There are levels and layers to every facet of life. Some will progress in a manner that comes in a much faster speed than others while they’re either flowing with things steadily or at a slower pace. Though there will always be differing opinions, there’s no right or wrong momentum one can be carried by. Because progress is progress and advancing forward is the most important part of that process.
Regardless, it’s a rare sight to see lesser experienced athletes that are just starting out be able to excel in MMA with elite levels of success. Of course, it has been done before and young competitors fairly often make names for themselves… But extremely rarely in championship based capacities.
When thinking of two of the youngest champions in MMA history, the obvious first two that come to mind are the youngest UFC champions in Josh Barnett and Jon Jones who won their titles at 24 and 23 respectively. However, for Singapore’s Angela Lee, she became a world champion at the supremely young age of just 20-years old.
Now 22, Lee has established herself as one of the faces of ONE Championship as all nine of her professional bouts have come under the promotion and none of those fights have seen her not get her hand raised in the aftermath.
The ‘Unstoppable’ Lee burst onto the scene at age 19 in 2015 when she fought four times and submitted all four of her opponents. Most impressively of those four was her third pro bout against Natalie Gonzalez Hills whom she scored a twister against. A submission that could arguably be considered the unicorn of submissions in MMA thus showing how high of a skill level Lee already possessed.
Fast forward to 2019 and Lee is on top of the world as the four-time ONE atomweight champion looking to capture a different division’s title in the second female super fight that MMA has ever seen. She’s proven to demand high expectations with her very quick amounts of success, and with the youth, unblemished record, and title around her waist all considered, pressure isn’t something that’s hard to come by.
“There will always be expectations,” Lee told The Body Lock. “Not gonna lie, in the beginning, I use to be overwhelmed by it. Now I’ve learned to deal with it better. I’ve dealt with the pressure and expectations by staying true to who I am. I constantly remind myself of my ‘why’. Why I do what I do. For me, my ‘why’ is my family and my future/my legacy.
“I’m an extremely competitive person. I hate losing and I don’t plan on tainting my record any time soon. I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to perform to the best of my ability each and every time.”
As a truly homegrown star of ONE’s, Lee has literally been growing up as a champion of the organization and she has made and continues to make the absolute most of her opportunity.
However, with her rapid success has come a shallowness in regards to new challenges, perhaps thus being a good reason for the move up in weight aside from the great obstacle it is to tackle. In the end, the young champion has goals that extend out much farther than just the MMA world.
“ONE Championship has been really good to me and I greatly appreciate that,” Lee explained. “It’s true that the women’s roster was light in the beginning but as you can see, the company is skyrocketing and they are constantly signing new female fighters each and every day. My long-term goal is to use my career to impact and influence the next generation of kids. I want to encourage them to work hard, chase their dreams, and do what they love.”
On March 31 this Sunday in Tokyo, Japan, ONE will hold their inaugural event in the country when Lee attempts to dethrone the reigning strawweight champion, Xiong Jing Nan.
Having been along for the ride with ONE throughout her entire career, Lee has seen the promotion grow with each big step whether it be with her help or the other great talents that call it home. 2018 closed out as a big year for the Asian powerhouse, therefore setting it up for a massive 2019… And that begins with the absurdly stacked card that is ONE: A New Era.
“Hands down, ONE: A New Era will be the biggest ONE Championship card to date!” Lee exclaimed. “Being able to showcase my skills in front of the fans in Tokyo, on a card like this, is a dream come true for me. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to make history!”
Without Lee, there would be a large gap in ONE’s history books which just continues to show her impact so early on. She’s been on such an exciting journey so soon that it only begs for the answer to ‘what more can be done?’ Well, gaining a second world title would just elevate things to whole new perspectives.
The task at hand won’t be an easy one though as surely no one is expecting it to be. China’s Jing Nan has been dominant and impressive in her own right as well. 13-1 with two title defenses and an eight-fight winning streak are just noteworthy paper stats, in the cage Jing Nan is a well-rounded yet lethal striker. Which happens to be the opposite of how Lee has predominantly shown to win her fights.
“I think she has been a dominant champion in ONE so far and I respect her for what she brings to the cage,” Lee said of her fellow champion. “She’s aggressive and I think she’s going to bring a good fight! I’m looking forward to it!”
In ONE Championship, the athletes have the luxury of not being allowed to cut extreme amounts of weight as they fight closer to their natural weights with ONE’s readjusting of the divisional limits. Meaning that for example, ONE’s atomweight class, a division fought at a 105-pounds, is actually fought at 115-pounds in ONE. Which is what we commonly know as strawweight.
For Lee in her big champion vs champion match-up, she’ll get to cut even less weight as she goes up to 125-pounds. And as we’ve seen with all of the recent super fights/champion vs champion bouts in recent years, the fighter moving up has done almost unanimously well for themselves. The Singaporean believes that the same effect will be in her favor as well.
“I feel that moving up in weight has made me more dangerous than ever,” Lee stated. “Instead of worrying about my weight descent, I’ve had 100 percent focus on my fight and game plan. I’m so excited to put on my best performance [on] March 31.”
Incredibly, with her age in mind, Lee has already accomplished more in three-plus years than most athletes ever get to in their entire careers. Her nickname, ‘Unstoppable,’ has definitely been accurate to this point and considering that she’s only getting better, it could remain a defining term for a very long time.
Like there are chapters to every point in time, ONE: A New Era won’t just be true for the promotion itself, but it could very well be true for Angela Lee too.
“There have been many amazing moments in my fight career but my proudest moment is when I became a world champion,” Lee shared. “However, I think that winning this fight and becoming a two-division world champion will definitely top that.”
Drake Riggs is an MMA writer who specializes in feature pieces, the women's fight scene, lists, news coverage, and rankings. He has been a passionate fan of MMA ever since 2009. Drake has most notably written for BJPenn.com, FanSided MMA, The Body Lock, Cageside Press, Sherdog, and MMA Today. He is also a longtime fan of the NFL's Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars.