According to an old legend, Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda holds more gold than the treasury of the Bank of England—a fantastical assertion that, in 2018, seems perhaps increasingly more credible.

This Friday night it was confirmed to the world that, if another legend of Myanmar continues to grow, The Golden Land’s second most glittering monument, a certain Aung La N Sang, could soon rival the Shwedagon for it’s riches.

In the third in a trilogy of epic, nation-forging mixed martial arts fights at Thuwunna Indoor Stadium, the ONE Championship Middleweight World Champion successfully stepped up a weight class and dispatched Brazilian Alexandre Machado in under one minute to claim the vacant Light Heavyweight crown. ONE’s ‘Quest for Gold’ event fulfilled all pre-fight expectations, providing the latest in a now long line of scintillating nights of entertainment in Myanmar.

Amir Khan vs Timofey Nastyukhin

Amir Khan and Timofey Nastyukhin in the midst of the match. (Rasmus Steijner)

Aside from the top-billing Aung La-Machado fight, the biggest draw of the night came via the clash of ONE Championship’s most clinical lightweight knockout artists, Singapore’s Amir Khan and the Russian, Timofey Nastyukhin.

Going in to the fight, Khan had a steadily growing ONE Championship reputation, having lost none of his past six bouts. However, his opponent—the extremely talented yet less feted Nastyukhin—looked in fine form, controlling the fight from start to finish with little in the way of attack coming from the beguiled Khan.

Confident, technically perfect, and blessed with a formidable armoury of brutal fighting styles, the brick-like Russian was relentless in closing down the ring, repeatedly forcing the nervous Khan against the cage where he could question the Singaporean’s hitherto untested defences. A whipping left foot caught Khan on the cheek, gashing him in the first.

In the second, the encouraged Russian played on this cut with a series of jaw-cracking kicks, lightening quick overhand rights, and taunting left jabs piling into Khan’s face—in the build-up, Nastyukhin’s team had observed this defensive weakness in Khan, the protection of face and ribs being an observable soft spot in previous fights.

After three penetrating rounds, the decision was unambiguous—Nastyukhin now destined for a world title bout, with Khan’s future looking increasingly questionable in this most competitive of divisions.

Phoe ‘Bushido’ Thaw vs Sor Sey

Phoe Thaw won at ONE Championship: Quest for Gold. (Rasmus Steijner)

Another Myanmar brawler fast becoming legend is the aggressive, flamboyant Phoe ‘Bushido’ Thaw. Returning to Thuwanna after his brutal and bloody bout against Saw Ba Oo at the ONE Championship Hero’s Dream event, the lanky lethwei icon derived a phenomenal reception from the crowd, dancing to the ring to wild chants of his name plus a rousing rendition of a Myo Gyi classic—this welcome alone signaling the arrival of another Myanmar MMA folk hero.

Phoe Thaw’s opponent, Cambodia’s Sor Sey—a practitioner of the Kun Khmer style—never stood a chance against this fearless man with a chin of iron. A multi-talented martial artist (hence his nickname) with a loose, rangy stance, Phoe held his position in the centre of the octagon for the first minute of the fight, throwing a mix of shots and tempting out the weaknesses in Sor Say. Maintaining space with a wickedly menacing and pacy left jab while ducking and shimmying to reveal the Cambodian’s lax reactions, it was not long before Phoe Thaw had seen all that he needed to.

Then, like a sneering tiger smelling fear, he launched ferociously into the attack. Within seconds, the Myanmar had unloaded a powerful jab, a glancing hook, another jab, a landed hook, and then a left so powerful that it propelled Sor Sey to the cage. All that was left was for Bushido to apply the coup de grace, and he obliged with a sickening front push kick that roused screams of disbelief from howling punters. The right foot of Phoe Thaw connected plumb on the chin of Sor Sey cracking his neck back and sending him to the wall, slumped and unconscious. Another stunning display of force from the classy featherweight, who’s record now reads 6-0 in the ONE Championship.

Aung La ‘The Burmese Python’ N Sang vs Alexandre ‘Bebezão’ Machado

After an exciting contest between resilient lightweights Ariel Sexton and Ev Ting that led to a contestable split-decision victory for Ting (and set him up for a showdown with Nastyukhin), it was time for the familiar, spine-tingling entry of the Man from Myitkyina.

‘A Mae Lite A Ka’ began, thumping in the darkness, and, after a short hiatus, Aung La emerged, looking bemusingly calm for a man about to face an established fighter from a weight class that he had never yet competed in. The crowd wailed, lights flashed, and the now anthemic, deafening, primal chanting of Lay Phyu’s raucous anthem boomed around the stadium—always a standout highlight of these Thuwanna fights.

Impressively—and unlike his last fight with the hulking Alain Ngalani—not only did the Burmese Python look exceptionally calm, but in no way did his physique appear mismatched in comparison to the bulky, muscular Machado —a surprise, and an extremely good omen for someone looking to claim instant gold at Light Heavyweight. Akin, on the other hand, to his previous encounter, Aung La once again finished the bout in rapid, clinical fashion, leaving the crowd with little to discuss.

However, what was different about this fight was the spectacular finishing move unleashed after just one minute of the first round.

Knowing that he would need to floor Aung La and unleash his jiu jitsu abilities, Machado opened by circling the Myanmar, looking for a takedown opportunity while absorbing light, testing shots to the head and body.

Aung La and Machado. (Rasmus Steijner)

His chance never came. After sending a series of jabs to the right glove of Machado, Aung La spotted the gap and launched his gigantic frame into a flying roundhouse, his perfectly executed right-footed high kick crashing viciously into Machado’s temple and instantly sending him reeling to the ground. With the Brazilian dazed, defenceless, and defeated, Aung La darted in for the ground attack, letting fly a brutal right uppercut and winding up for a series of free punches—the official diving in with arms flailing to save Machado from the inevitable barrage. It was over, and Thuwunna once again went gloriously berserk.

Golden confetti falling from the roof to celebrate Aung La N Sang’s victory. (Rasmus Steijner)

The first Myanmar world champion of any sporting discipline joins Vietnam’s Martin Nguyen as the only other fighter in the history of ONE Championship to hold belts in two weight classes. In his post-match interview the gracious and well-spoken champion exclaimed: “One thing is for sure: Myanmar, when we are united, nothing can stop us… If we are united and we are together, we can do anything.”

Before the fight, Aung La stated that he believes his future holds limitless potential. With his two belts, his fighting force, his humility, and his phenomenal unifying power as a hero for the people of Myanmar, it is now clear that anyone disputing this claim would be extremely unwise to do so: the world is watching Aung La N Sang.


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