Angela Lee

She’s the One: Angela Lee turning heads and empowering women in MMA

The sport's youngest ever world champion an ‘unstoppable’ fighter inside the cage and a rock star outside

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 August, 2016, 1:12pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 May, 2017, 4:14pm

Angela Lee won’t be part of the main event at next Saturday’s “Heroes of the World” card in Macau but there’s no doubt all eyes will be on her just the same.

The 20-year-old looms large over the One Championship roster these days, as she does over mixed martial arts itself in Asia, and it’s been that way ever since she became the sports youngest ever world champion when beating Mei Yamaguchi to lift the atomweight title.

The cameras started flashing and they have followed Lee’s every move since, along with corporate sponsorship deals and an ever-growing following across social media that hangs on the young fighter’s every word and image.

The bout against the 33-year-old Yamaguchi in Singapore was one of the best ever seen from the women’s ranks, with Lee looking gone for all money before imposing herself in the final rounds.

Little wonder they call Lee “Unstoppable”. It took her record to 6-0 and the exact moment in time has been captured there in ink on Lee’s right forearm. It was, she says now, life changing.

“It’s been everything I’ve hoped for,” says Lee, in Hong Kong to promote Saturday’s eight-bout card at the Venetian.

“I think everything happens for a reason and May 6 was just the best day of my life. It’s there on my arm so I can remember it forever.

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“Five rounds, five minutes. I really got to test myself. I was flat on my feet in the third round. She caught me and it woke me up. That’s where training and drilling comes in. After that I took over in rounds four and five – out of nowhere.

“After the fifth round I actually thought there was one more round to go. I’ve had time to reflect on it all now, to escape the hype and be with my family, and it’s just amazing.”

Lee’s brother, Christian, is also on the card in Macau, the unbeaten 18-year-old (5-0) lined up to face Australian Martin Nguyen in a featherweight bout, on a night that is headlined by Adriano Moraes and Andrew Leone fighting for the Interim ONE Flyweight World Championship.

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The pair seem today to be pretty much inseparable. They grew up training together in Hawaii under the tutelage of their father and fellow martial artist Ken, they fight out of Singapore’s Evolve MMA gym and they “have each other’s backs”, says Lee.

“My family is super close and whenever me and Christian fight we bring the whole family out,” says Lee. “Mum and dad, our other two siblings, even our grandparents sometimes. It’s a family affair and it’s so important to have that support and love.”

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Lee says it’s helped keep her feet on the ground, too, as the attention has continued to swirl around her.

“I sometimes think to myself that just the other day I was another normal kid, training away in the gym,” says Lee.

“But it’s cool, the attention, and people keep coming up and saying I’m an inspiration to their kids. It just makes me feel so happy. I sometimes can’t believe that’s how they look at me. It’s not been too intrusive.”

Lee seems to have effortlessly become a role model in a sport that really does need them, given the sometimes darker elements that have shadowed its fringes in the past – and given its phenomenal popularity now across the globe.

You know it’s 2016 and in the US we have a woman running for president. There’s so much empowerment going on and I’m just hoping to contribute to that
Angela Lee

“It’s just how I am,” says Lee. “Having a youngster sister who is 12 years old, I am used to carrying myself in a way that someone can look up to.

“I don’t feel any pressure, it’s an honour to be in that position, to have someone looking up to me. I grew up being told I could do anything I chose to and I like to carry that with me.

“You know it’s 2016 and in the US we have a woman running for president. There’s so much empowerment going on and I’m just hoping to contribute to that.

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“I hope that people can just get down to who I really am. I’m a martial artist and I hope people can recognise me for my skills inside the cage, and the kind of person I am outside the cage.

“And as far as MMA goes I think it’s just everything you could ever want, all in the one sport. There’s just so much that goes in to it, technical aspects. To watch people get in there and put themselves on the line is just beautiful to watch.”

For now Lee is focusing on strengthening her hold on the atomweight class – it’s expected her next fight will be announced within the month – but there have been thoughts of the future and maybe going up a division.

Lee plans to keep an eye out on her kid brother, too, as she continues to make the most of her moment – and tries to make sure it will last.

“It would be really cool to be the first brother-sister world champions,” says Lee. “It’s something we’ve talked about, I’ll admit.

“He’s an amazing fighter. I’ve been telling people, you just wait and see – he’s just getting started. But overall you know I’m just a normal girl, down to earth, and I’m just here doing what I love.”