As ONE light heavyweight champion Aung La N Sang prepares to defend his title on Wednesday night at ONE on TNT 4, his mind is often torn in two directions.
While his focus always remains on the fight — now with a chance to avenge his last loss as he faces off with Reinier de Ridder in the main event — the former two-division champion never forgets what’s happening in his home nation of Myanmar.
Back in February, the military in the Southeast Asian country seized control of the country after a national election gave the National League for Democracy 83 percent of control over the parliament. Until 2011, Myanmar had been under military rule but over the past decade, the country had started to return to democratic rule.
Protests immediately sprung up all over the country but now more than 700 deaths, including women and children, have been caused as police, military troops and security forces crack down on the anti-coup demonstrations.
A native of Myanmar with family still residing there, Aung La N Sang has witnessed what’s happening in his home country from afar with his family currently residing in Florida where he trains at Sanford MMA. He typically traveled home on a regular basis not only to see friends and family who still live in Myanmar but also as an ambassador and one of the country’s most famous athletes.
Now he’s been forced to hear more and more bad news coming out of Myanmar every day as he does his best to raise awareness to what’s really happening in the country.
“It is hard,” Aung La N Sang told MMA Fighting. “Every morning, I get sad, sad news from friends and family members, it’s hard. Especially at the start of camp, it was really hard. Just breaks my heart and it’s depressing.
“All I can do as an athlete, is to shine a light on what’s going on. To give it some light to people that don’t know what’s going on. Hopefully it changes the heart of some people who can make bigger decisions than me. Because I’m not Rambo. I can’t go out there and fight the military but I can say as a good citizen of the world that what they’re doing is not right.”
Over the past few years, Aung La N Sang has actually had the chance to fight in Myanmar and the country has also honored him with ceremonies to celebrate his achievements with Min Aung Hlaing, an army general and the de facto leader in the country, even attending and presenting him with awards and honors in his name.
Now he’s witnessing atrocities carried about by the military against the people of Myanmar, who are only attempting to protest the coup that stopped democratically elected leaders from taking office.
“It’s sad,” Aung La N Sang said. “Protesters are getting sniped by the military coup. It’s nothing to play with. It’s so sad. This morning, my brother messaged me and said that our cousin’s husband is detained because he doesn’t want to use violence against the citizens and he’s a police officer there. It’s a sad situation.
“My family is not into politics, they’re not politicians so they’re safe but even little things like that where a police officer doesn’t want to use violence on the citizens and he’s detained for it. Arrested for it. It’s just sad.”
Since the military first seized control of the Myanmar government, Aung La N Sang has done whatever he could to raise awareness to what’s happening there including sharing numerous stories on social media, where he maintains a loyal following from fans around the globe.
The situation in Myanmar has also alerted the reigning ONE champion to appreciate the life he’s been able to build for his family in the United States.
“I think as Americans, we should be thankful for the things and the freedom that we have,” he said. “Sometimes we take it for granted but a lot of the world doesn’t have the freedom that we have and we should be grateful for it and to continue to be positive.”
As for his fight happening on Wednesday night, Aung La N Sang is obviously fighting for more than just a title as he prepares to face de Ridder for the second time in a row.
Their last meeting ended in dramatic fashion with de Ridder finishing “The Burmese Python” at just over three minutes into the opening round.
This time around, Aung La N Sang hopes to get his vengeance and earning a win over de Ridder matters far more to him than the belt going up for grabs.
“Right now, just getting the win back. That matters more,” he said. “I could care less for the belt or not. Just care to get that win back against de Ridder.”