ONE Championship Royalty: The Lee Family's Newest Crown Jewel Makes Her Debut

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IFebruary 24, 2021

ONE Championship stars Angela Lee, Victoria Lee and Christian Lee
ONE Championship stars Angela Lee, Victoria Lee and Christian LeeImage provided by ONE Championship

Angela Lee is sitting "seiza" on the mats of her warmup room in the recesses of Tokyo's hallowed Ryogoku Kokugikan arena. Her gaze is downturned. She is quiet. Her father, Ken, looks on, saying nothing. Her younger brother, Christian, has just beaten Saygid Guseyn Arslanaliev to win the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix and is off in some other corner of the arena speaking to reporters from Japan, wider Asia, and further afield.

Soon, it will be Angela's turn to fight.

She's hours out from an atomweight title defense against Xiong Jingnan, which will headline the blockbuster ONE: Century card. Until then, she'll remain in this moment that every fighter knows but few fans ever witness. A moment that is at once both placid and chaotic: The moment before the moment.

It's a moment that Angela experienced many times before that day in Tokyo, when the trees were still windswept from the fury of 2019's Typhoon Hagibis. It is one that her 16-year-old sister, Victoria, will experience for the first time this Friday, when she makes her professional MMA debut against Thailand's Sunisa Srisen at ONE: Fists of Fury in Singapore. 

Angela, Christian and Victoria are, by all accounts, ONE royalty, part of a family that could—with a dash of exaggeration—be compared to the Gracies in the early days of the UFC in the way they've shaped the promotion they call home.

"We definitely have our chapter in ONE Championship, and we're still writing it," Angela told Bleacher Report from Hawaii, where the Lees reside, just days before her little sister's first pro fight. "ONE: Century—the last event Christian and I competed at together—was a historical moment for ONE because it marked their 100th event, but it was also the 25th event that Christian and I had done for ONE [in combination].

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"That alone is pretty remarkable."

Angela, the eldest Lee sibling, won her pro-MMA debut with ONE Championship in early 2015 when she was 18 years old, and she ultimately won the promotion's atomweight title. Christian, the next eldest Lee sibling, went pro with ONE later that year when he was 17. He also won on his debut and is now the promotion's lightweight champion.   

As the 16-year-old Victoria, the second-youngest of four Lee siblings, prepares to make her professional debut, Angela and Christian are a mix of nerves and excitement. They both believe in her skills—skills honed over a lifetime on the mats and in various competitions—but understand the concerns surrounding her youth.

Angela Lee and Christian Lee
Angela Lee and Christian LeeImage provided by ONE Championship

"[Victoria's debut] is something my family and I talked about for a long time," Angela said, emphasizing that the decision to let Victoria fight at 16 was not made lightly. "We're believers in taking the opportunities that are presented to us. Victoria had this unique opportunity, and we think she's prepared."

Angela has spent countless hours on the mats with Victoria over the years, but she is currently weeks out from the birth of her first child and has therefore been unable to play a physical role in her little sister's preparations. Christian, however, has been on the mats throughout Victoria's camp—partly because he's gearing up to defend his lightweight title against Timofey Nastyukhin at ONE on TNT 2 on April 14.

"If there's any 16-year-old girl that's ready to fight professionally, it's Victoria," Christian told Bleacher Report at the tail-end of his little sister's camp. "It's not about her age, it's about her skills and ability, and Victoria's skills and ability will speak for themselves.

"She's got a well-rounded mixed martial arts game. She's got really fast striking. Her wrestling is excellent, and her jiu-jitsu is very smooth. What I'm excited about most is seeing her tie it all together." 

As the fight with Srisen draws closer, Victoria carries the weight of expectation—not just the expectations of Angela and Christian, but those of fans the world over who expect her to live up to the standard set by her siblings.

If she's feeling the pressure of those expectations, she's hiding it well. In fact, she's already laying out plans to blaze her own trail in the sport.

"I've had a lot of mixed emotions, but right now I'm very excited," Victoria told Bleacher Report. The 16-year-old speaks very well, like Angela and Christian, but without the confidence her older siblings have developed through their years in the limelight.

"I feel very lucky to be able to train [for my debut] with my brother and sister," she added. "My brother and sister are my role models. They inspire me. However, my parents have raised us to run our own races and focus on our own journeys."

In advance of Victoria's professional debut, Angela and Christian have both provided her with plenty of wisdom—not just in terms of technique, but in terms of the intangibles of fighting.

"I've been able to give her a lot of advice that I never had when I started my career," Christian said. "No one else can understand what it's like to be 16 years old and to be preparing for a professional mixed martial arts bout in front of the world. No one can really understand the kind of pressure that she's going through, but I was in a similar position when I was 17 and making my pro debut.

"I know the kind of pressure that's on her shoulders, so I'm talking to her on a daily basis, telling her to trust herself, trust her training, and remember how hard she's worked to get where she is."

Angela has even been able to brace Victoria for those final moments before the fight, when all the training that can be done is done and the only thing left to do is wait.

"We've talked to her many times about it, telling her to just breathe through it, focus on what needs to be done," Angela said. "Don't overthink, because it's easy to get lost in all the what-ifs.

"We know that we've prepared her as much as we could, and now it's time for her to take those steps on her own and to pave her own path."

Victoria Lee
Victoria LeeImage provided by ONE Championship

There's no telling where Victoria's path will lead.  

She could lose her professional debut. Angela and Christian have both fallen short in ONE Championship before and recognize defeat as an ever-present possibility in their chosen sport. 

She could win her fight with flying colors. Angela and Christian are both predicting just that—specifically that Victoria will beat Sunisa by TKO. 

Victoria shares her siblings' confidence in a win, but she is content to take her journey as it comes.

"I'm just approaching my pro debut, so I'm just focusing on that right now," she said. "I'm just taking it one step at a time."

Her end goal, of course, is having a ONE Championship belt wrapped around her waist. While there are many moments that any fighter can relate to—like the lull before a fight—that isn't one of them. That's a moment reserved for a special class. 

Angela and Christian have proved they belong to that class. By the time all is said and done, Victoria hopes to prove that she does too, further cementing her family's place in the ONE Championship pantheon.

"My goal is to one day become the world champion," she said. "That would be a dream come true—the best feeling in the world."