Angela Lee ready for date with destiny as MMA’s youngest-ever world champion eyes One Championship title defence
Unbeaten atomweight faces Taiwan’s Jenny Huang at ONE: Warrior Kingdom on Saturday in Bangkok after beating Japanese veteran Mei Yamaguchi last year
Angela Lee provided MMA in Asia with its biggest story of the past 12 months when she became the sport’s youngest-ever world champion at just 19 years of age.
Look closely at the photos taken of Lee since and you’ll see the exact moment, inked for all time on her forearm. May 6, 2016. 11.16pm.
From that moment on it’s safe to say that Lee’s universe would never be the same, and the future of MMA in the region was fixed at the same time.
The past five years have seen the popularity of MMA explode across the region and, as has been the case globally, the women’s side of the sport has helped lead the way.
Lee’s rise to prominence is proof positive of that fact and the ONE Championship’s atomweight world champion has been swept up in a wave of publicity, of promotional activities and of public appearances.
On Saturday, though, the now 20-year-old Lee gets back to where things really matter, as she headlines the ONE: Warrior Kingdom card and she puts her title on the line for the first time against Taiwan’s Jenny Huang.
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Speaking from her training camp in Hawaii, Lee says that though her head might have been turned on occasion by all the commotion going on around her, the fighter’s focus has remained fixed.
“It’s the only thing on my mind,” says Lee, of her return to the cage. “Every single moment from when I wake up, every single moment from when I first step on the mat. It’s all I ever think about and I can’t wait to get out there.”
Watch: Angela Lee v Mei Yamaguchi highlights
The title win over Japanese veteran Mei Yamaguchi came by way of unanimous decision and took Lee’s record to 6-0.
She was pushed to the limits of both skill and endurance over five, at-times brutal rounds, against the 34-year-old.
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The gym work has been relentless ever since, Lee says, and it has been amped up over the past month under the guidance of her father Ken.
“I’ve been waking up at 5am, going to the gym at six, then I after four or five training sessions I don’t get out of the gym until about 9pm,” says Lee. “It’s the best I’ve ever felt leading up to a fight. It’s all gone pretty smooth.
“It’s been a while between fights, but I’ve been doing nothing but improving my techniques in every single area. I’m excited to be able to get out there and show everyone.
“There’s a been a lot of attention leading up to this fight, but I’m not letting it distract me, not one bit. My focus is entirely on the fight and on my opponent. I have training incredible hard for this and I am more prepared than ever.”
The buzz has been building back home for Huang, too, as the island nation’s first contender for a world MMA title prepares for Bangkok.
At 26, Huang has been a relative late comer to the sport after a career in judo, with her first bout back in May 2015 and a record that now stands at 5-0.
Huang says she’s been focusing on expanding her range throughout her camp – and, like Lee, on also keeping any distractions at arm’s length.
“Everything has been going well here,” she says. “We have just been training six hours a day, six days a week. One seventh day I just have been having a very long massage – and I haven’t been leaving home.
“The excitement has been building here in the media and among fans. I’m very grateful for this opportunity.
“Everyone wants to fight for a championship and not everyone gets this chance. I am very confident coming into the fight and we have put in a lot of work on all my skills. I know I will need them all against Angela.”