Aung La N Sang was told by his father to always remember his roots, where he came from, and to help those in need. That is something he has never forgotten, and recently, he lived up to that mantra in a big way.
This past quarter, the “Burmese Python” returned to Myitkyina, his hometown, for the first time in 14 years. He did it to reconnect with his roots and to help the local community, but he did not expect the reception he got.
The 32-year-old’s adventure started in late March, when he flew into the nation’s capital of Yangon to conduct the Shopmyar Charity Auction. Some of the items up for bidding included his 2014 NAGA gold medal, a pair of signed ONE Championship gloves, various autographed shirts, and other pieces of fight gear.
All of the proceeds went to the Shingni N-Bat Charity, an organization that assists with Internally Displaced People, or IDPs, in the Kachin State.
“We did a charity auction and we raised about US$6,000, which is not a lot, but it is enough to help,” he says. “We were able to donate rice and other necessities like cooking oil, and we donated to a few camps that are close to my hometown.”
That was not enough for the Myanmar hero. In April, just a few days after the auction concluded, the “Burmese Python” finally made his long awaited return to Myitkyina, and it was quite the homecoming.
After he helped out at a few IDP camps, he visited his family home, which is where the entire community held a festival in his honor. Needless to say, he was overwhelmed by emotion.
“It was so awesome,” the middleweight contender begins. “That is my home, it is the house I grew up in, and it is the house I was born in. We still have that house, and my neighbors are still there.
“My neighbors blocked off a road so they could cook for a feast. My family killed two cows, and there were hundreds and hundreds of people who came to the house to pray for me. There was a lot of support for me. I did not expect that kind of a welcome from my city, my state, and my people, so it was pretty awesome. It just blew my mind.”
Aung La N Sang also saw a couple of familiar faces. He bonded with some of his lethwei-loving uncles, bought sticky rice and fried fritters from the same local vendor he used to as a kid, and toured the town with some of his dearest childhood friends.
“I got to hang out with my old best friends and other classmates,” he recollects. “It was very cool to see them, and it is cool to see how successful some of them are, and how well they are doing. They have not really changed.”
On the other hand, the “Burmese Python” has changed a lot. He has transformed himself from a kid without ambition to national martial arts hero, and on Friday, 30 June, he can make history by defeating reigning kingpin Vitaly Bigdash for the ONE Middleweight World Championship.
Aung La N Sang had already unsuccessfully challenged Bigdash before in January on just two weeks’ notice, and now with a full training camp behind him, he is fully ready to give a better account of himself. The epic rematch takes place at ONE: LIGHT OF A NATION in Yangon, with the full weight and support of the nation behind the national hero.
If he were to win, that would make for an epic cultural moment, especially in a nation where so much positive change is currently happening. Between government reform, the rise of Myanmar’s urban economy, and an emphasis on stronger infrastructure and towering new buildings, the future of the “Golden Land” looks bright.
Aung La N Sang has the chance to be a part of that future, become the nation’s foremost world champion, and inspire millions. He is already encouraged by Myanmar’s progress, and prays that it only continues.
“The country is changing a lot and the country is changing in the right direction,” he says. “I have really good hopes and good feelings about how the country is shaping up. I am pretty hopeful for it. Myanmar is becoming a better country.”