Aung La N Sang will return to his natural weight class at ONE: SPIRIT OF A WARRIOR on 29 June as he faces a new challenger for his ONE Middleweight World Title.
“The Burmese Python” will take on top-ranked Japanese contender Ken Hasegawa in the main event in Yangon, Myanmar.
The 33-year-old star captured middleweight gold with a thrilling win over Vitaly Bigdash in June 2017, then submitted Hong Kong heavyweight Alain Ngalani in ONE Championship’s first-ever open-weight super-bout.
In March, the Myanmar superstar became only the second athlete to capture ONE belts in two weight classes. He spectacularly knocked out Brazil’s Alexandre Machado in just 56 seconds with a head kick to capture the ONE Light Heavyweight World Title.
Now he returns to middleweight as he looks to cement his legacy against a dangerous new foe, and he’s been training tirelessly at the Hard Knocks 365 gym in Florida to prepare for the contest.
“I feel like my overall mixed martial arts game is better, I feel like my wrestling is getting better, and I implement my ground and pound better because we drill it a lot,” he says of his training.
“I have been sharpening my strengths and been getting more in sync with my coaches. And, when you are surrounded by very high-level athletes, you become more professional.”
Many believed N Sang would be facing either Bigdash or fellow contender Leandro Ataides next. The pair met recently, with Ataides claiming a knockout win to position himself as a top contender.
“The Burmese Python” was an interested spectator, and saw the former champion fighting less aggressively than he expected.
“Bigdash did not fight like he usually does. He fought a little bit timid, so good for Ataides,” he said.
“I think it is hard when you lose a fight. When you have never lost a fight, and then you lose [for the first time], it makes you second-guess and think twice about certain things. He was tentative during the fight, at least that is what I saw from the outside.
“But Ataides went out there, he implemented his game, and got the finish.”
But before the Brazilian gets his shot, Aung La N Sang will face Hasegawa, a former DEEP Megaton (open-weight) World Champion.
“Opponents change all the time, so for me, it is not a surprise,” he says. “I am just very happy to have a dance partner on 29 June.
“He is ranked number one in Japan, as far as the middleweights go, and he is ranked number one for a reason. He is a DEEP Champion, and he has both knockout and submission wins.
“It should be a very exciting fight. He has 16 wins and two losses, and fought as heavy as heavyweight. He is a dangerous opponent, and you cannot look past that.”
N Sang’s bouts are among the most eagerly-anticipated in ONE Championship, and his bouts in Myanmar always generate a memorable atmosphere as the crowd roar their support for their hero from the moment he appears on the entrance ramp.
“The Burmese Python” says he’s not only excited to return to action on home soil, he’s also excited to showcase his improved skillset after switching his training to Florida full-time.
“I get to defend my middleweight world title and I get to do it in front of my hometown crowd,” he says.
“I believe I have improved so much since training full-time in Florida – just being surrounded by other professionals and other top-level fighters. I am excited to showcase my improvement.”
And despite his hero status in Myanmar and the fact that he’s a two-weight world champion, Aung La N Sang still believes he has much to prove as he heads into the contest.
“Defending the title legitimises me as the world champion. It was not a fluke, and it is something I want to prove to the world,” he adds.
“I want to prove that I have worked so hard towards this, and I have just scratched the surface of what I am capable of. I am in the best period of my career, and I am going got put on better and better performances whenever I compete.
“I feel like I am approaching my prime, because I am starting to learn a lot of things that would have helped me a lot when I was fighting earlier on, and I am learning how to be more professional as a fighter.
“I do not have another job, I do not coach on the side, and I do not teach classes on the side. This is all I do now. I am 100 percent committed to competing as a mixed martial artist.”
And his plan is a simple one. Step into the ONE Championship cage in Myanmar, deliver another spectacular performance to defend his title, then return home to his wife and son in Maryland, USA, after spending weeks away from them.
As well as the backing of a nation, it is the support of his family that also keeps the fire burning for “The Burmese Python”.
“It keeps me motivated,” he says.
“It is a motivation to make sure I have good a work ethic when it comes to training, and to understand the sacrifice is for the betterment of my family.
“It will all be worth it in the end.”