On the surface, they have little in common. One resides in tropical Florida, the other in the hustle and bustle of Sydney, Australia. But Myanmar’s Aung La N Sang and Vietnamese- Australian Martin Nguyen share much more than their passion for martial arts.
They are more than just competitors in the world’s largest martial arts promotion.
Not only have they both been champions in two weight classes – the only two in the history of ONE Championship – they have also an unbreakable bond.
“We both came from nothing,” explained Aung La N Sang, who spent the best part of a week with Nguyen in Singapore recently.
“We’re both immigrants who at one point in our lives had nothing and we’ve made sacrifices. Our upbringings were very similar. We’re both from third-world countries – Martin’s from Vietnam and I’m from a northern part of Myanmar – and we went to another country and tried to build ourselves up there.
“We’ve made sacrifices with our family and it was hard. The things that we had to sacrifice and work through, it almost doesn’t make sense that we’ve made it to where we are. But we both had self-belief and we both believed that we could make it.”
Aung La and Nguyen first met in Jakarta, in early in 2017. Nguyen was fighting Japan’s Kazunori Yokota in the co-main event, while Aung La challenged Vitaly Bigdash in the main event at ONE: QUEST FOR POWER.
They shared a locker room and had an instant connection.
“We talked and we just hit it off,” Aung La said. “We have very similar world views and we both have a family, kids and we’re married. I like that he’s a family man. In this game, it’s kind of hard to be a family man and a full-time fighter.
“Also, he’s been a double champ and I’m a double champ, so that’s another connection that we have as well. We have a very similar worldview, too. We try to help the community and we try to live a good, straightforward life. It’s refreshing to see somebody like that in the same game.
“He’s sacrificed a lot for his family. I like the fact that he’s a good, hard-working man and he’s just a good guy. He’s an all-around good guy.”
Born and raised in Vietnam, Nguyen has garnered all his success – ONE Featherweight and Lightweight World Titles – while raising a family in Sydney, Australia.
Aung La N Sang captivated the world, securing ONE’s Light Heavyweight and Middleweight World Titles, while supporting his family in Florida.
Aung La was born in Myanmar, where he is idolized, and it hasn’t always been easy for the 33-year-old.
“As a kid growing up, I was in a family of five and we were middle class,” Aung La said.
“We never went hungry, but when I immigrated to the United States, it was hard. There were times where I had trouble paying rent, there were times when I thought about getting government support such as Food Stamp and there were times when I couldn’t pay the bills.
“That’s the hardship that I’m talking about. Martin had it worse than I did, but there was a point in my career when I thought ‘this isn’t worth it, I’m better off getting a regular job’.
“But having battled through that and finally making it and be where I am right now is something very unique and it’s something that Martin shares as well.”
Through success and hardship, Aung La and Nguyen have created a special bond. They chat regularly and often make time to catch up overseas when competing for ONE Championship.
Nguyen has planned a trip to Fort Lauderdale for his next training camp at Aung La’s Hardknocks gym, while plans are in the works for the latter to visit Australia next year.
“I’m planning a vacation, I’ll see Martin,” Aung La said.
“Martin is also going to spend part of his training camp at my gym, Hardknocks. He’ll stay with us at Fort Lauderdale and train.”
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 1/4/2019.