Aung La N Sang is firmly established as one of the biggest stars in ONE Championship, but the two-weight World Champion may not be the star he is today without his epic double-header against Russian former champ Vitaly Bigdash.
In January 2017 “The Burmese Python” was given a short-notice shot at the ONE Middleweight World Title, which was held by Bigdash.
Despite only having 10 days to prepare for the match-up, Aung La N Sang took the opportunity and gave it his all. Ultimately, however, Bigdash’s superior conditioning and preparation proved crucial as he won a unanimous decision.
The Myanmar athlete’s game performance in defeat left the ONE matchmakers suitably impressed, and they rewarded Aung La N Sang with a rematch, and a full-length run-up to prepare.
Some doubted Aung La N Sang’s wisdom in taking an immediate rematch without any real time to evolve his skill set, but he knew that a full training camp would be the difference-maker the second time around.
“After the loss, a lot of my uncles and my family members said, ‘You shouldn’t take that fight so quickly,’” the 33-year-old recalls.
“I knew with the first fight, I didn’t have time to put on a full training camp. So I went back and I put together a full training camp to ensure I was going to be in great shape, and I was going to be 100 percent ready.
“Everything went around making sure I was ready for the fight. Everything that I did, everything that I ate, every time that I rested – everything was geared almost for fear of Bigdash.”
Aung La N Sang spent eight weeks in training camp, sharpening his skills, improving his conditioning and game planning for Bigdash’s skillset.
While he conceded all the advantages to Bigdash in the first bout, he believed things would be different in the rematch in Yangon, Myanmar.
“I felt ready,” he says.
“I knew the power that he possessed, and I knew what his strengths were, but in my head, I knew I was in shape – unlike the first fight where I felt like I had to get him in the first round or the second round.”
The result was a gripping 25-minute battle as Aung La N Sang and Bigdash went back and forth in a thrilling title tussle that was named as 2017’s “Bout Of The Year”.
“The Burmese Python” dropped Bigdash in the first, while the Russian came storming back in the second. But after the full five-round duration was negotiated by both men, the contest went down to the judges’ scorecards.
All three judges scored the bout in favour of Aung La N Sang as “The Burmese Python” and became the first-ever mixed martial arts World Champion in Myanmar’s history.
“Prior to this, I’ve come close, but I’ve never been a champion in any other mixed martial arts organisation,” he says.
“For me to be able to do it in front of my country and my countrymen, it was the best feeling. I don’t fight out of emotion. I don’t fight out of hatred. I don’t fight out of revenge. It wasn’t avenging the loss. It wasn’t the personal reasons that made me happy.
“It was the fact that I finally reached championship status, that I was finally a champion — that was the greatest accomplishment with that match.
“The Bigdash rematch was my favourite victory. I wish I could have gotten a finish, but for sure that was my biggest victory.
“It was a hard one because of how badly he hurt me in the first fight. It was hard. It takes a lot of mental toughness to come back and win from the beating he gave me in the first fight.”
Aung La N Sang returns to action at ONE: PURSUIT OF GREATNESS in Yangon when he puts his ONE Middleweight World Title on the line against Mohammad “O Lutador” Karaki.
And the Myanmar fan favourite will be looking to reproduce the form that has catapulted him to stardom, and two ONE World Titles.
If he ends up producing a performance like that first title-winning display, fans can expect a spectacular battle on 26 October.