Aung La Nsang is rapidly emerging as the most recognizable athlete in Myanmar. He has been mobbed by crowds in Yangon this week and was recently granted an audience with the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
On Friday, La Nsang faces Alain Ngalani in a five-round open weight contest that won’t have his ONE middleweight title on the line. It is a match-up that seems to have captured the imagination of the fight fans in Yangon and it has been standing room only at the open workouts.
ONE: Hero’s Dream is the fourth card La Nsang has headlined in Yangon and momentum is building. The Burmese born fighter lives in the U.S., but is spearheading MMA’s expansion in the country where he spent his formative years.
“It’s an honor to be an ambassador and to represent my people. I know there’s a lot of following in Myanmar for my fight career and so I do feel like I am a role model for people that want to become fighters or just want to watch MMA.”
However, La Nsang isn’t likely to allow this rapidly spiraling popularity to get to his head.
Ngalani is an intimidating opponent and La Nsang confirms he has never been up against a fighter of the Cameroonian’s size.
“Ngalani is the biggest opponent I’ve ever faced. He’s super athletic, he’s a heavyweight, but he moves like a lightweight. His strikes are devastating and he is super fast and explosive.”
La Nsang says he isn’t intimidated by his opponent’s stature and that when it comes to MMA there is no substitute for skill.
“I’m glad Ngalani and I are not competing at a bodybuilding contest because I would lose, but luckily for me this is an MMA fight. It’s going to take more than physique and the looks of his muscles to beat me.”
It is the sort of match-up which could have come straight out of a martial arts movie. A local hero taking on a muscle-bound opponent. For La Nsang, this brings back some childhood memories.
“As a kid, even when I was five or six years old, we loved to watch Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and my cousins and my brothers and I would fight each other. We loved martial arts and we loved fighting.”
The middleweight title that La Nsang won in Yangon earlier this year won’t be on the line on Friday night. But the newly crowned champion won’t have to look too far for inspiration as he prepares to face an opponent who could outweigh him by 30 pounds.
“When I see that picture of me winning the world title, it just shows me that an average guy with hard work and dedication can achieve greatness and I can be a world champion. And every time I see that picture, it motivates me and wants me to work even harder.”
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