In May 2016, two of the world’s best martial artists competed in the most important women’s bout in ONE Championship history.
In the main event, 19-year-old sensation “Unstoppable” Angela Lee squared off against Japanese veteran champion Mei “V.V.” Yamaguchi at ONE: ASCENT TO POWER, which broadcast live around the world from the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
The action-packed contest had a little bit of everything — fierce striking, intense ground battles, close submission finishes, and a near knockout. But after five rounds of thrilling competition, Lee edged out Yamaguchi via unanimous decision to become the inaugural ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion.
Now, a year and a half removed from the epic, both Lee and Yamaguchi recall the bout from their respective point of views.
The Emotions Before The Bout
Yamaguchi: I was kind of tired from the beginning. I was not ready for ONE Championship’s weigh-in style where dehydration was banned. Everything was new for me. After I passed the weigh-in, I was like, ‘Ok, now I can get relaxed and get ready for the match.’
Lee: There were a lot of expectations and everything, so I really felt it. I was really nervous, because it was the biggest match of my life. Walking out, I am usually all smiles and enjoying myself. But this time, I was freaked out, like a scared kid walking out to the cage. I was thinking too much in my head. There was too much going on up there.
The First Two Rounds
Lee: It was weird. Usually when the match starts, I get off and try to execute my game plan. But when the match started with Mei, I was trying to feel her out, and that is something I do not usually do. I usually just go straight for the kill and try to finish her. But I was feeling her out because I was nervous. I thought I was pretty good on the feet, and once it got to the ground, I was too fluid with my positions. I did not really base down, and I did not really do too much ground and pound. It was something I could not control. I did not know the nerves would affect me that much and alter my game, but it did.
Yamaguchi: Angela was really aggressive, she was trying to finish me on the ground with a submission. I was trying to defend against that. She was trying to finish even though the position was not perfect. She was always kind of rolling. I knew her style was real aggressive, but at the same time, I knew I could get out, because she is always moving. So that is what happened in the first two rounds. I also had a chance to try and submit her, so it was going back-and-forth.
That Third-Round Knockdown
Lee: I do not remember going out or anything. I was just kind of stunned. Once I hit the ground, it was like, ‘Ok, I need a breather, I need to control her for a little while to get my head straight.’ My dad said: ‘Luckily, girl, you can take a shot. You’ve got a hard coconut head.’
Yamaguchi: After I got that cross, I went for ground and pound, and it looked like really big damage. I should have kept going for the ground and pound, but as a grappler, I saw her arm, and I just went for the armbar. But I think that was a mistake. She is really flexible, so she got out of it, and then she came back gradually.
Lee: I came in with a rookie mistake by having my hands down, and she capitalized on it. It took a little while for me to regain my bearings, but as soon as I did, we were already grappling, and that is second nature to me. I could still grapple and pay attention to what is going on. So I escaped her submission attempts while still not all there. That is where training comes into play and pays off.
The Championship Rounds
Lee: It was my first time going into the fourth and fifth rounds, heck, even the third! I never made it to the third round in the matches leading up to this one, but it was motivating for me. In my head, I never thought, ‘Yeah, I am up on points or up on the judges’ scorecards.’ I was always thinking, ‘Did I do enough?’ I don’t need to know if I am higher in points or not, I might as well keep trying to finish this match. That is all I had in my head.
Yamaguchi: In the fourth and fifth rounds, Angela kept going for submissions. I was kinda tired, so I just kept trying to defend, and that happened till the end of the bout.
Lee: Especially in the fifth round, I could tell she was gassing out and was tired, so I was trying to capitalize on that. Even to the last seconds of the final bell, I had the choke and was trying to sink it in. That is just my style. I was never happy trying to get a decision. I was really trying to finish.
That Heartwarming Photo
Yamaguchi: Once the match is done, everything is done. It is not like she was my opponent anymore. She is really young, but challenging at the same time. I think that you need to be really brave to do that, so I have a lot of respect for her. I gave her a big hug. Competing for five rounds is really hard!
Lee: Mei is super humble and very respectful, and I saw her after she got out of the medical check [backstage]. I went up to her and we gave each other a hug, we took a picture, and it was really touching. I was really happy we could share that moment afterwards.
Look for these amazing martial artists, as they battle for the second time in 2018.