YANGON: Myanmar’s mixed martial arts star the “Burmese Python” pummeled his Egyptian opponent on Friday in a homecoming debut after more than a decade away, igniting raucous cheers from enthusiastic fans on his home turf.
Aung La N Sang triumphed over Egypt’s Mohamed Ali with a chokehold in the headline bout of a ONE Championship tournament in Yangon that lasted just one round.
“This is Myanmar’s victory, not mine,” Aung La N Sang told a jubilant crowd following the match held just up the road from where he lived as a teenager.
“I’ll be back stronger,” said the 30-year-old, who was born in Myanmar but moved to the United States when he was 18.
Fighting in front of the bombastic home crowd, Aung La N Sang initially appeared to falter as Ali drove through a series of forceful blows.
But the “Burmese Python”, as local fans have come to know him, took the upper hand after Ali pitched forward with a punch.
Aung La N Sang locked him into a powerful chokehold, forcing Ali to tap out at 2.38 minutes.
The fight was broadcast across Asia, where the sport commands an avid fanbase.
Aung La N Sang has a keen following among boxing fans in Myanmar who have battled lacklustre Internet speeds to follow his progress online and laud his visit on social media.
“We are very proud tonight. Our fighter will be the best in the world. He is really amazing,” said Thet Aung, a local fan who said he was still learning about mixed martial arts.
Most Myanmar fighting enthusiasts follow the bone-crunching local fighting style lethwei, that local pugilists say is the toughest member of Southeast Asia’s kickboxing family—even more brutal than Thailand’s better known Muay Thai.
On an earlier visit to Myanmar in January Aung La N Sang said he wanted to help Myanmar lethwei fighters diversify their techniques in order to compete internationally in mixed martial arts.
He was born in Myanmar’s northern state of Kachin—a war-torn area bordering China—when the country was still under junta rule.
After studying agriculture in the US state of Indiana he abandoned plans to return to his homeland after discovering a love for jiu jitsu, staying on to train in mixed martial arts in America, where he now runs a gym.
Earlier he told Agence France-Presse that returning to fight in Myanmar was “pretty awesome”.
“I had the best reception from the people here,” he said.
The 6’1″ middleweight fighter now has 17 wins and 9 losses under his belt.