“Unstoppable” Angela Lee just closed the book on the greatest rivalry of her young martial arts career.
On Friday, 18 May, the 21-year-old Singaporean successfully defended her ONE Women’s Atomweight World Championship against Japanese contender Mei “V.V.” Yamaguchi in the main event of ONE: UNSTOPPABLE DREAMS. just like in their initial encounter two years ago, she did it via unanimous decision.
Now, a week removed from her biggest victory yet, Lee is looking forward to new challenges in a new weight class and capturing some more gold. The atomweight queen talks more in-depth about her marquee win, why she was so emotional, and the bout she wants next.
ONE You watched your brother Christian challenge Martin Nguyen for the featherweight world title minutes before your own bout. Was being in the corner always the plan?
Angela Lee: Originally, we talked about it with Christian, my mom, and my dad, and they were also concerned about me going out there to watch the fight. I was supposed to walk out with them and just take off, but I was like, ‘I am already here, I am going to do this all the way.’
I was in the corner and it was really nerve-wracking watching Christian. I started to shout and give advice, but it was definitely the most nervous I have been for a match.
ONE: How did that affect your mindset going into your match with Mei?
AL: It was tough. I knew I had to pull it together and focus on what I had to do, no matter what happened with Christian. I was really trying to focus and get into the zone. I was doing pretty good backstage and then walking out, but as soon as we hit the pat-down area [near the cage], Christian came out.
He looked at me and said, “You do it, champ. You kill it.” Just looking at him, I started crying right there. I looked at everyone’s faces and they were worried. Even one official was like, ‘Pull it together, you can do it, Angela.’ Like, oh my God (laughs). I was crying as I stepped into the cage, turned my back, and looked at my dad, who was trying to talk me through it to so I could stay calm.
ONE: What did it feel like to be back in the ONE cage and facing Mei for the second time?
AL: It felt great to be back in the cage. I was really happy for the opportunity to compete again and do what I love to do.
I felt the fight went really great. We never get to compete under perfect circumstances — there is always something that comes up that you got to deal with – and for me, that night, it was Christian’s match.
But I came out strong and felt I showed really good improvement in my striking. I was not scared to stand and bang with Mei, and that is what we did. We exchanged a lot of punches and kicks, and I felt like my cage control and pressure was definitely on point.
Once we got to the ground, the takedowns were all there for me. I got the armbar in, and it was super tight. I was cranking, and I heard her elbow pop a bunch of times, but she is so tough. That was a near finish, and also, in the third round, I sunk in a deep choke. If I had 10 more seconds, I knew I would have finished.
ONE: Mei appeared to get stronger in the championship rounds, unlike the first time you two met.
AL: Yeah. I knew she was really pushing hard, especially in the fifth round. She really wanted to give her all, but she just did not do enough. She did not really go for any finishes or anything in particular, so I was coasting in the fifth because my legs were so exhausted. I think that is why I tripped so many times, because after that armbar, my legs were fried.
ONE: Were you disappointed that you did not get the finish?
AL: I was bummed out because my goal was to go in there and to finish Mei, but she is a veteran who has never been finished, and I know the reason why – she is tough as nails. I knew if it was any other night, I could have pulled it together and had a better last two rounds.
In the fourth round, a lot of people did not see it, but one time she caught my kick, I tripped and fell down. People saw me fall, but I was still totally there [mentally].
That is how it is. I am not happy with getting a decision, but it is still a win, and considering the circumstances, I just have to take it.
ONE: What is next for your career?
AL: I am not sure because I have pretty much cleared out the atomweight division, so I would like to step up a weight class and challenge “The Panda” [Xiong Jing Nang], the ONE Women’s Strawweight World Champion, for her title. That is what I have my eyes set on right now.
ONE: What makes Xiong a great match for you?
AL: Just looking at her previous opponents, I do not think any of them have a game quite like mine, and I think I bring a whole new set of skills to the cage. She definitely has some raw aggression and power, and she trusts in her fists – she just swings. I think it will be an exciting match for people to see, too.
ONE: Are you driven to be the first female two-division ONE World Champion?
AL: Yeah, that is something I wanted, but knew I had to earn it. I just was not going to automatically jump up [and challenge for the title]. I wanted to defend this atomweight belt before I made a move to the strawweight division, but now I think it is time. I am finally closing the chapter on Mei, and looking forward to a new chapter in the strawweight division. I am really excited about that.