Aung La Nsang’s Story: The Road To Becoming The Hero Of A Nation
Aung La Nsang gained the worldwide recognition in martial arts circles by capturing both ONE middleweight and light heavyweight world championship titles. Achieving remarkable results, he became the greatest sportsman in the history of Myanmar, his native country.
Moreover, ‘The Burmese Python’ has proved that he is much more than a mixed martial artist by his actions outside of the ONE Circle as well. Beside being a true inspiration to his fans all around the world, he is a prominent figure in the struggle for social justice and environmental protection.
Speaking to ONE Championship, the 34-year-old opened up on his road to becoming a champion, describing some of the adversity he had to face in life in order to get to where he is now.
Early Life in Myanmar
Aung La Nsang moved with his family from his hometown Myitkyina to Yangon because the Myanmar’s largest city enabled him and his siblings to have a better education. His father worked as a merchant to put them through the Yangon International School. Aung La Nsang was an excellent student, but he also played sports for his school as a member of several teams. However, he didn’t like the fact that his team was often loosing in competition.
“When we played soccer, when we played volleyball, and when we played basketball, we would lose,” he explains. 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.”
After graduation, he wanted to continue his education in the United States, so he could return home and improve the coaching practice in Myanmar.
“There is a big level of difference [when it comes to coaching] in Myanmar versus elsewhere and hopefully, in my lifetime, I can close that gap.”
Moving to the USA
Aung La Nsang left Myanmar in 2003, to study Agriculture Science at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA. The studying went well, but one accidental encounter which happened a year later, changed everything. One day he got intrigued when he saw a big Samoan guy from his campus, hitting a heavy bag. After they met, the Samoan introduced him to the world of BJJ, and from that moment on, he was on a path to become a martial artist.
“He took me to the [Carlson] Gracie affiliate in South Bend, Indiana, which was about 45 minutes south [of my university]. Ever since then, I started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, fell in love with BJJ, and fell in love with martial arts,” he recalls.
‘The Burmese Python’ continued to train BJJ a few times a week, and by May 2005, he made his pro MMA debut in a light heavyweight division against a noticeably bigger opponent. He lost the fight by first round TKO (doctor stoppage) due to the swollen cheekbone, but he wasn’t discouraged in any way.
“It made me like martial arts. 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,’” he says.
The Point of No Return
After his MMA debut, Aung La Nsang switched to middleweight, his natural weight class, winning the next five fights in the first round. At the same time, he was studying and working at a dairy farm near campus.
He moved to Columbia, Maryland in 2007, after receiving his bachelor’s degree. He lived at his sister’s house, trying to find a job, while he was training at Crazy 88 MMA gym in Baltimore. However, his job search soon took him to Florida, where he worked as a migratory beekeeper.
Over a year and a half he was noticing the negative effects his job had on his fighting performance. That made him quit the job and go on a journey to become a champion. ‘The Burmese Python’ went back to Maryland and started training at Crazy 88 again. With the new mindset and determination, he started winning more fights.
“You reap what you sow,” he says. “If you do not put in the work, you are not going to get the benefits.”
Becoming the World Champion
‘The Burmese Python’ signed a contract with ONE Championship in 2014 after collecting 15 professional wins. He made his presence known by going through his next four opponents, which earned him a title shot on short notice in the middleweight division.
Aung La Nsang took on Vitaly Bigdash in January 2017 after only two weeks of preparation. He lost the fight, but started a great rivalry. The rematch happened five months later in his home country. This time, after a full training camp, he won via unanimous decision and became the ONE middleweight world champion. The bout was declared the fight of the year, and Myanmar got its first World Champion in any major sport.
“It felt unreal. 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 honor for me to win a World Championship,” he remembers.
Since then, the 34-year-old has been on an incredible run. He won the ONE light heavyweight world title in 2018, and has defended the middleweight belt two times. The first title defence against Ken Hasegawa was declared the best bout and best knockout of the year.
His winning streak has continued, while performing at the biggest ONE Championship events. In his last bout, ‘The Burmese Python’ defeated ONE Heavyweight World Champion Brandon “The Truth” Vera via spectacular TKO.
Being a Role Model
Aung La Nsang has received great honours in Myanmar for representing his home country worldwide in the best way possible. Moreover, this humble young man of ethnic Kachin descent is making sure that his hard-earned status is being put to good use.
He is organising and supporting numerous charity projects, giving inspirational speeches, visiting socially marginalized groups, meeting local farmers and fighting against gender based violence. Beside that, he is an active advocate for the protection of Myanmar’s wildlife. He supported the campaign “Voices for Momos” against illegal wildlife trade in 2017, and has been appointed an ambassador for wildlife crime in November 2018 by WWF office in Myanmar.
“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, work hard, and put their mind and soul into it.
“As a sports role model, I inspire the country as a whole by being the best fighter that I can be. We’ve never had anybody from Myanmar compete at a world-class level. It’s an honour for me and something I take great pride in, and something that really motivates me,” he says.
Aung La Nsang is set to defend his ONE middleweight title against Vitaly Bigdash at ONE: Infinity 1 in a trilogy fight, which could bring a conclusion to their great rivalry. ONE: Infinity 1 was scheduled to take place in Jakarta on April 10th but due to the Coronavirus outbreak, it has now been moved to Manila on May 29th.