MMA champion Angela Lee must be applauded for revealing 2017 car crash was suicide attempt
- ONE Championship fighter’s public display of vulnerability could save lives in industry where showing pain is not an option
- ‘I realise my purpose in life is greater than winning championships. It’s saving lives,’ says Lee, whose sister Victoria took her own life last year
Put simply, Lee’s incredible bravery to put out such a powerful account of pain, and to show so much vulnerability, must be applauded by all in the combat sports industry, from fans to fighters, promoters and media.
Such topics are not just taboo, they are actively looked down upon in a world where you can show no weakness. In the ring or the cage, you can’t let your opponent know that you are hurt – you must radiate only strength, or there can be drastic consequences.
It’s a hyper-intensive microcosm of wider society, where such issues and stereotypes also persist.
To carry that around inside alone for six years – Lee revealed she did not tell anyone, not even her family, apart from her husband Bruno Pucci – all while wearing a poker face of stoicism must have been an unbearable burden.
But Lee did not break. After Victoria’s death, she was the pillar of strength on which her family leaned. Angela revealed the news on social media, taking on the role of the public speaker to protect her parents and her brothers Christian Lee – also an MMA champion in ONE – and amateur fighter Adrian Lee, and to allow them to grieve.
She truly is “Unstoppable”, as her ring name goes.
“Being the older sister of my family, I always took it on myself to be the mini-mom, always looking out for my siblings,” Lee said in an interview with ESPN on Tuesday.
“I really tried my best to have an open communication and to really take care of each individual relationship with my siblings.
“With everything that happened with Victoria and especially how it just took everyone by complete surprise, nobody saw it coming, and we consider ourselves pretty close … Everything caved because she was just part of our puzzle which is our family and now there’s a piece missing so it’s never going to be the same.”
I have a lot of personal admiration for Angela Lee, beyond her impressive skills in the cage. I also lost a sibling to suicide, nearly two years ago. Her strength is inspirational and I can’t imagine how difficult it is to keep moving forward in the public spotlight.
“For the longest time, I blocked that reality out of my mind in order to ‘protect myself’ – I put up barriers as a defence mechanism, to try and protect my mind and my heart from what had actually happened,” Lee wrote in her Players Tribune article.
Aged just 19, she became the youngest world champion in MMA in May 2016, defeating Mei Yamaguchi to win the organisation’s inaugural atomweight title – a belt she has never relinquished.
In her continued absence, an interim title will be on the line between Stamp and Ham Seo-hee, and it is likely the undisputed belt will be up for grabs should Lee say she is hanging up her gloves altogether.
No one would begrudge her that, especially after these revelations. Life is simply more precious than continuing to do something that drove her to the brink.
Angela Lee cheated death, but now she has a two-year-old daughter, Ava Marie, with her husband, and the couple own also their own United BJJ Hawaii gym in Oahu.
She does not need fighting any more, though fighting will miss her if she does decide to walk away. She does not need to prove anything to anyone, she’s already accomplished almost everything that can be done in the sport.
If Lee does decide to stick around and unify the atomweight titles, then a selfish part of me will be happy to see her compete again, but it must only be if she is ready – and she will know if she is.
“I realise now my purpose in life it’s so much greater than just winning championships and fights,” Lee told ESPN. “It’s saving lives, it’s helping people, and for me I’m really grateful to have found that.”