Aung La N Sang is among the most recognizable faces of Singapore’s own MMA promotion, One Championship. Born in Myanmar, Aung La N Sang had a run in the regional circuit that seemed fairly inconspicuous.
However, little would anyone know that Aung La would make waves at the world-class level, to become a two-division champion in One Championship.
Nicknamed “The Burmese Python”, Aung La (now 37), is well known for his superb submission skills, especially now that he trains at the renowned Sanford MMA gym in Florida.
Aung La N Sang has proven himself to be an all round threat as his striking is just as formidable.
KFK recently had the pleasure of catching up with the legendary fighter to chat about his career highlights, background, training, mindset and more…
So without further ado, please welcome Myanmar’s first ever World Champion, and national hero (a bronze statue in his honor stands in his hometown park), ONE Championship’s Aung La N Sang!
Greetings Aung La, first off, it’s great to connect with you, and I hope you’re doing well?
Good morning. Yes, thank you!
That’s great to hear! What do you think of our name, KFK, and mission, which is to inspire 100 million people across the world to get into martial arts?
It sounds pretty cool, very martial-arts-like. Kung fu is something that I used to watch a lot as a kid. I think martial arts is a great way of life. As far as respect and hard work goes, that’s what martial arts teaches, so it’s a great mission!
Agree! Now let’s start off with the basics, when and where were you born?
I was born in Myitkyina in Kachin State in Myanmar on May 21st, 1985.
What is your height and weight, including your walkaround weight?
I’m about 220lb (100kg) right now, and 6’1” (1.85m) fighting in the middleweight division.
Which is 205lb (93kg) for One Championship?
Yes, and 185lb (84kg) for other promotions.
I see. Looking back, which 5 figures would you say have most inspired you on your martial arts journey?
When I was a kid, I watched Jet Li a lot. So, I like Jet Li. And of course, when it comes to boxing, there’s Muhammad Ali, Tyson, and Canelo Álvarez. I like to watch all kinds of martial arts!
Cool! What age were you when you first started out in martial arts?
I started in primary school. We did some karate and stuff like that, but I wouldn’t say it was super serious, it was more like a hobby back then.
I always had a passion for it, but in Myanmar, they don’t have real martial arts studios or academies, so I didn’t train seriously until I came to the United States in 2003. I started training in 2004.
Okay, so what disciplines or styles did you start with? And what made you decide to transition into MMA?
I started with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai. I did Jiu-Jitsu for about a year, and then I started MMA.
Great! Before you signed to One Championship, you fought in the regional circuit including a couple of pretty big names like Uriah Hall and Costas Philippou. What are some of your fondest, most memorable career stories from before One, and any amateur fight that wasn’t recorded, on Tapology, for example?
I would say before One Championship, my most memorable win would be my fight in Bellator (vs.Jesus Martinez). The reason being was that I was a big underdog on a 2-fight losing streak, yet I still got that KO win. That was my most memorable moment from back then.
As far as an amateur career, I didn’t really have one because when started fighting in 2005, MMA was just MMA. There was one fight in Battle Creek, which I won, which wasn’t recorded. As far as prior to One Championship, my biggest win was probably the Bellator fight.
That’s a real underdog story! Another thing worth noting is that before you signed with One, you didn’t have a record that looked significant on paper, but once you got to One, you became a two-division champion. What changes did you make to get so good?
I just grew up and started putting everything into it, becoming a full-time fighter. I think you have to understand that nobody is born with all the talent and skill sets, you just have to work on it.
As for myself, coming from Myanmar, I don’t have any martial arts background like some people in the States do. It took me about 10 years before I was comfortable with what I developed. That’s probably the reason, and also making sure I was mentally in the moment, with my sports psychology on point.
Got it. Now, you fought Vitaly Bigdash for the title, lost the first match, but won the rematch. What adjustments did you make in preparation for the rematch, and what interesting stories can you share about your Bigdash fights?
Yes! My first fight was on short notice and it was right after Christmas, so I wasn’t in shape, and I knew I probably didn’t have all 5 rounds in me. I probably had the first 2 rounds, but I wasn’t in shape.
For the second fight, I really trained hard for it, prepared you know, put everything aside and just focused on making sure I was on point. I made sure my diet was good, my training was good and that I was training like a professional, and that made the difference.
The adjustments paid off! After winning the middleweight title, you fought Alain Ngalani in an openweight bout and submitted him. What can you tell us about that?
When I watched his fight, the fight before mine, he knocked out another heavyweight very impressively. So everybody was worried for me and I got to meet Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, so it was cool.
She’s the daughter of the general that won independence for Myanmar from British colonization in World War II. She was like, “I don’t really follow MMA, but I know you’re gonna be fighting Alain. I’m really worried for you. I pray that you win.” Getting to meet her and talk to her was one of the coolest things.
It’s awesome to have that kind of support. So, after your fight with Alain, you fought for and won the Light Heavyweight title against Alexandre Machado. What standout moments do you recall about that fight?
It was my first training camp in Florida, and working with Henri Hooft. Before that, I was more known for my grappling. For the Machado fight, I worked very hard with Henri Hooft, with the result that I knocked Machado out.
As far as something that’s most memorable, I left my family on the first day of 2018. Right after New Year’s, I drove down to Florida and I stayed at an Airbnb for about two months to train for this fight. Then I flew out of Florida with my new camp, so that was something very memorable and significant, and I’ve been with the team since.
That’s quite the sacrifice! Now, perhaps your highest profile fight was your title defense against UFC veteran, Brandon Vera in One Century. What highlights do you best recall about that fight?
I was fighting a man who was once my idol. I was a big fan of Brandon Vera. You know he fought in the UFC before, so it was amazing getting to fight him in Tokyo.
The Tokyo experience and being in Japan is pretty amazing, especially with its culture. Everything I got to witness was great and there were a lot of Burmese and British fans in Tokyo as well. Having them cheer for me was really amazing.
Sounds like you had a fantastic time. Out of all of your title wins, who would you say was your most challenging opponent?
I think Vitaly Bigdash was the most challenging.
I see. You lost both your titles to Reinier de Ridder, who is an exceptional grappler, and even though you put on a statement against Leandro Ataides with a round-1 KO win, you unfortunately lost the trilogy fight against Bigdash. Despite that, are you still planning on making a comeback? What adjustments have you been making to your grappling/ground game?
Well I don’t think I’ve reached my potential or ceiling yet. So just wait and watch! I know the game plan against me, based on the two that fought me. So we’ve got to change up the stuff I need to work on, and we’re going to come back much stronger.
Looking forward to that! Outside of martial arts, you’re considered an icon and national hero in Myanmar. How has that experience been for you?
It doesn’t mean much to me in the sense that it doesn’t make me anything more than who I am. You know, I’m just a guy, just a man that’s trying to provide for his family and working on being the best in his craft.
So I try not to let it get to my head or interfere with who I am. It doesn’t really identify me. The big picture is that I have to be the man that I see myself as, when I look in the mirror…
A Day in the Life of Aung La…
Totally understand that. Please walk us through a day in the life of Aung La N Sang!
Well, I wake up around 7am, get myself ready, get my kids ready and take them to school around 8am. We have an hour window to get everything ready and then after that, I go to the gym at around 9am, and I train until around noon.
Then I come back, have lunch, and pick up the kids. Sometimes I take a short nap to get my energy back because when we train, we lose about five to six pounds of sweat. It’s pretty intense, and then I go back to training again at around 4pm, and I’m there until probably 8pm. So I train twice a day, 6 days a week, and then we have Sunday off.
That’s quite a demanding schedule you’ve got there! What’s your diet like leading up to fights, which foods help you stay strong and energetic for training and life as well as for fight camps when you have to cut weight?
We look into our macros a lot, making sure I’m getting that protein and enough carbs on the days that I’m training hard, and then lowering carbs on the days that I’m not training. I have a nutritionist, Dr. Doug Kalman. There is no specific food because we look more into macros like chicken, goat meat etc.
As for carbs, we’re into sweet potatoes, rice and tubers. You know what tubers are? They’re like potatoes, but they’re almost like the roots. As far as vegetables, we do broccoli, green peas, green leaves, etc. And we eat at a specific, set time.
In the morning, I have about six eggs before training, and then after training we do carbs with the protein and vegetables. At 4pm, I have a small snack, and for dinner after training, it’s similar to lunch since we have pre-made food.
I see. So now you train with Martin Nguyen, who’s also a former two-division champion. You also have former rival Brandon Vera training with you at Sanford MMA. How has it been training with both guys and how has it contributed to your success in the circle?
We’re in the same room, but I don’t really train with them. Right now, I train mostly with the middleweights and they’re not really in my weight class. So I can’t say, but the energy is good.
Brandon is back in Guam. But there’s always good energy when I have my friends around me. When Martin comes to camp, he lives with us so we stick with the diet, we stick with the training regimen. We keep it pretty simple.
Aung La N Sang’s Top 3 Favourites
That’s a great support group! So now onto your top 3 favorites. What are Aung La’s Top 3 favorite martial-arts movies of all time?
“Once Upon a Time in China” with Jet Li. I like a lot of Jet Li movies. There’s also another one where Jet Li tries to save his mom with a bunch of swords. I think you might be too young for that one! He blinds himself and fights his tribespeople, but he has like a bunch of swords. Third has to be Bruce Lee’s “Enter the Dragon“. (I also like the 80’s Jackie Chan films)
Yes, the 80’s and 90’s golden era of martial arts films! Now what would you say are Aung La’s top 3 most memorable MMA fights of all time?
I would say Wanderlei vs Sakuraba. As for a recent one, my friend Gilbert Burns vs Khamzat Chimaev. That was a fun fight to watch. Then of course, there’s Robbie Lawler vs Rory MacDonald 2, when they were fighting for the title and Robbie broke Rory’s nose in the 5th round.
That was a fun fight to watch, and I know both of them really well. They’re both really good human beings.
Most definitely! So what about your own top 3 MMA fights?
First one’s got to be winning the title from Bigdash. Second, beating Brandon Vera, and third, I would say Chris Price, former two-time UFC veteran, when I fought him in Indiana
Advice & Reflections
Solid. Now onto advice and reflections…What suggestions would you give to those looking to pursue MMA as a career?
It’s a hard way to make a living, you know? But if your heart’s in it, and you’re really passionate about it then great. You’ll need to focus on improving your skill sets, whilst learning and growing in the training room. It’s not all about winning, it’s about learning and getting better.
Then in fights, understand that as long as you’re improving and building your skill set, keep going and don’t give up. I’ve known many fighters that were way more talented than me, yet they gave up and stopped when they could’ve become somebody.
Fun & Leisure
That’s really sound advice! What are your hobbies outside of martial arts?
I’m a family man, and I have two kids right now. I like to hang out with my kids, take them out to parks, and go to the beach with them. I like to go fishing, cook and make good food. Other than that, just outdoor stuff, like hiking and exploring.
Great to be active in other ways even outside the gym. What’s one geeky or uniquely interesting thing that people don’t know about you?
I love card games! There’s a game called Settlers of Catan that I like to play. (“Catan”, has previously been known as “The Settlers of Catan” or simply “Settlers”. Ed.) That’s really geeky right? When I was in middle school, there was a card game called Magic: The Gathering. Right now, I’m playing this card game called Skull King. I love it because it’s so strategic. So this is probably the most geeky thing about me!
Interesting hobby you have there. If you could be a superhero, who would you be and what superpower would you most like to have?
I’d say Superman because he has all the powers. He’s fast, strong, has laser beam eyes…he can do everything Hulk, Cyclops, and Wolverine can do. He has all the powers of all the other superheroes.
Yep, popular choice! Say, which warrior wisdom quotes or philosophy has helped you become who you are today?
“Talent is overrated.” You know the saying: “Hard work beats talent when talent refuses to work hard.”
That’s probably one of my favorite quotes. I see it over and over again in my career and in life, you know when somebody’s super-talented but lazy, they go nowhere. But when someone less talented, or mediocre, works hard and has a great work ethic, putting their heart, soul and lives into it, they become somebody.
That’s a great quote and narrative to absorb! Now last but not least, what special message would you like to share with Kung Fu Kingdom followers and your fans around the world right now?
The world right now is confusing, but also very volatile. It seems like there’s wars going on everywhere.
My message to the fans is just be a good human being. It doesn’t matter where or which part of the world you’re from. Be a good human being, be compassionate, and just because you work hard, follow your passion, and want to succeed doesn’t mean that you have to take advantage of other people.
You can become successful along with other people around you, and they can also become successful as well. Understand that everybody has their own struggles, so just be a good human being. At the end of the day you know, everybody’s the same. You and I are the same.
I really love that message. Thanks so much Aung La! It’s been an honour and a real pleasure to interview you and we wish you all the best of success with your endeavours in the rest of 2022, and your upcoming fights!
Thank you all.