In an electrically charged night at Thuwanna Indoor Stadium, Myanmar’s favourite son, Aung La Nsang, defeated the hulking Alain Ngalani in the first round of their ONE Championship Hero’s Dream bout.
The stunning upset – Ngalani had been 2-1 bookies favourite – was a fitting finale to a night of high energy and drama broadcast live across the world from Yangon.
The Hero’s Dream undercard produced a number of astounding displays from the roster of rising stars who had travelled to Myanmar to scrap in-front of a raucous crowd of 25,000. The technical performance of the evening was provided by China’s ‘Supermom’, Miao Jie – an established name in the world of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – who bought her talents to bear on her opponent, Australia’s Amira Hafizovic, to devastating effect.
Charging into action direct from the ring of the bell, Miao landed a perfectly executed hip-toss to begin her ground assault. After manipulating her opponent into a series of submission holds, she pounced at the opportunity to perform a masterful armbar with a force and precision that brought about an instant tap-out from the beguiled Australian. This was a show of brilliance, and was also record-breaking: the forty-five second fight was the fastest finish in ONE Women’s Championship’s history – Miao having raised the bar she herself had set just two month prior.
In what was unanimously hailed the fight of the night in beer stations and bars around Myanmar directly after the fight, the brutally flamboyant Phoe ‘Bushido’ Thaw came up against promising talent Saw Ba Oo in a clash of two exceptional Featherweight fighters with tough lethwei backgrounds.
The cocky, lanky, Phoe Thaw opened by stepping in and out of Saw Ba’s range, taunting the shorter man with good natured jibes whilst throwing the occasional jab. However, the underdog was quick to show that he was not to be demeaned by his confident aggressor and hastily turned the tables. After a minute of technical work pressed against the cage, Saw Ba burst from Phoe Thaw’s grasp and attacked, visibly enraged, with a wild frenzy of hooks and swipes, throwing the favourite off guard and bloodying his previously sneering gums.
From here until the final minute of the third round, the fight was a manic affair – with Thuwanna baying and rocking as the two brave brawlers engaged in wholehearted back-and-forth warfare. Just as one man appeared to have the upper hand, the other would reverse a hold, or return fire with bruising barrage of lefts and rights.
In the final round, with both men visibly exhausted, Phoe Thaw prevailed, making use of his greater experience and ganglier physique. One fine round-house caught Saw Ba square on the jaw with the crack ringing across the stadium and the recipient staring – agasp and wide-eyed – at his snarling, Yakuza-tattooed opponent. It was a fight-winning kick and, although further gruelling exchanges prevailed, Phoe Thaw had shaken Saw Ba Oo and the final minutes were a more cautious affair.
The split decision which followed was warranted – Saw Ba was victor of the first round, with the other two being frenetic and complex – yet Phoe Thaw availed the deserved victor, having produced another fine all-round performance whilst exhibiting a chin of solid golden jade – the type found only in Myanmar, a country where you need not one but two knockouts to win a lethwei fight.
And then, the main event. Thuwanna rose to it’s feet; ecstatic, deafening, awash with the flow of dazzling blue glow-sticks from the upper stands. The lights dimmed, MC Hammer’s ‘Can’t Touch This’ began – funky and ungainly – and the 42 year-old Ngalani emerged on stage, the phenomenal physique of the four-time World Kickboxing Champion eliciting involuntary squeals of fear and excitement from the ringside starlets and VIPs.
After the ringwalk of this behemoth came perhaps the most spine-tingling moment in the history of competitive Myanmar sport. In the pitch darkness of the stadium attendees rose to their feet, coming together through a chant ‘Aung La’ that reportedly could be heard for miles around. Then, with an explosion of graphics across the imposing stadium screens and the booming, rousing rendition of Aung La’s ringwalk anthem – A Mal Lite A Ka – the Burmese Python stormed energetically to the ring.
The fight itself failed to satisfy expectations, yet delivered an outcome which delighted all in attendance. From the opening bell, the strategies of each fighter were clear for all to see: the kickboxer Ngalani looking to stay on his feet and tease out the range and power of the Python’s fists, with the Myanmar ducking left and right looking for his chance to wrestle the giant Cameroonian to the floor, using his superior grappling skills to undo his less agile, muscle-bound opponent.
But the man from Myitkyina, looking notably weightier than in previous fights – a necessity of stepping up from middleweight to compete in this unusual ‘open weight’ encounter – played his strategy to a tee. Ngalani powered Aung La to the mat and began orchestrating a dominant ground game. For one and a half minutes, the middleweight champion protected himself, keeping the Hong Kong heavyweight from gaining a submission hold across his waist, eventually turning over the man with piston arms, raising him up, and slipping Ngalani’s head into successive under-arm holds, realising this was his chance to use his grappling advantage to gain a surprise victory.
On the third attempt, Aung La succeeded in flipping Ngalani. With the Burmese Python’s arms restricting the artery to the Hong Kong Panther’s brain, it was seconds before the bigger man tapped out – overcome by the skill and tactical superiority of Myanmar’s champion. The David versus Goliath bout had lasted just four minutes and thirty-one seconds and Thuwanna once again went berserk for their hero – the myth of Aung La Nsang growing larger with every passing day.