Angela Lee eyes first ONE Championship women’s title
She will vie for first women's title in ONE Championship action at the Indoor Stadium next month
With anxious family members in the stands cheering her on, a young mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter born in Canada but with close ties to Singapore, stepped into the ring on May 22 last year for the first professional bout of her career at the ONE Championship's Warrior's Quest event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Angela Lee raised the decibel level in the Kallang arena where she overcame Egypt's Aya Saber by an armbar submission in Round One.
Almost a year on and with five victories under her belt, 19-year-old Lee will return to the 12,000-capacity stadium on May 6 for the fight of her life.
The Evolve Fight Team member will face Japan's Mei Yamaguchi, 33, for ONE's first-ever women's title bout, in the atomweight category (52.2kg) at the Ascent to Power event.
In an exclusive interview with The New Paper earlier this week, Lee said: "This is what I've been waiting for my entire life; it is the biggest fight of my life and I am super excited.
"(When I heard the news) it took me a couple of minutes to register that this is a title shot. I don't even remember whether I was in Hawaii or in Singapore, or what I was doing."
Lee, who is based in Hawaii, is well aware that she cannot let the occasion get to her head.
"Once you get into the cage and the door closes, it's another fight, even if it's a title bout. You have to keep your emotions in check," she said.
Armed with a sunny disposition and perfectly capable of inflicting pain and knocking opponents out, Lee has impressed many in the MMA community in her five professional bouts, including her next opponent.
Yamaguchi, whose record stands at 15 wins, eight losses and a draw, said: "I've watched her fights - she is taller and her reach is longer, her physical (fitness) is good, and she is aggressive. She has a lot of chance to win (the title) with her aggression.
"But my style is also aggressive, and I'll need to finish with a submission or to knock her out to win this fight.
"I am not going to look for a decision."
Lee and Yamaguchi will fight in five five-minute rounds in the title bout, with a panel of judges deciding the champion if there is no clear winner.
Lee, whose younger brother Christian is also fighting in the May 6 event, wants a quick end to her fight, as well.
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt holder said: "I am prepared to fight five rounds - there's no problem with that - but I like to get the job done early.
"In this fight, I plan on finishing it and I don't think it will come down to a decision but, if it does, so be it," added Lee, who has also won world titles in wrestling and pankration, a combination of wrestling and boxing.
Lee is Canadian-American. Her father was born in Singapore but moved to Canada at age four. Her mother is from South Korea but moved to Hawaii as a youngster.
The two siblings fight under the Singapore flag because they feel a strong affinity with the country, frequently making trips here to visit their paternal relatives.
In fact, she is currently staying in Simei with a relative as she trains for her big fight.
Obviously, she will have home-ground advantage - Lee has also fought twice already at the Sports Hub facility - and her family and friends will once again be out in force to cheer her on.
Lee said: "My family is usually with me (for fights) and they will be here for sure, and there are actually relatives who are coming in from Hawaii, and everyone in Singapore is going to be here and fill up the stadium.
"It's really motivating for me and makes me want to win even more. I am not just fighting for myself, but for them as well. I want to make them proud on May 6."
She is brimming with confidence and has big plans for the future.
"Winning the title will just be the beginning. I will be the first women's champion in ONE and I plan on helping to grow the other weight divisions and to really promote women's MMA in Asia," said Lee, who admires Ronda Rousey, the American mixed martial artist, judoka and actress.
"Having a women's champion in ONE Championship is really going to help draw in more fighters.
"Even though women's MMA may be young in Asia, I think it's going to explode in the next five years, like how women's MMA in North America exploded and took off.
"I think that's what's going to happen in Asia and I hope to lead the way."
Name: Angela "Unstoppable" Lee
Date of birth: July 8, 1996
Gym: Evolve (Singapore)
Record: 5 wins, 0 defeat, 0 draw
Name: Mei "V V" Yamaguchi
Date of birth: Feb 3, 1983
Gym: Riki (Japan)
Record: 15 wins, 8 defeats, 1 draw
Know the fighters
This is what I’ve been waiting for my entire life; it is the biggest fight of my life and I am super excited.
- Angela Lee (above, right), on her title bout with Mei Yamaguchi (above, left)
1 What is your most memorable fight so far?
ANGELA: It was my debut (on May 22 last year) where this whole journey started. It was an incredible feeling, having my first professional MMA fight in Singapore and the way the crowd reacted.
YAMAGUCHI: It was against Megumi Fujii (in 2012) and I lost.
I looked up to her and she really inspired me a lot. I even moved up a weight division because she was fighting in that division.
2 What would you be doing if you were not involved in MMA?
ANGELA: My parents have a martial arts gym and a real estate business, so I am pretty sure I would be getting my business degree and learning the family business, as well as teaching martial arts.
YAMAGUCHI: I might do something involving film.
When I was in high school, I really liked Hollywood films, and my first goal when I went to college in the US was to study film, but I discovered jiu-jitsu before that, and I realised jiu-jitsu was more fun.
3 Who is your real-life inspiration?
ANGELA: My mother. She is someone I really look up to and admire, for everything she does.
She is such a strong woman and I aspire to be like her.
YAMAGUCHI: My budo (martial arts) teacher Akira Hino.
He teaches me not just the physical aspects of martial arts, but also the mental aspects - how samurai face each other, and the traditional Japanese spirit.
He really inspires me a lot.
4 Who would you prefer to be with if you were stuck in a lift?
ANGELA: Christian (my younger brother). We are practically inseparable and he's such a goofy person, so there's never a dull moment with him.
I am pretty sure we'd be able to bust our way out somehow.
YAMAGUCHI: My cat Cha-Cha-Maru. It's a she, but her name is like a boy's.
5 What is your childhood nickname, and the story behind it?
ANGELA: I had two - my dad calls me "Angel Baby" because I am daddy's girl, and "Muscles" came about when I was eight or 10.
I was really strong for my age and was always helping my parents out around the home.
I'd also carry my siblings around or have physical competitions, like who can hang on to the monkey bars the longest.
YAMAGUCHI: My mum used to call me "Me-suke". "Suke" is like a suffix to a name and means "boy".
I think it was because I was really aggressive, like a little boy. I bit my elder sister before, and I would jump around outside.
When I came home, I'd take off my shoes and run around barefoot. - LIM SAY HENG