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Praise of the highest order for ‘Burmese Python’ after chokehold triumph

Aung La Nsang with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi before his bout against Alain Ngalani. (Photo: Aung La Nsang)

With a lightning-fast defeat of the world kickboxing champion, Burmese national Aung La Nsang won not only the openweight title on Friday night but also the admiration and praise of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and the military’s top brass.

The Kachin State-born “Burmese Python” returned to his home country for the ONE Championship 63, “Hero’s dream,” at Thuwanna Stadium in Yangon on Friday, only months after he dispatched Russian Vitaly Bigdash to take the middleweight belt.

His third effort in Burma solidified his position as the nation’s mixed martial arts darling, earning a personal congratulations from Suu Kyi, who lauded his “brilliant and amazing victory” over Friday’s challenger.

The state counsellor was quick to deliver the praise after Aung La Nsang delivered a chokehold that forced Cameroonian giant Alain “The Panther” Ngalani to tap out a little over four minutes into the first round despite the Kachin fighter sustaining heavy blows in the early going. The mismatched card looked to be a David and Goliath battle from the start, with the Hong Kong-based Cameroonian sitting a comfortable two weight classes above the homegrown talent.

Aung La Nsang attributed his victory to the ravenously supportive Yangon crowd in his corner.

“Thank you, Myanmar, I love you. Moving up to heavyweight was tough for me. But you guys lifted me,” he said.

Colonel Min Thet Oo of the Yangon Regional Military Command presented the Kachin fighter with a certificate on behalf of Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing and the Tatmadaw on Sunday, celebrating him for “uplifting the nation’s pride with his unrivalled bravery and mixed martial arts skills.” Aung La Nsang will also take 10 million kyats ($7,300) home to his family in Maryland, US, thanks to the Tatmadaw.

Perhaps alluding to ongoing conflict in Burma, Aung La Nsang posted a reflective message on Instagram after the bout, accompanying a photo of the competitors with the text, “If Alain and I can be friends afterwards, then every tribe, every brother and sister in Myanmar can be friends.”

Myitkyina-born but United States-raised, Aung La Nsang has largely remained quiet about both the ongoing struggles plaguing his own Kachin people and the Rohingya crisis on Burma’s western border. The caption was warmly received by Burmese netizens — an earlier post in which he was pictured with the state counsellor ahead of Friday’s fight had attracted a heated debate in the social media site’s comments section.

Vice President Henry Van Thio and his wife Dr. Shwe Lan were among the last to see the champion before his return to Maryland, receiving him at their Yangon home to present a certificate of honour.

By his own admission a relative unknown on the US fight scene, Aung La Nsang shot to national fame in 2016 after toppling Egyptian Mohamed Ali at Thuwanna Stadium with the same guillotine choke he deployed against Ngalani. A loss to Russian Bigdash in January 2017 followed, but it couldn’t stem the mounting Burmese fervor. Lucrative sponsorships and a victorious, home-turf second bout against Bigdash followed at the July ONE Championship 51, “Light of a Nation.”

Aung La Nsang’s next battle is still undecided, but the Kachin hero can be certain he’ll enter the ring with the undivided support of the nation behind him.