Championship from around the world.
Every one of those names and scenarios intrigues Aung La N Sang. By finding the right dance partner, he can succeed in his mission of exciting martial arts fans, and exposing just how thrilling the middleweight division can truly be.
“I want to put on exciting matches for the fans, so let’s line up those contenders, and I will compete against them. Some of them would be really good matches for me, really interesting matches,” he says.
“The middleweight guys are fast and they are strong, they have knockout power, and well-rounded skills, too. It should be an exciting division. You have guys who can do really anything. They have all sorts of weapons, so it is an exciting division. I am just looking forward to competing and defending my title.”
Beyond that, Aung La N Sang shoulders even more responsibility.
As the reigning ONE Middleweight World Champion and the Myanmar sporting icon, 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.”