One Championship

I want to reach my goals: meet ‘The Burmese Python’ hoping to become his country’s first MMA champion

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2017, 10:32am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2017, 10:32am

Aung La Nsang knows that the fight game doesn’t often offer up second chances.

That’s why “The Burmese Python” has vowed to summon every ounce of strength in his body come Friday night in Yangon, when he’ll face off against Russian Vitaly Bigdash for the One Championship’s middleweight world championship.

The 32-year-old said a fight-mad nation of 54 million people would expect nothing less than that, and those millions would like nothing more than to see their first-ever world MMA champion crowned.

“I am happy that people are giving me attention,” said Nsang. “It’s weird, the amount I get here, but I am happy. It gives the young fighters here in Myanmar something to look to. I’m the first, the pioneer, and I want to make sure I reach my goals – and to give my country a world champion.”

Nsang is a phenomenon in Myanmar, thanks to his rise as the country’s most successful MMA fighter. That reputation was strengthened when he answered a late call-up to face the unbeaten Bigdash in Jakarta back in January.

On just two week’s prep work, Nsang was able to push the Russian 32-year-old all the way before losing on points. It was the first time a Bigdash (9-0) bout had lasted the distance and Nsang (19-10, one no contest) weathered some withering attacks – and a brutal left foot to the head in the third that threatened to bring matters to an early end.

Nsang now returns home for a second title shot, fresh from a fight camp at his base in Maryland and wiser for that experience back in January. Nsang admits he came in underprepared in terms of fitness – to be expected given the short lead-up time he had – but also in terms of what was going on inside his head.

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“All the work is done,” Nsang said from Yangon. “I’ve made a lot of changes since the first fight, and that’s going to show. I’ve worked on my striking more, sparring with more middleweights who gave me different bodies, different looks. Last time was an eye-opener. I don’t take experiences negatively and I had to take the opportunity. But my conditioning wasn’t there. In the end I tired, and the fight became one against myself.”

In the five months since that first bout, Nsang has made a return to his family’s home in the far northern city of Myitkyina, where hundreds turned out to greet their hero, and to celebrate the occasion with a feast that closed down the street. The experience took him back to childhood days and an obsession both with the Burmese bare knuckle sport of lethwei, and with boxing.

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“Every kid loves fighting, and love lethwei,” said Nsang. “I can still remember as a kid everyone watching Tyson-Holyfield. Fighting is part of our culture, it’s just part of who we are.”

Friday night’s 11-bout One: Light of a Nation card taps into that obsession. A sell-out crowd of around 50,000 is expected inside Yangon’s Thuwunna Indoor Stadium.

“I know the people will be behind me and they will give me strength,” said Nsang. “I hope the young fighters can see me and see how far they can go, too.”

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Nsang’s own fighting career began when he wandered into a jiu-jitsu gym while studying for a degree in agricultural science at Andrews University in Michigan. After college, he worked as a beekeeper while furthering his training, but by 2004 his focus was solely on MMA.

Nsang had picked up a 15-9 record with the likes of the Bellator and Cage Fury Fighting Championships organisations before catching the eye of the One organisation and being lured back to fight in Asia.

Before facing Bigdash the first time around, he fought four and won four with One – including a 3-0 run in 2016 leading up to the fight – showcasing the constrictive grappling skills that led to his fighting name.

While overall, 18 of Nsang’s 19 victories so far have not lasted the distance (11 submissions, seven KOs/TKOs) he said Bigdash presented a challenge he has never faced before.

“I’m ready to go,” said Nsang. “Whatever he has, I am ready for it.”