On March 31 at ONE: A New Era, two-weight champion Aung La N Sang defended his middleweight title, knocking out Ken Hasegawa in their highly anticipated rematch.
Shortly after his win, Aung La N Sang was confronted in the cage by ONE heavyweight champion Brandon Vera, who challenged him for his light heavyweight belt. The bout is expected to take place in October and will undoubtedly be one of the biggest fights in ONE Championship history.
He spoke to John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock about his recent title defense, fighting Brandon Vera, Lethwei and more.
Open to all challenges
Aung La N Sang recently defended his middleweight championship against Japan’s Ken Hasegawa, where he won via knockout in the second round. This win marked his 23rd stoppage win, a figure which is outstanding when compared to his 25 career wins.
The man from Myanmar is the personification of hard work and determination. He’s the definition of a warrior, and there is no quit inside Aung La N Sang. He won both of his titles in front of his home crowd in Yangon, Myanmar, which instantly made him a national hero.
He spoke about his win over Hasegawa and the respect he had for him taking the fight again.
“It [usually] takes a while to break your guy down, it took me a round and a half to really break him down,” he told John Hyon Ko.
“For him to sign that agreement to fight me again shows that he is really driven, so we had to be twice as serious.”
Hasegawa left the fight with two broken ribs as a result of the champion’s powerful body kicks, which illustrates the power that he possesses.
After the match, ONE heavyweight champion Brandon Vera entered the cage and proceeded to call out “The Burmese Python.”. Vera’s challenge was unlike most in mixed martial arts: he respectfully asked for an opportunity to fight for the light heavyweight belt. The crowd in Tokyo erupted after the challenge was presented and Aung La N Sang gladly accepted.
Although it came as a shock to everyone else, Aung La N Sang was expecting the news.
“He wanted to fight me since last year; when they did that first press conference in Japan, he called me out. I know he’s always had that desire to be a double champ. So I’m not surprised.”
He also explains that it was ‘refreshing’ to have Brandon Vera call him out in the manner he did.
Vera is a heavyweight and has a distinct size advantage against the two-weight champion. However, this doesn’t faze him, as he trains with and has fought heavyweights in the past.
In 2017, he faced one of the most intimidating fighters to step into the ONE Championship cage, Alain Ngalani. Ngalani was noticeably larger than N Sang and had a significant weight advantage heading into the contest. Nonetheless, “The Burmese Python” weathered the storm and submitted his larger opponent in the first round.
He spoke about why he isn’t afraid of the task ahead of him.
“I train with heavyweights [and] I spar with big heavyweights all the time, so it’s not a problem for me. He has fought at light heavyweight as well, so it’s not gonna be a problem for him either.”
The 33-year-old is referencing Vera’s spell at light heavyweight that took place in the UFC from 2008-2013. During this time, the ONE heavyweight champion compiled a record of 4-4-1.
If he can defend his light heavyweight title against the dangerous challenger, many believe that N Sang should move to heavyweight in an attempt to claim a third title. Holding three titles in three different weight divisions would be a first for the world of mixed martial arts.
When asked about a potential move to heavyweight, Aung La N Sang had another idea in mind:
“I don’t think there’s a point for me to do that” he stated. “I’m going to try to do something in the contract where both belts are on the line, not just one.”
The prospect of two belts being on the line at the same is mesmerizing. Aung La N Sang vs. Brandon Vera would be a ‘winner takes all’ match between two of the very best big men over at ONE Championship.
The growth of sport in Myanmar
“The Burmese Python” is the most successful athlete to come out of Myanmar. Due to this, a statue was erected in his honor last year. This statue shows that his people recognize his accolades and accomplishments, and are grateful for the spotlight he is shining on the country. Having a statue in honor of your accomplishments is no small feat, but N Sang is not the biggest fan of it.
“I was there for the opening [of the statue]. It’s kind of weird. I don’t like it, but it is what it is. It’s a big honor for me, [but] I don’t think too much about it cause it’s kind of weird.”
This video portrays how much Aung La N Sang means to the Myanmar people.
He is a national hero; the real life evidence that hard work can get you anywhere.
Article coming soon… https://t.co/thzF99DmaK
— Steven Rae (@StevenRaeMMA) April 15, 2019
Lethwei, the national sport of Myanmar, is rapidly growing and more popular than ever. One of the most widely recognized fighters in Lethwei is Canadian Dave Leduc, who is the first foreigner to hold the openweight Lethwei World Championship. Leduc is a remarkable ambassador for the sport and has devoted his life to improving not only his own skillset but the worldwide reception of Lethwei.
“He’s doing a good job of selling Lethwei, advertising and building the brand, and I thanked him for it,” N Sang said.
“There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be as big as Muay Thai. Muay Thai is so big, but there’s no reason Lethwei shouldn’t be as big. It’s the same principle.”
Being an exceptional sportsman born and raised in Myanmar, it’s no surprise that Aung La N Sang used to train and compete in Lethwei, but that was before his MMA days. He revealed that he founded a sponsorship program last year in Myanmar, with the aim of teaching young children “The Art of 9 Limbs.”
“I’m taking care of their school. I’m taking care of their food, and I’m teaching them Lethwei.”
“[I started it] at the end of last year. The kids are training; the kids are studying and going to school, they’re learning [and] they’re getting good nutrition.”
This incredible act of selflessness shows why Aung La N Sang is a respected martial artist inside and outside the cage. He remains humble every step of the way.
Aung La N Sang is expected to return to action in October, where he will defend his light heavyweight title against ONE Championship heavyweight champion Brandon Vera.
Steven is a Mixed Martial Arts journalist and analyst from the United Kingdom.