When lists of the best bouts of 2018 are made, Aung La N Sang’s epic five-round war with Ken Hasegawa at ONE: SPIRIT OF A WARRIOR is sure to feature strongly.
ONE Championship’s foremost athlete from Myanmar produced a performance for the ages against an opponent who refused to back down. They battled toe-to-toe for four rounds before “The Burmese Python” finally closed the show with a huge uppercut in the fifth.
Looking back at the unforgettable matchup, the ONE Middleweight and Light Heavyweight World Champion says it is a contest he will look back on fondly.
“This was a good fight, because the knockout came in the fifth round, and it’s not like we weren’t trying to knock each other out,” he says.
“In that sense, it was a fighter’s fight, and an exciting fight.
“We both came to fight – he’s durable and I’m pretty durable as well, and it ended with a knockout. Everybody likes to see a fistfight. I don’t know how you rate things like that, but for me, it was a fun fight, and I like fun fights.”
Immediately after the contest, he admitted to not being wholly impressed with his display. He puts it down to not feeling on top of his game that night, plus the fact he had a teak-tough challenger in front of him.
“I didn’t feel 100 percent alert or on point. Maybe I was still a little jet-lagged,” he offers.
“But, in a fight, it’s very rare that you’re 100 percent. I just felt a little sluggish.
“He is tough too, but you cannot say for certain. I felt a little sluggish, and his awkward style threw my game off a bit, for sure.
“People usually back up a little bit when I hit them, but he didn’t. He stayed in there. It made for a good fight and I was very happy that he came to fight.”
It was a bout that took a physical toll on both men, who were badly marked up at the conclusion of their contest.
However, the two warriors embraced each other when they met the following day to share a couple of photographs after their epic battle the night before.
In fact, the pair were chatting online only hours after their bout was over, joking about the damage they had each received during the contest.
“You know what’s funny? After a fight, you can’t really sleep right away. At 3am, he sent me a Facebook friend request. I confirmed it and we messaged each other, and thanked each other for a great fight.
“I said, ‘Man, why did you do this to my face?’ Then, he sent a picture of his face! I wanted to make sure he was okay, and he was in the hospital getting stitched up.”
Remarkably, Aung La N Sang says he healed up quickly, with no lasting cuts or bruises from one of the most physically punishing bouts ever seen inside the ONE cage.
“Seriously, you wouldn’t know I was in a fight,” he laughs.
“Everything is superficial. I’m back in training. I’m 100 percent. After a five-round fight, you feel really banged-up, but in this fight, everything was on my face. I pretty much defended all his punches with my face.
“My knuckles don’t hurt, my shins don’t hurt – I feel good. After all the swelling was gone, I don’t feel banged up at all. I wanted to go straight back to sparring. My coaches were against that, but I was wrestling with my crew, back in there.”
Given the spectacular action in their match-up, some are already calling for the duo to run it back in a World Title rematch later in the year.
Aung La N Sang will likely have other opposition to deal with before that could become a reality, but he’s certainly not opposed to the idea.
“Sure. We make money putting on fights, so why not?” he says.
“It’s hard to tell though, because, in mixed martial arts, you have so many other fighters.
“Bigdash thought he was going to fight me again, but he lost to Ataides. There are so many variables.
“It might never happen, but if it happens, I’m okay with it. I’d welcome it. I guess I’m going to fight (Leandro) Ataides next, but we’ll see.”
Ataides pushed himself to the front of the middleweight queue with an impressive finish of former World Champion Vitaly Bigdash, and “The Burmese Python” says the Brazilian offers a dangerous challenge to his ONE Middleweight World Title.
“It’s a dangerous fight. He’s explosive, and he’s got a lot of power,” he says.
“It’s a good fight, but I believe I’m a bad match-up for him. I have too much pressure for him, but we’ll see.”
Aung La N Sang says he’s targeting an autumn return, but says he wouldn’t mind competing somewhere different after coping with the crushing expectation of performing in front of his home nation in Yangon, Myanmar.
“If they put me in Yangon, that’s fine, but I would love to fight somewhere else, because there’s a lot of pressure fighting on your home turf,” he admits.
“I was the only Burmese fighter on that card – apart from two Burmese who were fighting each other. It’s a lot of pressure on you.”