For Angela Lee, it has been an amazing year. In 2016, she became ONE Championship’s first ever female champion, earned a bumper new pay deal from the promotion, and traveled all over Asia helping to promote the sport.
The 20 year old, who is of mixed Singaporean/Hawaiian descent, recently spent time training with a former UFC champion at Evolve MMA.
“I had an awesome time training with Miesha Tate. She’s a great fighter with so much experience and knowledge of our sport. Although she was at Evolve MMA for only about a week, it was memorable to be able to get some training time with her.”
While Tate recently announced her retirement from the sport, Lee has her entire career ahead of her. She was still a teenager when she beat Mei Yamaguchi to win the belt after an epic five-round battle in May, making her one of the youngest fighters to ever win a major title in MMA.
She won her first six fights for ONE Championship in the space of 12 months during a whirlwind period that saw Lee catapulted into super stardom. She hasn’t fought since May, but wants to make the first defense of her atomweight belt as soon as possible.
“I haven’t locked down a date yet, but of course, my big goal in 2017 is to defend my title as soon as possible. Before my title fight, I was competing in back-to-back events, five fights in seven months, so after I won the belt, my coach – who is also my dad – thought I deserved a little break.”
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A couple of contenders have emerged who look capable of challenging Lee. One of them is undefeated Brazilian Istela Nunes, who claimed a split-decision win over Yamaguchi at ONE Championship’s event in Macau earlier this year.
Lee was cageside during that fight and feels the Brazilian was fortunate to get the nod from the judges.
“I was there when they fought in Macau. It was a good contest and stylistically a good match-up. Actually, I thought that Yamaguchi had won, but it’s always difficult when you leave it in the hands of the judges.”
That win established Nunes as the frontrunner to face Lee, but she has arguably been overtaken by Jenny Huang. The Taiwanese fighter has never beaten anyone of Yamaguchi’s experience or caliber, but has won all four of her ONE Championship fights with three submission wins in 2017. The most recent came courtesy of a rarely seen gogoplata, which impressed Lee.
“I did see that one as well. I thought Huang did a good job. It’s rare to see the gogoplata, and I thought Huang executed it well. I think our styles match up nicely. Both of us are explosive fighters, so it would definitely be an exciting fight, definitely exciting for the fans to see how our grappling styles match up.”
Lee competed at ONE Championship’s grappling tournament in Macau. She finished as a runner-up to Michelle Nicolini and is hoping to spend some time training with the BJJ world champion, who also happens to be an Evolve MMA teammate.
“Michelle did a good job isolating my foot for the toe hold, and I got caught. It happens.
“We haven’t gotten the chance to train together yet because of our conflicting schedules, but it’s definitely something I look forward to in the future.”
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Winning a ONE Championship title has opened a whole world of opportunity for Lee. From coaching Olympic gold medal winning swimmer Joseph Schooling to speaking at the Asian Business Leaders Awards in Jakarta, the 20-year-old has been in constant demand.
It has been an incredible year for Lee and with a first title defense on the horizon, 2017 promises to be just as busy. But for the time being, she is content to sit back and reflect on how far she has come in the last 12 months.
“After winning the atomweight title, I’ve had so many amazing opportunities. I’ve done media engagements, spoke at the Asia MMA Summit, and traveled to some countries I never thought I would get to visit. I’m extremely grateful for where I am in life right now.”
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