Aung La N Sang defends his ONE light heavyweight world championship on Wednesday, April 28th. The pride of Myanmar was initially supposed to defend the hardware against Vitaly Bigdash in a high-stakes rubber match.
COVID-19 complications have resulted in Bigdash no longer competing in a few days. But N Sang will still face an adversary he is familiarized with.
Aung La N Sang defends his ONE light heavyweight belt against the man who took his middleweight gold last time out, Reinier de Ridder.
Below are several excerpts from my conversation with Aung La N Sang ahead of this huge title fight.
Aung La N Sang
Working with Henri Hooft and the comprehensive coaching staff at Sanford MMA
“It’s been great working with Henri (Hooft), Greg Jones, and Kami. And then our strength and conditioning coach Corey Peacock. We’ve got Nik Lentz jumping into the coaching staff as well. So it’s been great.”
Who Aung La N Sang is sparring with ahead of this rematch
“Well, we have quite a few middleweights right now. This week I sparred with Brendan Allen. …We have Phil Hawes. We have Mukhamed (Berkhamov) as well. Mukhamed came from ACA, the welterweight champion there…Brandon Vera’s here as well. So I’ve got a very good group of guys for sparring.”
Having options in multiple weight classes but not eyeballing a heavyweight title shot
“I don’t really care for opponents. Don’t care who I fight. I want to be the best version of myself. Don’t think the best version of myself is at heavyweight. It’s more at light heavyweight or middleweight.”
heavyweight (?), light heavyweight, and middleweight
What informed this idea of not wanting to compete as a heavyweight?
“Just training with heavyweights. I know I’m not a heavyweight. If I was like four or five inches taller and I was a little bit heavier, it would be fine. But if I were to be the best version of myself. If you ask me what weight class I would fight at, it’s either middleweight or light heavyweight. It’s not heavyweight.”
Feeling like a younger fighter lately and what inspired that renewed sense of vigor
“Losing lights a fire under your butt. So for me, that last loss really hurt me. It really wanted me to be a better performer, a better fighter, a better everything. I’m going to show it on April 28th.”
Last fight at middleweight, this contest at light heavyweight, and the divisional future of Aung La N Sang
“My weight is actually in between the two classes. If you see me training in the gym, I train with heavyweights a lot too. I would say I have as much difficult time with the heavyweights as I do with a welterweights. Or I have as easy of a time with the heavyweights as I do with the welterweights. So for me, it’s just changing my body a little bit. Changing the diet a little bit, just choosing, handpicking more of the heavier fighters. Or the lighter fighters when I change weight classes.”
ONE on TNT IV
The ONE welterweight champion has been calling you out a little bit. Thoughts on Kiamrian Abbasov angling for a fight with you?
“Yeah, everybody that called me out while I was the middleweight and the light heavyweight champ, I’m calling them back out. I want all of them. I want every one of them and I remember all of them. So Abbasov, you’re gonna get it back.”
“They don’t respect you until you punch them in the face. I mean, it’s easy to call somebody out. It’s easy to say this and say that. But when it’s time to fight, it’s time to fight. Let’s see what they have to offer. I could care less, man. Everybody that called me out, I want every one of them.”
The horror of the military coup in Myanmar and Aung La N Sang’s position being a hero for the Myanmar people
“For sure. Starting camp, it was really depressing and it really weighed on me. I had to talk to a sports psychologist to be able to control it. The fighting that we do in the cage is nothing compared to what’s going on in Myanmar. I wouldn’t have this opportunity if I lived in Myanmar. As somebody living in America, I have to embrace that. And I have to be grateful for the opportunity that I get to compete and do what I love. Something that I’m passionate in and it’s also a way for me to kind of spotlight what’s happening in Myanmar.”
N Sang vs de Ridder
The possible cathartic release of Wednesday’s fight in getting to shine a spotlight on Myanmar
“I’m hoping to do that. That goes back to working with a sports psychologist on that topic. You don’t want it to hinder your performance. You want it to be more of like a motivation for your performance. Honestly, there are some points when I look at the news and the media of what’s going on in Myanmar, I get depressed and I can’t train right. I go in and spar and I get hit with shots I usually don’t get hit with because my mind is not right. And that’s the reason why I’m working with a sports psychologist right now. So that I can get my mind right.”
The lack of North American media awareness of the Myanmar tragedies
“A lot of the Western media is not going to cover Myanmar. Because if you Google it, Myanmar has the longest ongoing civil war that is over seven decades-long, you know. It’s a civil war that’s ongoing for over seven decades. And no news coverage. No news media, no news outlet really. I mean they do cover it, but not to the extent that they should be. For me it’s a chance to be able to fight on TNT, it’s a chance for me to spotlight Myanmar.”
Aung La N Sang in Lethwei?
Lethwei has thousands of years of history in Myanmar. Is taking a Lethwei bout on the proverbial bucket list there for you?
“It’s not really on the bucket list. But if it happened, I would be down for it. If there’s enough interest in it. Because remember, my life’s work is not really in Lethwei. It’s in mixed martial arts. So if it happens I will be more than happy. But that being said, I do believe you know how Muay Thai is big in MMA, Boxing is big in MMA, wrestling is big in MMA, and all these you know martial arts are big in MMA, jiu-jitsu is big. There’s no reason why Lethwei shouldn’t be big in MMA. Besides the headbutt, you know.”
You wouldn’t want that to be integrated into the ruleset?
“I wouldn’t mind. I have a big head.”
Aung La N Sang vs Reinier de Ridder II
Do you have an MMA bucket list of things you would like to accomplish?
“Yeah. Be the best version of myself. Understand how high-level mixed martial artists in each skill set work. I have a good understanding of the level of jiu-jitsu it takes to perform at a high level in MMA. And I kind of have an understanding for kickoxing, boxing, and starting to in the wrestling department. But I would like to get better, become a better teacher as well when I’m done fighting. And so right now my goal is to just absorb and learn everything.”
The complicated timeline for starting a gym/ becoming a coach in his post-competitive career
“Yes. Well, initially I was going to open up a gym in Burma next month. It was supposed to open earlier this year already. It was supposed to be the grand opening next month. But that’s not going to happen because the coup. Now that plan is gonna have to change somehow. And I really believe that my calling was going back and giving back to Myanmar. And that’s partly the reason why I didn’t speak out against the coup immediately. In Myanmar, things change a lot. Political one year, democratic the next year, it’s like under military dictatorship.”
“It’s weird and as a person out here, I didn’t want to condemn the political coup right away. And I got a lot of backlash for it. But I really believe my calling is going back to Myanmar and teaching. Now that’s taken away from me, I don’t know what I’m going to do. But Sanford (MMA), you know, maybe coaching the developmental team.”
Myanmar Military Coup
The criticism N Sang was getting from the Myanmar people in the early stages of the coup
“They love you one moment and then they hate you the next. That saying really hit home with me. They were cussing me out saying that I should be ashamed of myself for not standing up for them when they stood up for me. It’s a hard topic right now, because it really put me in some sort of depression. And it was hard for me. In training and in my personal life, the people around me could see it was affecting me and I didn’t like that.”
“Because people online talk a lot and I’m the kind of person that would read it and internalize it. When I probably shouldn’t have, you know. That’s the reason why I talked to a sports psychologist. So I can focus just on this fight and performing to the best of my ability.”
Parting thoughts for Aung La N Sang
“Just tell my fans, thank you for all the love and support. It’s a hard time in Myanmar right now. So pray for them. And as Americans, we should be grateful for the freedoms that we have. And the constitution that protects us. So at the end of the day, we’re one human race. We should just be kind and respectful to others. That’s all.”
I’ve been enamored with combat sports for as long as I can remember. I’ve hosted MMA talk shows Lights Out and Pure Fight Radio with featured guests like Jens Pulver, Roy Nelson, Miesha Tate, Mark Coleman, and more. I’ve been an MMA broadcaster for XFFC as well as BTC and have done play by play commentary on live pay per view on GFL as well as FITE TV. I’ve provided written, audio, and video content covering some of the biggest MMA promotions like Rumble in the Cage, Unified MMA, and King of the Cage. I’ve worked as a sports entertainment personality for over five years and given play-by-play or featured promotions of KSW, ONE Championship, TKO, and Invicta FC. My work can be found in the USA Today Sports affiliate MMA Torch, Cageside Press, MMA Sucka, and Liberty Multimedia.