One Championship

Angela Lee to return, Ben Askren to retire as One Championship brings out the big guns

Lee will defend her atomweight crown in a much-anticipated rematch with Mei Yamaguchi

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 September, 2017, 4:21pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 September, 2017, 10:30pm

One Championship dropped a few bombshells Monday, announcing their November 24 card in Singapore would see the return of Angela Lee, the undisputed queen of MMA in Asia, to defend her atomweight crown in a much-anticipated rematch with Mei Yamaguchi while welterweight king Ben Askren will retire from the sport after a bout with one-time lightweight champion Shinya Aoki.

“You do not want to miss this mega event,” One’s chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong posted on Facebook as he broke the news.

The stature of the Singapore-based organisation’s card – with two of its superstars putting world titles up for grabs – and its timing were duly noted by followers of the sport as the date comes just one day before the Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) stages its first show in mainland China, with a card set for Shanghai on November 25.

The two organisations are locked in a fierce battle for the hearts and minds of MMA fans across Asia as the sport continues to spread its reach across the region. So let the games begin.

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The co-main event in Singapore will see the unbeaten 21-year-old Lee (8-0) defend her crown against the woman she won it against back in May 2016, in a bout that was voted by many across the globe to be the women’s fight of the year.

“I’ve evolved so much since my last fight with Mei,” said Lee on Monday. “In our first fight, I was 19 years old, fighting for a world title, and the nerves got the best of me. I didn’t perform to the best of my abilities. Since that fight, I’ve defended by belt twice. I’ve continued to sharpen my skills and I’ve gained the confidence that comes with being the champion.”

The 34-year-old Japanese veteran Yamaguchi (16-10-1) showed in overpowering Taiwan’s Jenny Huang (5-2) in June that she remains a force to be reckoned with – and she’ll be no doubt be buoyed by the memory that she had been well on top of Lee when they met at the Singapore Indoor Arena, before the young star staged a stunning comeback to gain the decision after five rounds.

But Lee’s star has continued to rise ever since, with those two successful title defences and a flourishing out-of-cage career as one of Asia’s most marketable sports stars.

“You will see another spectacular display of heart, tenacity and technique,” said Lee. “Only this time, it won’t go to a five-round decision.”

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Meanwhile, the 33-year-old Askren (17-0) has been among One’s most celebrated fighters and had looked pretty much immortal on Saturday night in Shanghai in dispensing with the challenge of Sweden’s Zebaztian Kadestam (9-4) in less than two rounds.

There had been much debate in MMA circles – and in Askren’s mind – about just who might be found to test the champ in the future.

In veteran Japanese grappler Aoki (39-7) he’ll face a fighter who will certainly challenge all the American’s skills before Askren opts for a shock move into a more restrained life among One’s boardroom executives.

The 17-0 Askren, reportedly in transit back to the US when the news broke, has decided to call time on an illustrious sporting career that also included an appearance at the Beijing Olympics for Team USA in 2008 as a wrestler after he’d captured two NCAA titles while a student at the University of Missouri.

Speaking soon after landing, Askren told the Post he had been contemplating retirement for some time.

“Growing up my favourite thing was reading athletes’ biographies,” he said. “I realised that almost everyone hangs on too long. I didn’t want to be that guy. So I set a time for myself and I will stick to it.”

Askren said he planned to bow out of MMA the way he played the game.

“Dominance as always,” he said. “Shinya is a legend in the sport so I think it is a fitting end for me.”