Meet Angela Lee, ONE Championship Titleist and Asian MMA's Biggest Star

Nathan McCarter@McCarterNFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2019

SINGAPORE - MAY 25:  Angela Lee of Singapore speaks with reporters during the One FC media opportunity at Clarke Quay on May 25, 2017 in Singapore.  (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images)
Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images

Meet Angela Lee. A 22-year-old MMA sensation and ONE Championship's atomweight champion of the world.

Lee was born in Vancouver, Canada, before moving to Hawaii as a child. In a family of martial artists, Lee has always stood out. Coming from two MMA hotbeds such as Canada and Hawaii, and with her family history, Lee always seemed destined for this sport. Her youth titles in pankration only solidified the notion she would be a force to be reckoned with when the time came.

Lee's true talents are on the canvas. She is a dynamic and talented submission artist. Lee is quick and strong in grappling exchanges, and her dexterity gives her a wealth of options when engaged. She can transition easily and lock in submissions out of nowhere, and her ground work makes her a constant threat.

Angela Lee @angelaleemma

I can’t believe I made it into the #GuinnessWorldRecords2019 😱‼️🙌🏼 I use to always buy these books at book fairs as a kid and now I’m actually in it!! 👀🙏🏼 I’m seriously in disbelief right now! This is too cool!! https://t.co/Fn7Dc7LHrC

It has helped her become a champion at a young age and perhaps could be the key to unlocking history as the youngest double champion come March 31.

How did her ascent to MMA stardom begin, and just how far can she take it? This is your look into Angela Lee's MMA trek to greatness.


The Rise

ONE Championship recognized the talent of the then 18-year-old prospect who had gone 3-0 in amateur bouts and signed her to a contract. She made her professional and organizational debut on May 22, 2015, against Aya Saied Saber at their 27th event—Warrior's Quest.

The hype was quickly justified, as Lee submitted Saber in just 103 seconds with an armbar. Lee would continue her quick ascent among ONE's most notable fighters with two more first-round submissions. Her third submission was perhaps her most exciting, as it was the rarely seen twister. The unique submission went viral and caught the attention of fans worldwide.

ONE did not rush Lee into a title fight. It took her development slowly as a teenage phenom. Her next two outings went past the first round, but both ended by way of submission like the previous three.

Lee showed some deficiencies with her striking defense, but the continual improvement was also there. Her grappling anchored her matchups and gave her a distinct advantage against the older competition.

Perhaps most impressive is that those five wins all came in under a year's work. ONE Championship kept her busy to foster her development, but her performances also forced its hand after five straight finishes. Lee would battle Mei Yamaguchi for the inaugural atomweight championship.


The Champion

ONE knew the kind of fighter it had on its hands. It's why it not only created the championship and put her in the inaugural title tilt, but it is why they called the event "Ascent to Power."

It took place on May 6, 2016, 16 days short of one year since her official professional debut. From debut to main event, Lee put everyone on notice: the company, fighters, pundits and fans. She was the real deal, but could she defeat a 33-year-old veteran with over 20 professional bouts?

Yes, she could.

Yamaguchi pushed Lee. The fight went the full 25 minutes and into the hands of the judges. The verdict was unanimous. Lee was champion at 19.

As the growing face of the company and their most notable crossover talent, Lee already had a bullseye painted on her back. Now, with a world title, it only got bigger for her competition.

Lee would return to the cage for her first title defense in March of 2017 against Jenny Huang. In under three rounds, Lee earned a submission from strikes. Her next title defense, against Istela Nunes, wouldn't make it out of the second round because of an anaconda choke. Lee was set for a rematch against Yamaguchi in November until a car accident derailed those plans.

Lee said she fell asleep behind the wheel and wrecked. Luckily, no serious injuries occurred, but it did force Lee to take time away to recover and prepare for the title defense.

The rematch would finally happen in May of 2018 at Unstoppable Dreams, an event named just for her. The result was the same: a unanimous-decision nod for Lee. In nine pro bouts, Lee finished seven of her opponents, and fans watched her continually grow her skills and perform like a true champion.

Ariel Helwani @arielhelwani

Angela Lee retains the ONE atomweight title with a decision win over Mei Yamaguchi. First fight for Lee since a potentially career-threatening car accident. She seems thrilled, relieved and emotional. Lee, who is the face of ONE, IMO, is now 9-0.

But true champions seek challenges. At just 22, Lee will step up for her biggest challenge to date in an attempt at history.


The Bid for History

Lee decided to move up to 125 pounds and challenge strawweight champion Xiong Jing Nan for her title in a bid to become a double champion. Originally slated for November, Lee had to bow out of the proposed fight because of a back injury, per MMAJunkie.com's Fernanda Prates.

Now healed, Lee is ready for the opportunity at ONE Championship's biggest event ever on March 31's A New Era event.

Xiong is bigger, stronger and has multiple knockouts on her 13-1 record. The 31-year-old is in her athletic prime, and shutting down Lee's hype would only bolster her stock. It would also be the biggest victory in Chinese MMA history, making "The Panda" a marketable star throughout Asia.

ONE Championship is not gifting its most recognizable talent an easy fight. It is a true champion vs. champion showdown that carries more significant risks for the challenger than the champion. This is the kind of fight legacies are built upon, and Lee is hoping to stake her claim as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.


The Future

They say that the sky is the limit, but that may be setting the ceiling too low for Lee. The future is as bright as she wants it to be.

ONE Championship is a growing brand, not just in Asia but globally. As the face of the promotion, Lee can spurn organizations like the UFC and craft her own signature brand to millions of adoring fans alongside the growth of ONE. She is personable, charismatic and talented. And already a champion.

Adding a second belt to her credit, on a stage such as ONE Championship's A New Era, can set her on a path to greatness rarely seen in the sport.

North American fans are still getting to know Lee, but at 22, she still has all the time to establish her footprint in any market she chooses.

Lee is the face of ONE Championship, but she could end up being the face of the sport on the global stage if she continues her tremendous ascent through impressive victories and stunning technical development. There is no more fascinating prospect to watch in the sport's entire landscape.


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