Sports

Guts and glory for MMA fighter Lee

Lee makes history after a thrilling title clash against fierce Japanese Mei

It had the makings of a Hollywood script: girl returns to the country her father was born in to carry on the family's tradition of martial arts, even fighting under the flag of her adopted country.

Young, well-spoken, and with aspirations of furthering the cause of women, the upstart was pitted against a veteran pugilist - at an event aptly titled "Ascent to Power".

It could not have been better scripted for 19-year-old Canadian-American Angela Lee, who faced Mei Yamaguchi of Japan in the inaugural ONE Championship women's atomweight title match at the Singapore Indoor Stadium - the first time a women's title fight was on the line in the Asian mixed martial arts promotion.

With her Singapore-born father in the stands along with family members in the 12,000 capacity crowd, Lee watched her brother Christian romp to victory on the undercard.

After two others fighting under the Singapore flag - Amir Khan and Benedict Ang - won their bouts, it appeared the stars were aligned for Lee's ascent to power.

She would make that step-up, but it was a war in a cage worthy of a Hollywood script as Lee scrapped tooth and nail to win, courtesy of a unanimous decision by the judges after the fight went the distance in five brutal rounds.

With belt in hand, Lee watched scenes of the fight replayed on the big screens in the arena, and if she did know how much punishment both fighters took previously, she soon found out.

"I told myself I got to survive this," said Lee, watching - and probably feeling - a vicious right hook that landed on the side of her head.

"Mei was going to give it all she's got. I had to take it and throw it right back at her. It was an amazing fight with Mei. She was amazing."

It was as dramatic as Lee described it.

Yamaguchi was 14 years older than her opponent, but the woman from the Land of the Rising Sun just would not yield.

She wriggled out of submission moves, landed hard punches of her own, and even pulled Lee into a head lock that could have ended the fight as early as the second round.

But the bell sounded to end the five-minute period, with Lee slumping to her bench and looking like she was done.

While Lee got hit hard in the opening seconds of the third, she found her feet, forcing Yamaguchi against the proverbial ropes.  

But Yamaguchi was in indomitable form.

RAW GRIT

She wore a look of raw grit, even as her lips turned blue. Within seconds, she appeared to slip out of consciousness as Lee's thighs closed in on her neck in the dying seconds of the bout.

While Yamaguchi would hang on to finish the fight on her feet, forcing Lee to go the distance without winning via a submission move for the first time, the 19-year-old deservedly got the unanimous decision that saw her take her record to 6-0 after she was crowned the first ONE Championship women's title winner.

"(First women's champion) sounds pretty great. I worked really hard for it, but I couldn't do this all by myself - takes an army to build a champion," said Lee, who thanked her family and team for all the work behind the scenes.

In the night's other title fight, Roger Gracie of the Gracie family credited with the conceptualisation of Brazilian jiu jitsu, won the light-heavyweight title.

He took just over two minutes to lock Pole Michal Pasternak in a choke-hold and bring the bout to an end.

"I didn't know it was over, but I knew he was in trouble (once the grapple was on) - he was desperately trying to escape, but I didn't want to rush," he said.

And the Rio de Janeiro native is not about to rest on his laurels.

"Once the choke was on, I knew he was done," said 34-year-old Gracie.

"Now I want the 93kg belt. I want two belts, ONE (Championship), give it to me."


(First women’s champion) sounds pretty great. I worked really hard for it, but I couldn’t do this all by myself — takes an army to build a champion.

— Angela Lee, thanking her family and team for all the work behind the scenes

UncategorisedOne fighting ChampionshipMMAMartial Artsatomweight