Just two weeks before Angela Lee and Mei Yamaguchi were scheduled to compete in a highly anticipated rematch in November last year, Lee was involved in a horrific car accident.
After falling asleep at the wheel while driving, Lee’s car proceeded to flip five or six times. Remarkably, she didn’t experience any major injuries. However, the incident proved to be a “wake-up call” that has now given one of the biggest stars of ONE Championship a renewed outlook on life.
With a reignited passion for martial arts, Lee is set to return to the ONE Championship cage and take on Yamaguchi once more on May 18 at ONE: Unstoppable Dreams in Singapore.
But in many ways, we are fortunate that this fight is even taking place.
Just another challenge
Lee is certainly becoming accustomed to dealing with adversity.
Earlier in 2017, Lee fought through a severe case of pneumonia to defend her ONE Women’s Atomweight Championship against Istela Nunes.
As Lee spoke during a recent ONE Championship conference call, it became clear that she might just be “Unstoppable” in more ways than we first imagined.
“I am very grateful and am extremely lucky to have survived the accident with minimal injuries. I’ve taken the time that I needed to fully recover physically and emotionally and now I’m ready to get back to doing what I love the most, and that’s competing. I overcame this adversity, just like all adversities in life and now I’m just ready to get back into action.”
The 21-year-old explained how the accident has shifted the mindset of her entire family.
“I think it was a big wake up call for me and my family. We’ve realized not to take anything for granted. We appreciate everything we have. So, it was difficult to deal with at the time, but with the help and support of my family, we all went through it together. They helped me to recover. I owe a lot of it to them.”
Lee views the car crash as something that could be a “blessing in disguise.” Because in many ways, it has allowed Lee to open her mind and adapt in ways that were previously unimaginable. During the call, Lee repeatedly stated that she believes “everything happens for a reason,” and that her renewed fire to compete means that she “can’t wait to be back in the ONE Championship cage.”
“It’s been a while for me, but I realize that this time off from training and fighting has given me a renewed outlook on everything. It’s really re-ignited my passion for martial arts.”
The road to recovery
While there were no significant physical injuries that were sustained from the car crash, the greatest challenge for Lee was to piece herself back together emotionally.
Lee explains that she “took a break from training completely” after the accident.
“Over Christmas and New Years, I just spent time with my family. I have a lot of support and love coming from them. It was maybe a couple of weeks into January before I stepped onto the mats again.”
Because Lee has been so embedded in a life of martial arts, experiencing the joy of training again has acted as a form of healing for the atomweight champion.
“That’s when I began remembering why I love martial arts and why I love training in the first place. I just had fun with it. There was no stress of an upcoming fight or anything. Things started to slowly come back to normal. Now, it’s March already and I feel 100% back to normal. I feel that being prepared mentally was the biggest step that I needed to overcome.”
A new fighter
While Lee has been sidelined, her brother Christian Lee has been tearing through the ONE Championship featherweight division. Despite not being able to stay as active as her brother through the last months, Lee explained that they have been developing their skillsets simultaneously.
“What sets us apart from other fighters is that we are constantly evolving our game and looking to put our game together more seamlessly. We are looking at how we can tighten up everything, from striking, to transitions, to the ground game, to submissions. I think you’re going to see a completely different fighter from the girl who stepped inside the cage and won the world title in 2016.”
While it might seem that Lee has been away from the ONE Championship cage for a long time now, it will be just under 12 months since her last competition when she battles Yamaguchi in May.
Ring rust isn’t a concern for the champion and she believes that it will be ‘quite the opposite’ to what fans might be expecting.
“This [the accident] has given me so much time to prepare and really upgrade my skills in many, many areas. You can see from the last two title defenses since I won the belt that I’ve made improvements in how I execute my techniques and how I finish my fights. This fight will be no different. I’m looking forward to showing that.”
For the third time now, Lee has her sights set on defeating Mei Yamaguchi.
When Lee and Yamaguchi first met at ONE: Ascent to Power in May 2016, it proved to be one of the most exhilarating fights of the year. The five round contest was filled with back-and-forth action and multiple near-finishes. To this day, Yamaguchi is the only of Lee’s eight opponents to even come close to stopping the “Unstoppable” 21-year-old.
The Japanese martial artist has shown no signs of slowing down and is extremely motivated to be the first to defeat Angela Lee. Most recently, Yamaguchi outworked Gina Iniong at ONE: Immortal Pursuit to score a unanimous decision victory.
But with two years of improvements under her belt, Lee is certain that she will walk away as the victor when the two meet again in Singapore.
“It’s now been two years since we first fought each other. You’re going to see the same Angela Lee who blew up the MMA scene in 2015. I’m going to go in there with confidence and you’re going to see me with my hand being raised once again.”
Jake is The Body Lock's Editor in Chief, based in Tasmania, Australia.