Asian-American Fighters Return to Ancestral Homelands, and Find Fans Waiting


Aung La N Sang, a middleweight fighter, and his family were granted political asylum after moving to the United States in 2003. He has become a surprise celebrity in his native Myanmar.

Gemunu Amarasinghe/Associated Press

SINGAPORE — Brandon Vera was recently pinned in a corner by an excited mob at a shopping mall in the Philippines, and briefly thought that he might have to fight his way out. But instead of brandishing weapons, the crowd was armed with pens and cellphones, hoping to get autographs and selfies with Vera, one of Asia’s most popular mixed martial arts fighters.

The incident is a common occurrence for Asian celebrities as varied as athletes and actors and Korean boy bands, but Vera’s presence at the center of a fan frenzy made it different: he is an American, a former college wrestler from Norfolk, Va., who moved to his ancestral homeland three months ago, ahead of the first defense of his mixed martial arts heavyweight title, which he won in December in the Philippines.

“It’s been overwhelming, wondering why I get so much attention,”…

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