ONE middleweight and light heavyweight champion Aung La N Sang is a hero to the people of Myanmar. When he fights in the country — as he has in his last four bouts — it has the feeling of a national event. The Burmese champion draws nationwide media attention and unfailingly packs Yangon’s Thuwunna Indoor Stadium to the rafters.
His next fight, which will pit him against the undefeated Mohammad Karaki in the main event of ONE: Pursuit of Greatness this Friday, will be no different.
Speaking on a recent episode of BJPENN.COM Radio, Aung La N Sang discussed his status as a hero to his countrymen, and his upcoming fight.
“It’s motivating for sure,” he said of his status as a hero in Myanmar. “It’s motivating and it’s humbling, it’s something that I would never imagine or dream about. It’s hard for me to see myself like that. When I go to Burma, it’s like people are taking pictures and they’re all in your face, it’s kind of hard sometimes, but at the same time you have to understand that it comes with what I’m doing right now.”
While Aung La N Sang is honored to be considered a hero by his people, he doesn’t take his status as such lightly. The ONE two-weight champion believes it’s his duty to perform to the best of his ability for the millions of Burmese that look up to him.
“There’s 52 million Burmese around the world and I’m the only champion that they have so it’s important that, for me as a person, I need to do everything that I can to be the best that I can. Whenever I compete for them, I represent them. I have to represent them with integrity and work hard so that I can make them proud.”
“So, to me it’s motivating. To me, it’s motivating and it keeps me hungry.”
Aung La N Sang admits that he pressure to deliver an impressive win for his countrymen can at times be difficult to deal with. That said, he says he’s gotten quite good at quieting all the noise when the cage door closes.
“It’s a lot of pressure, but when I fight, I don’t put pressure on myself,” he said. “When I fight, I stay focused and I don’t dwell so much on the pressure. The thing is, I have in my career, I have 10 losses, and with the losses, you develop mental toughness. And I have to read sport psychology books and learned to put no pressure on myself when I compete.”
“So I don’t really feel that pressure when I compete, but of course, you turn the news on and you see like your match on TV and stuff like that, it is a lot of pressure. Everybody’s talking about it in the country, so it is a lot of pressure, but I try not to take it with me when I compete.”
Against the undefeated Mohammad Karaki, Aung La N Sang is unlikely to have an easy time producing a win for his throngs of Burmese fans. That said, he feels he’s up for the challenge. Having trained under the tutelage of legendary coach Henri Hooft, and alongside monsters like Linton Vassell and Volkan Oezdemir, he feels well-prepared for the challenge at hand.
“My opponent is undefeated fighter, a Gracie [jiu jitsu] brown belt,” Aung La N Sang said of Karaki. “He has a good, strong grappling base, good ground and pound, and he’s a two-division champion in the Middle East as well. I’ve watched a lot of his matches and I really think that he’s going to come in and he’s going to lean towards taking it to the ground, since he’s more of a grappler. It’s going to be a fun match. You know how undefeated fighters have a lot of confidence? It’s going to be good. And I like that. I like tough fights.”
“He’s coming in from a different organization, he’s undefeated, he’s younger than me… so it’s going to be fun”
If Aung La N Sang is able to thwart Karaki at ONE: Pursuit of Greatness in Yangon, it will spark a celebration all across the country. Yet he doesn’t feel that that’s where his work ends. Outside of his fights, the two-division ONE champ is focused on improving the life of his fellow Burmese in other ways.
“[In Myanmar] we don’t have the same luxuries as people in America do,” he said. “We don’t have the same opportunity that a lot of the people do.”
“I want to bring opportunity to people in my country as well and I want to kind of change their mindsets,” he added. “I do plan on starting a scholarship program in Myanmar so the young kids can start training MMA, get a good education and have an opportunity to do what they love and to have food on the table and education taken care of.”
Catch Aung La N Sang back in action at ONE: Pursuit of Greatness this Friday. Just be prepared to turn your stream up if you want to hear the commentary over the deafening cheers of his legions of Burmese faithful.
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 10/23/2018.