Aung La N Sang is motivated by challenges. In a fantastic 2017, the 32-year-old handed Vitaly Bigdash the first loss of his career to claim the ONE Middleweight World Championship, and defeated multiple-time kickboxing heavyweight world champion Alain “The Panther” Ngalani in a historic Open Weight Super Bout.
While the “Burmese Python” is now Myanmar’s foremost martial artist, and a national icon who inspires millions, there was a time when the champion lacked passion and direction.
As a teenager, he attended the Yangon International School, and scored impressively high grades. What’s more, he played various sports and was a member of a handful of the institution’s teams. But, despite being an active and popular student, he did not have many aspirations.
“When I was younger, I did not have much inspiration to succeed, and I wish my mind was a little different,” he admits. “I was more easygoing and free. I guess I was not as focused as I am now.
My mind was like, ‘Whatever, as long as God leads the way, I am ok.’ I did not have much ambition, and that was the problem.”
Over time, however, Aung La N Sang developed a deep admiration for his father. His dad was a jade merchant who worked in the country’s jade production and trade industry, and with business booming in Myanmar and neighboring countries, he was not around too often during his childhood.
His father’s impeccable work ethic and tirelessness, however, struck a chord within the Myanmar native.
“He always worked very hard. He was gone most of the time when we were younger, and he would come home and bring gifts for us,” the martial artist explains. “What inspired me about him is that he is not educated — he only had elementary school education — but he always sought learning.
“He speaks seven different languages, including Burmese, English, Thai, Cantonese, and Mandarin. For somebody who has very little education, speaks that many languages, does business, and is able to succeed? That inspires me.”
Aung La N Sang’s father also gave the future middleweight world champion many gems of advice throughout the years. But out of all those words of wisdom, there is one in particular that has become Aung La N Sang personal motto.
“He would always tells me that you should always remember your roots, you should always remember where you came from, and you should always help out,” Aung La N Sang recites. They are words that he is living up to, more than a decade later.
The first step towards that was when he stumbled upon his ambition. Nearly a year after leaving Myanmar to study Agriculture Science at Andrews University in Michigan in 2003, he witnessed a Samoan student hitting a heavy bag in the school’s gymnasium, and thought it was the coolest thing ever.
A week later, the two went to a Carlson Gracie dojo affiliate in South Bend, Indiana, and he has been hooked on martial arts ever since.
It may have taken him over a decade to get to this point, but Aung La N Sang’s hard work paid off. This past June, he defeated previously-unbeaten titleholder Vitaly Bigdash of Russia at ONE: LIGHT OF A NATION to capture the ONE Middleweight World Championship.
With that victory, he also became Myanmar’s first world champion in sporting history, and the most successful middleweight in the promotion with solid five wins.
Now he is using all of his celebrity and international fame for the greater good by working towards the advancement of his fellow countrymen in Myanmar.
This past March, for instance, the “Burmese Python” returned to his hometown of Myitkyina in the Kachin state for the first time in 14 years. He made the trip back home to auction off some of his gear, with the proceeds going to Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in the local community.
In addition to that, he is leading a martial arts movement in Myanmar, and helping out hungry competitors, such as Phoe Thaw, make a successful transition from the lethwei ring to the cage.
Clearly, Aung La N Sang remembers his roots. What’s more, he is nurturing those roots, and his father could not be any more pleased.
“One thing I alway wanted to do was make my dad proud, and it just makes me happy I am on the right road,” he says. “It gives me peace of mind, and it makes me appreciate it, and it makes me want to work even harder.”