Aung La N Sang Fights As a National Icon in ONE: Union of Warriors
ONE Championship returned to Myanmar on Friday night with a fight that showcased Aung La N Sang, also known as the Burmese Python. Aung La has lived in the US for sometime but his teenager years in Yangon and his heritage have allowed him to grow as a national treasure. His opponent was Mohamed Ali, an Egyptian muay thai fighter, no relation to boxer Muhammad Ali.
With Aung La as the featured fight in the ONE: Union of Warriors event, Thanuwanna Stadium was nearly full except for the nosebleed section that conveniently provided a space for smoking. In general, the stadium was fairly clean with almost no betel nut juice on the ground.
Before Aung La began his fight, there were a number of other matches over a span of 4 hours. Matches are surprising quick and with a maximum of 3 rounds. The majority of fights are over within two rounds, usually when referee can no longer ignore the state of a fighter who has received repeated blows to the head. Or a fight will commonly be decided from a tap out after a choke or arm bar. The sport is undoubtedly brutal and not for the squeamish. Blood makes an appearance in almost every match, and in some cases, you will witness strikes that will make you feel like you got a second-hand concussion.
It was interesting to see the different styles of Mixed Marital Arts (MMA) that each fighter was trained under, not surprising since the lineup was quite diverse with fighters from all over the world. Those with classic jujitsu or lethwei disciplines worked to keep their opponents on their feet, where they could cleanly land punches and kicks. Others wanted more of a slog, bringing the fight to the mat for a submission. In the Flyweight match, the right eye of Brazil’s Adriano “Mikinho” Moraes swelled shut after a sharp knee from the lightening quick Eugene Toquero of the Philippines. Toquero did his best to follow-up with a knockout but Moraes methodically brought things to the ground where he successfully ended it with a choke.
Many of the Burmese fighters were new to the world of official MMA. This will certain change more as lethwei continues to gain popularity. More and more fighters are coming up and being trained in this country where an old school approach is still used- no gloves, head butts allowed.
All of the Myanmar fighters were impressive in their own right. Bantamweight Tha Pyay Nyo demonstrated wiry strength and an incredible ability to absorb punches in order to remain undefeated in ONE events. In another fight, Lightweight Kyal Linn Aung’s massive head and barrel chest, tattooed with the Karen flag, made it hard to believe he was in the same weight class as his opponent. Thway Thit Aung had a similar record but was considerably smaller. Kyal Linn Aung won handily.
But the fighters did not seem to care about what disadvantages they had, instead their attitudes seemed focused on showing respect for their opponents and the spirit of competition. Just about every match ended with a sincere congratulation, even when the loser was almost knocked unconscious by the person they were hugging.
Every fighter got their own intro music with video graphics that moved across electronic walls. Besides the goal of intimidation, the video work was also meant to remind the audience of the fighter’s national origin. Mohamed Ali came out to images of pharaohs and hieroglyphics. Aung La received similar treatment along with a choreographed dance number. The crowd was on their feet, cellphone video rolling, once Aung La walked out through the firework display.
Ali started off strong with some hard swings that would have been dangerous had any of them landed cleanly. Ali was noticeably more muscular than Aung La, fueling the tension in the stadium when he dominated activity in the first two minutes. Things began to change, however, in the following 30 seconds. Aung La began to utilize his length and quickly submitted Ali in a Guillotine chokehold.
Just like that, Aung La won the fight and capped off the night. He made sure to call out ONE Middleweight World Champion, Vitaly Bigdash, after the match. If it does happen, it is unlikely to be held in Yangon. But you can be sure that the people of Myanmar will be watching.