‘This is just the start’, says Angela Lee ahead of her One Championship renewal with Mei Yamaguchi in Singapore
The unbeaten 21-year-old says her journey is only just beginning in a ‘massive weekend’ for her family as brother Christian fights for world strap
Angela “Unstoppable” Lee’s head must still be spinning, given all that has occurred in her life and in her sport over the two years since she claimed the One Championship world atomweight title at just 19 years of age.
But the fighter with an 8-0 record has been fully focused this week as she prepares to defend her title on Friday night against Mei “V.V” Yamaguchi (17-10-1), the woman she defeated at the Singapore Indoor Stadium back in 2016.
“It’s been an incredible journey so far but it’s not ending here,” said the 21-year-old. “This is just the beginning. I have worked so hard for this, all my life.”
Just how far Lee has come has been in evidence in the form of the media throng that has charted her every move, along with the taxis and the billboards from which her image looms large all over town.
The growth of the Singapore-based One Championship itself has been on show too, with the official launch of its “super app” – giving users free access to all its fight cards – no doubt helping to spread the organisation’s global reach, as well as the global profile of its fighters.
One: Unstoppable Dreams is being talked up as Asian MMA’s biggest night, and Lee – who fights out of Singapore’s Evolve MMA gym – has dominated discussions.
Her growth as a fighter has been in evidence in two title defences since that historic win in 2016. As well as a compelling ground game built up from her background in the ancient Greek art of pankration – and guided by father Ken – Lee has worked hard on her striking and her strength.
“I’m just not the same fighter I was,” said Lee. “We never stop working and we’re always looking to provide surprises, so you’ll just have to see what we have been preparing on Friday night. I feel this belt is my destiny and I’m just not going to give it up.”
Lee is sharing the spotlight with 19-year-old brother “Warrior” Christian (9-1) who faces the formidable figure of 29-year-old Australian Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen (10-2), who’s putting his One world featherweight title on the line.
“I am just so excited for Christian and just really, really proud of all the hard work he has put in,” said Angela Lee. “I just really feel that this is his time and he’s going to prove that to the whole world. It’s a really exciting time for our family. There’s a lot of emotions in the air.”
The sport’s growth regionally is reflected in the fact there are fighters from some 12 countries represented across a fight card that features eight MMA bouts, as well as a One Super Series Muay Thai flyweight world title bout between the legendary Thai fighter Sam-A Gaiyanghadao (365-46-9) and Dutch-Surinamese Sergio “The Samurai” Wielzen (45-18-2), and two more Super Series stand-up bouts.
Combat sport out this way seems in rude health.
To that end let’s turn attention to Lee’s opponent come Friday. The 34-year-old Yamaguchi has over the past decade seen first-hand the rise of MMA across Asia, and has made good on the opportunities the sport now affords athletes and in particular those on the female side of the sport. The announcement this week that the Japanese fighter is being sponsored now by Bitcoin is a testament to that fact.
“I can remember 10 years ago fighting in front of around 20 people,” said Yamaguchi. “I think it is great that now people realise that women have the same abilities in martial arts and we are given more equal judgement.
“It used to be so quiet when I fought but the effort was the same – we still give everything we have. People now recognise that and of course we can make money now. It was pretty hard when I was training, fighting, and trying to work as well, just so I could eat. Back in the day it was so hard to always think, ‘how am I going to live.’ I never really had time to sleep.”
While the hype has followed the Lees this week – the fact they would become the sport’s first sibling world champions has obviously proven irresistible to the marketing gurus.
A third round knockdown had Lee there for the taking, but Yamaguchi saw a loose limb and went for the arm bar when, as she had admitted this week, continuing the ground and pound might have been a better option.
Just what lessons both fighters have learned in the two years since remains to be seen on Friday.
“She’s becoming a totally balanced fighter,” said Yamaguchi. “She aggressive – and young – so I just need to stay calm and use my life experiences.”