She is known as the Queen of Asian mixed martial arts. 22-year old old Angela Lee, One Championship’s reigning atomweight champion returns to the cage tonight, in an attempt to make history by seeking a second world title in her bout with strawweight titlist Xiong Jingnan. Their fight was scheduled Last November in Singapore, but Lee pulled out, “So I injured my back before the November fight and since then I've taken some time to recover and let it heal. It’s not 100% and I don't think it will be a 100%, but I feel like it's gotten a lot better and it definitely doesn't really bother me in training anymore so I don't think it's going to be an issue in the fight.”
The bout between the two undefeated Asian female champions is much awaited by MMA fans in One Championship’s well-stacked debut in Tokyo, Japan. Carrying the fight name “Unstoppable,” Lee, who is a Canadian born Singaporean, leaves her natural weight class to jump up and face the “Panda,” Jingnan, who hails from China. “Xiong Jingnan, she's a very strong and a forward pressure fighter. She has been undefeated in the One championship cage and I think that she's going to be confident going into this fight and I’ve been watching the videos and I think that I have a major advantage in the fact that I believe I’m the more complete mixed martial artist and I will show that to everyone on Sunday night.”
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The female warrior won her atomweight title, at the age of nineteen, setting a record as MMA’s youngest world champion. At the age of three, Lee was introduced to martial arts at by her parents, both decorated martial artists. She is a two-time World Pankration Champion, a 2013 Hawaii State Wrestling Champion, and a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Lee is much admired for her remarkable feat in May 2017 when she managed to submit two-time Muay Thai world champion Istela Nunes with an anaconda choke while battling a bout of pneumonia. “ I feel really excited because my team and I have worked so hard for weeks and months,” Lee says, “and really I've been training for this fight since September when I signed the agreement and I think we have a solid bulletproof plan and I can't wait to go in there and show everyone and take that belt.”
Hawaii-based Lee knows she is a role model for many women and is proud that she is in a company that recognizes equal opportunities, “Being in the position that I'm in in One championship, since I joined one thing that I admire about Chatri (founder and CEO of One Championship) and about this company is that they truly give equal opportunity to women and men and I love that and I am so happy to be a part of a company who believes in that. I just try my best to set a great example to young girls and boys all over the world and it's a big responsibility but my parents have raised me well to be a good person."
Where the issue of women getting paid less than the men is true for other industries and sectors, it’s not so in the world of MMA, at least in One Championship. Lee says she is paid the same as her male counterparts, “I am. I think actually Chatri made a statement earlier that he says no problem paying women just as much or more than men, it's something he's always believed in.” On giving the men a run for their money, Lee says, “You know I'm out here doing what I love and getting paid equally for it and getting the props and admiration that I deserve so I'm very happy that I am appreciated in this company.”
She sees more and more women getting into mixed martial arts, “Women’s MMA is spreading like wildfire. In just the past few years, it's skyrocketed and it's getting more and more popularity and I think mixed martials arts is a great thing to pick up not just for competition but for self-defense as well.”
A reigning queen in what was seen as a man’s domain, earning equal if not more pay, Lee is breaking a lot of stereotypes here in Asia, where majority of her counterparts are still fighting for equal opportunities. And while she’s up and at it, she’s looking every bit the imperial warrior in the cage.
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Xiong is bigger and and some say stronger but Angela refuses to see herself as the underdog.
One Championship founder and CEO Chatri Sidyodtong believes in giving women fighters equal pay as the men.
Chatri welcomes Angela ahead of the press conference in Tokyo announcing the March 31 historic event.
Both female warriors are undefeated. Should Angela Lee triumph, she will be the first woman to be a two division world champion.
Reigning ONE Women's Atomweight World Champion Angela Lee is one of the most celebrated female mixed martial artists, and has achieved quite a bit at such a young age.
Angela Lee won her atomweight title at the age of 19.
Angela Lee made a triumphant return to the cage with a successful title defense against Mei Yamaguchi in Singapore.
Photographs courtesy of One Championship