Angela Lee

This belt is going nowhere, Asian MMA star Angela Lee warns ahead of world title defence

‘This is my home and she’s not welcome here,’ says fighter ahead of Singapore bout

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 May, 2017, 10:31am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 May, 2017, 11:28am

Angela Lee was last seen in public waiting for a cab and clutching her One Championship atomweight world title belt tight against her shoulder.

It looked like nothing could come between the pair.

“This is mine and it’s not going anywhere,” Lee had just said up on stage as the 20-year-old took part in the traditional pre-fight face-off in Singapore’s Clarke Quay on Thursday night.

The scale of tonight’s title defence – against 24-year-old Brazilian Istela Nunes as part of the One: Dynasty of Heroes card at the Singapore Indoor Stadium – has not for a second been lost on Lee.

The attention she is receiving would never allow it to be.

The week has seen the focus of the world of mixed martial arts – and sport in general – turned squarely in her direction. A stream of feature stories in an international press that has never before cared about this sport in Asia has woken the world up to the Lee story, and to the fact that she is being placed front and centre by the One organisation as it continues to mark its territory in the region.

Lee (7-0) brushed all that off as only a 20-year-old can do – “At the end of the day I still just feel like a normal girl” – and then amped up the fight that looms against Nunes (5-0, one no contest), a two-time muay Thai world champion who appears set to give the champion the toughest test yet of her skills.

The Brazilian comes to Singapore – the city out of which Lee fights – with a reputation as a fierce striker. Lee remains unperturbed.

“She’s never faced a fighter like me before,” said Lee. “This is my home and she’s not welcome here.”

Face-offs mainly featured a healthy dose of theatrics but what captured the crowd’s focus late Thursday was the shape that Nunes arrived in (as well as some impressive new body art).

The Brazilian looks cut, and fine-tuned in the months following her debut for One, a split decision nod over the Japanese veteran Mei Yamaguchi (the woman Lee defeated to win the One crown last year and become the sport’s youngest ever world champion, at just 19).

In terms of facing the champion’s home crowd – so far from her own family – Nunes wasn’t backwards in coming forwards, either. The sense is the fight will play out the same way.

“My family are always here with me in my heart. Wherever I go they are with me,” she said. “I already feel at home here anyway. The fight will be like all my other nights – I will end up victorious.”

While this week has mostly been all about Lee and her title defence, there is no shortage of potential drama on the card, not least with what is playing out among the welterweights.

One world champion Ben Askren (15-0, one no contest) feels a little miffed he’s not the sole headliner – his fight is sharing that honour with Lee’s – and has been vowing to steamroll the challenger, Malaysian up-and-comer Agilan Thani (7-0).

“I vow to walk across the mat, put Agilan on his back – and do everything I want to do,” said Askren.

The 21-year-old Thani apparently lost 55kgs as he reshaped his body, too – and his life – into that of a pro fighter. He’s not taken the bait offered by Askren, a one-time Olympic wrestler who calls things as he sees them.

“I don’t buy into that talk,” said Thani. “Let’s leave it to what happens inside the cage.”

Before those two square off there’s intrigue in the welterweight clash between the battled-hardened Brazilian Luis Santos (63-9-1, one no contest) and Sweden’s Zebaztian Kadestam (8-3). Santos had a chance against Askren back in April 2015 but copped a finger in the eye that caused the fight to be abandoned – his camp later claiming it was a deliberate move by the American in a fight that wasn’t going all his own way.

On the evidence seen Thursday night, Santos and Kadestam know a title shot should be on the cards for the winner of their bout – and it seemed for all the world like they could not wait to get at each other’s throats.

Friday night’s 10-fight card kicks off at 7.30pm local time.