Henri Hooft is a legendary trainer, and one of his newest pupils, Tial Thang, made his professional debut last year at ONE: Reign of Valor. Thang followed that victory up with another win in December at ONE: Mark of Greatness.
Thang is already a calculated technician, which fits in well with Hooft’s style. The Burmese athlete has a powerful base discipline of wrestling, and he’s obviously attempting to broaden his skillset under the tutelage of Hooft.
The four-time Chin State Wrestling Champion may have never crossed paths with Hooft were it not for his family relocating to the United States when he was 10 years old.
Before settling down in America, Thang and his family lived in a few different countries, which led to Thang being exposed to multiple languages and cultures. However, martial arts helped to bridge the gap between him and others.
While in high school in New York, Thang dominated as a wrestler. He won over 500 matches in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. He also acquired experience with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Because of this exposure, Thang was seemingly ready-made for a career in mixed martial arts.
Despite the obvious fit, Thang wasn’t inspired to pursue mixed martial arts until he watched his countryman, and ONE Middleweight & Light Heavyweight World Champion, Aung La N Sang compete.
The Burmese connection drew him and because of Aung La’s popularity, the influence was strong.
Thang had an opportunity to meet with Aung La, and “The Burmese Python” gave him tips and best practices. Thang decided to turn pro and he’s off to a great start with one of the top martial arts organizations in the world.
Hooft is trying to round Thang into more than just a grappler without abandoning the discipline that he’s already proven to be proficient in since he took up the martial arts. Thang’s debut was a major step for obvious reasons, but it was also a homecoming for him.
“My debut was awesome because it was my first time going back to my country of Burma in 14 years,” Thang said.
“It was also my professional debut. It’s even sweeter because I got the victory. Then I (got) to see my grandmother and that was a very big thing. The fight and everything else was just great. I love everything about the last fight.”
Thang is in a position to follow in Aung La’s footsteps and to perhaps become an iconic figure in his homeland.
As of now, Aung La is the biggest sports star in Myanmar, and that’s unlikely to change any time soon. However, there is room for another top-notch athlete to ascend and share some of the spotlights with Aung La.
In Thang’s second bout, a win over Kim Woon Kyoum, he badly wanted a finish to show his growth, but it wasn’t in the cards, Instead, he took another unanimous-decision win on the strength of his powerful wrestling.
The martial arts world should keep Thang on their radar. If Hooft can help him become more of a threat in stand-up exchanges, the bantamweight prospect might be able to make some noise down the line.
This article first appeared on BJPENN.com on 1/13/2020.