Sunday, August 20, 2017

Myanmar gets its first ONE champion

You don’t often get a second chance in life. Aung La did. Living up to his reputation as the “Burmese Python”, he did not let it slip through.

Aung La defeated Russia’s Vitaly Bigdash in an epic re-match at Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon on Friday. Zarni Phyo / The Myanmar TimesAung La defeated Russia’s Vitaly Bigdash in an epic re-match at Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon on Friday. Zarni Phyo / The Myanmar Times

On Friday, in Thuwunna stadium in Yangon, Aung La, Myanmar’s mixed martial art’s (MMA) superstar offered his native country his first ONE championship middleweight world title.

The fight was not a standard fight for Aung La. It was his chance of redemption, and a turn in the career of the 32-year-old fighter. In January this year, Aung La lost to Russian fighter Vitaly Bigdash, the ONE tournament undisputed champion – Bigdash had an unbroken record of nine victories in a row and no losses.

In fact, Bigdash had knocked out everyone that came his way in the ONE championship. Everyone but Aung La, who had given him a tough time early this year but ultimately lost on the judges’ decision.

Neither victorious Bigdash, nor defeated Aung La walked out of the January fight satisfied. The rematch yesterday was the occasion to settle things.

AUNG LA ON HIS TURF

Myanmar’s legendary hospitality towards tourists did not quite hold in the arena. Aung La was welcomed with a long, roaring cheer from the crowd as he entered to a Myanmar tune the audience sang as if it was one man.

The entrance of his Russian opponent on the other hand was as cold as the steps of Siberia — some booed; though the audience was fair all throughout the fight. Yangon was in it for a good show. Still, it wanted its champion to win.

The first round saw a formidable Aung La laying agressive punches and elbow strikes. Bigdash ended the first 5 minutes of the match on the floor, looking distressed as the loud cheers oozed from the crowd.

The second and third rounds were a different story. Bigdash cornered Aung La several times. The Bumerse Python could barely manoeuvre his way out of the Russian’s arms.

In the fourth round, the two fighters mostly guaged each other. Aung La artfully threw jabs which hit the spot several times. Bigdash responded with round kicks. It might be this round, though, which tipped the balance in Aung La’s favour.

No one clearly made the different in the last and final round. The public, perhaps, did. Chants of “Myanmar, Myanmar” succeeded the chorus of “Aung La, Aung La”.

‘MYANMAR, YOU HAVE A CHAMPION’

The fight ended with no clear winners but the judges unanimously attributed the victory to Aung La, to the surprise of his opponent –and the victor’s, judging by the expression on his face.

“Myanmar, you have a champion now,” said Aung La into the microphone, “How does that feel?” Great, considering the reaction of the public.

Waving a Myanmar flag, the Kachin-born fighter thanked God, his teammate and the crowd. “I could not have done it without you,” he roared.

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