All eyes will be on ONE Middleweight World Champion Aung La N Sang on 3 November, when he steps into the ONE Championship cage to take on heavyweight knockout artist Alain Ngalani in the main event of ONE: HERO’S DREAM in his home town of Yangon, Myanmar.
It marks the culmination of a career that has seen him rise from budding young sportsman to his nation’s first-ever world champion.
His sporting career started off modestly, with his school teams struggling to find success in Yangon.
“When we played soccer, when we played volleyball, and when we played basketball, we would lose,” he remembered. “We would lose in most sports, and that kind of made me mad. It was just sad.
“I guess the coaching was not that good. We did not know anything about strength or conditioning.”
That lack of coaching expertise remains in Myanmar, but he says he hopes to use his status as world champion to help improve the level of coaching in his homeland.
“There is a big level of difference in Myanmar versus elsewhere,” he admitted. “Hopefully, in my lifetime, I can close that gap.”
Aung La N Sang’s athletic career took a turn for the better when he moved to the US to study at Andrews University in Michigan. The turning point came when he witnessed a Samoan classmate hammering the heavy bag in the gym. The pair became good friends, and took a road trip that would change the course of his life forever.
“He took me to the [Carlson] Gracie affiliate in South Bend, Indiana, which was about 45 minutes south [of my university],” he explained. “I started training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, fell in love with BJJ, and fell in love with martial arts.”
His first contest — a light heavyweight bout against Emerson Rushing — ended early when the doctors refused to let Aung La N Sang continue due to a swollen cheekbone. But despite that early setback, N Sang was hooked.
“It made me like martial arts,” he recalled. “That excitement, that thrill? I was hooked on it. I kept wanting to train more and get better, and then as soon as they said they had another bout, I said, ‘Yeah, I am down for it.’”
His career eventually caught the attention of ONE Championship’s talent-spotters, who signed the Myanmar athlete as en exciting new addition to its roster. Four straight wins spoke volumes about his potential, while two bouts in his home town of Yangon highlighted what might be possible if he ever became a world champion.
The hero’s welcome he received on both occasions took the quiet Aung La N Sang by surprise, as did the acclaim his successes have received. He’s become an essential interview for local media outlets, while even Myanmar’s government officials have pledged their support to ‘The Burmese Python’ during his career.
Speaking about the attention, he admitted: “It is pretty overwhelming. I am pretty secluded, and I do not do this for the fame. I do this because I love it.”
It may not have been Aung La N Sang’s intention to become famous, but that became unavoidable when he dethroned undefeated Russian Vitaly Bigdash to win the ONE Middleweight World Title at ONE: LIGHT OF A NATION in Yangon.
It was the sort of hometown performance that turns a local favourite into a superstar. Aung La N Sang landed a huge head kick that stung the champion in the opening round, as the local hero nearly earned a stunning first-round finish. But Bigdash showed all his championship grit to claw his way back into the contest as the bout transformed into a thrilling back-and-forth battle.
Roared on by his fellow countrymen, Aung La N Sang outworked Bigdash to dethrone the undefeated champ and capture the ONE middleweight belt, giving him the most iconic moment of his career to date. With the feat, he elevated his stock to unprecedented levels as Myanmar’s first world champion in any sport.
“It felt unreal,” he explained. “This is something I have been working for my whole life, and it came true right in front of my hometown fans. I was amazed and happy, and I felt very blessed.
“I come from a very humble beginning. Coming from a small town in Myanmar, it is unbelievable and an honour for me to win a world championship.
“Also, by winning this world title, I can motivate people in my hometown and home country, to let them know they can succeed at the highest level if they choose to and work hard, and put their mind and soul into it.”