INTERVIEW: Lee aiming to cement ONE legacy

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Now, ten months removed from winning the belt, it is time for her to defend the gold. The unbeaten Lee will make her first title defense on Saturday Night, 11 March, when she meets undefeated Taiwanese challenger Jenny Huang at the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand.

It will serve as the headlining bout of ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM, and Lee aims to have a dominant performance.

In this interview, Lee talks about her upcoming opponent, as well as her passion for the martial arts, female empowerment in MMA, and handling the pressures of being a young champion.

After defeating Mei Yamaguchi at ONE: ASCENT TO POWER last May, you took a break from competition. But still, you remained active by training at Evolve MMA in Singapore. In what areas have you improved?

Angela Lee: I have been improving everywhere. It has really been a good period of upgrading my skills and gaining that confidence in the areas of striking, grappling, and the transitions in-between. So I am extremely excited to get back in that cage. I cannot wait.

Now that you have the title, you are not the hunter anymore — you are the hunted, and everyone is gunning for you. Does that add any pressure or stress?

Not so much pressure or stress, but like you said, I have a target on my back now that I have the belt, and everyone is gunning specifically for me. I think knowing that is going to keep me even more focused, and motivate me to train that much harder.

I’m going to be so much better and well-prepared, that when I do step into that cage to defend my title, I am going to show everyone I am on another level completely.

Your challengers have paid attention and watched your fights, and have no doubt gotten better acquainted with your skills. With that in mind, how important is it for you to evolve?

I think the most important thing for a fighter and a champion is to keep growing and evolving, and you have to be honest with yourself. You have to continue growing as a martial artist because the moment you stop, that is going to be your downfall.

I am still young, and I am so eager to learn and improve in all areas. I plan on being the champ for a while.

Martial arts has been central to your life. After all, you come from a family of martial artists. How has martial arts enriched your life from a values standpoint?

It has definitely made me the person I am today, no doubt about that. Being raised in a martial arts family — both my parents are martial art instructors — has definitely taught me fundamental values like discipline and respect, but also things like being honest with myself.

As a person and as a martial artist, whenever you are honest with yourself and critique yourself on what you did right or wrong, it helps you to grow that much quicker.

Let us talk about your upcoming title fight with Jenny Huang at ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM. As the main event, the bout is advancing women’s MMA in Asia, and is a huge statement. How important is it in moving the sport forward as a whole?

This is going to be the second time ONE Championship is going to have a female fight headline a card, and it is truly an honor for me. Every time I step into that cage, I feel I am fighting for so much more. I am fighting not just for myself, but for my family, my fans, and for women across the world.

This fight is important because it is just another huge step in the direction women’s MMA is going here in Asia. It is great because it shows women here on this side of the world that they can do what they love, they can chase their dreams, and they can have a legitimately successful career in MMA if they want to.

Huang, like you, is undefeated, and was extremely impressive with her gogoplata submission win over April Osenio last December in Manila. Where does Angela Lee have the edge in this fight?

Jenny (Huang) has earned her way to title contention. You look at her record and she is undefeated, 5-0, and is coming off an impressive submission victory, so I think she has a lot of confidence coming into this fight. But I just see myself as a much better fighter in every single area of the game, and I am not saying that to be cocky, but I am very confident in my skills and what I bring to the table.

Every single one of my fights, I go in there extremely focused, and I am looking to finish the fight as soon as possible, so nothing is going to change with that mindset. I am going into this fight looking to make a statement — the same type of statement I made in my professional debut in ONE. I want to show the world who I am as a champion.

You are 20 years old and carry so much responsibility as a top draw in ONE. You constantly do press events, commit to every media appearance, and are always bombarded by fans at events, yet you handle everything so maturely and with grace. How do you manage that?

Thank you, I really appreciate that. I am just doing the best I can. I make the most of every day. I try to have a really positive and optimistic outlook on life, and I have a lot of gratitude for where I am at.

Also, my family is extremely close to me, and I confide in my mom and dad. They give me tips here and there on how I should answer questions on interviews or how I should say a couple of things better, so they really help me a lot with the PR side of things.

Surprisingly, I was not as good when I first started with ONE. But it takes a lot of practice, and I think I am getting the hang of it.

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World Lethwei championship to be held in Myanmar

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WLC Chairman Zay Thiha and its board of directors were inspired after witnessing the success Asian MMA giant ONE Championship experienced in Myanmar. The WLC is a subsidiary of Lekkha Moun Co, Ltd, which was one of ONE Championship’s partners at the recent ONE: STATE OF WARRIORS event last October.

ONE Championship has held three events in Myanmar’s capital city Yangon in 2015 and 2016, and was the inspiration behind WLC’s creation.

“ONE Championship proved that a world-class martial arts event can thrive in the country, and we believe we can replicate that with the national martial art of Lethwei,” said Zay. “Lethwei events in the country leave much to be desired at the moment, and we believe we can elevate the sport and showcase Myanmar as a world-class sporting nation in the process.”

WLC’s first show, WLC1: THE GREAT BEGINNING, will take place on 3 March 2017, and will be the biggest Lethwei show in history. To accommodate an event of this magnitude, a new 6000-seater event venue named Mingalardon Event Zone will be constructed. This is the first of ten events scheduled for 2017, and there are plans to hold events in four international markets in 2018.

Zay stated: “In the martial arts communities, Dutch kickboxing and Muay Thai are regarded as the foundation for striking martial arts, but there is a wealth of knowledge from Lethwei that martial artists all over the world can learn.”

British Muay Thai Champion Nicholas Carter will headline the WLC1 card, taking on legendary Lethwei fighter Tun Tun Min in a mouth-watering champion vs champion bout.

WLC has also signed WBC champion Umar Semata, Swiss kickboxing champion Chris Luber, Australian kickboxing ace Eddie Farrell, ONE Featherweight Tournament Champion Phoe Thaw, and Khmer boxing champion Prak Chansin as part of its star-studded international roster.

WLC will introduce a level of professionalism not normally associated with Lethwei events, along with long-term contracts for its athletes. They have also tweaked the rules, with mandatory medical checks after each knockdown, and the introduction of a scoring system to determine a winner if the match ends without a knockout.

“To be world-class, we need to show it in every single facet of our operations,” said Zay. “That is why we are enforcing mandatory health checks for our fighters at our cost, as well as hiring many doctors to ensure the safety of our athletes at all the events.

“We have also changed the rules to better present the sport of Lethwei to an international audience. We have equipped our athletes to be the most prepared to entertain the fans in the ring, and we will combine that with world-class production to showcase Lethwei to the world.”

WLC1: THE GREAT BEGINNING will take place on 3 March 2017 at 7pm. More information can be found at www.facebook.com/worldlethwei

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ONE Championship’s Warrior Kingdom Card in Bangkok takes shape

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Headlined by Asian MMA star Angela “Unstoppable” Lee, who makes the first defence of her Atomweight World Championship title against Chinese Taipei’s Jenny Huang, One: Warrior Kingdom will feature a slew of local and international MMA stars.

The 20-year-old Lee (6-0) is undefeated, and fresh off capturing the inaugural women’s title in May of last year with a hard-earned victory over Japanese MMA veteran Mei “V.V” Yamaguchi in Singapore.  Her opponent, Huang (5-0), also boasts an unblemished record, including a Submission of the Year 2016 victory in her last bout, a rare gogoplata finish of Filipino fighter April Osenio.

What is perhaps the next-most exciting bout on the card sees the return of three-time Lumpinee stadium champion and former ONE Strawweight World Champion Dejdamrong “Kru Rong” Sor Amnuaysirichoke (6-1), who is set to take on 21-year-old Joshua Pacio (8-1) of the Philippines.

Dejdamrong will make his first appearance inside the ONE Championship cage since losing his title to now-reigning champion Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito of Japan. Pacio, on the other hand is fresh off challenging Naito for the same title, falling short of victory after succumbing to the Japanese fighter by submission.

It’s a tremendous matchup between Muay Thai and wushu that should test both fighters to their limits, with the winner expected to earn a rematch against the champion.

Plus, ONE Championship standout and local hero Shannon “OneShin” Wiratchai (6-1, 1NC) will take the stage in Bangkok once again, this time opposite debuting fighter Richard “Lion Heart” Corminal (4-1) of the Philippines.

Wiratchai is riding a four-fight win streak, impressively stopping some big names in the promotion including Mitch Chilson, Amir Khan, and Peter Davis. Corminal, on the other hand, makes his first appearance inside the ONE Championship cage after winning his last bout with another promotion.

Interestingly, Wiratchai’s real-life love interest, 27-year-old Rika “Tinydoll” Ishige, makes her ONE Championship debut on the same card against Malaysian doctor AudreyLaura “Ice Comet” Boniface, who is also debuting for the promotion.

Ishige, who is of mixed Thai and Japanese heritage, is Thailand’s first female professional mixed martial artist, and has trained in aikido and taekwondo since she was 9 years old. Ishige’s opponent Boniface is a full-time practicing doctor in Sabah, Malaysia, where she trains at Borneo Tribal Squad alongside Malaysian MMA star Ann “Athena” Osman.

Also to see action inside the ONE Championship cage are Thai prospects Kritsada “Dream Man” Kongsrichai and Pongsiri “Punhod” Mitsatit. Kongsrichai will take on Adrian Matheis of Jakarta, Indonesia, while Mitsatit does battle with Rabin Catalan of Iloilo City, Philippines.

On the undercard, 20-year-old Chinese MMA prospect Ma Jia Wen faces off against Indonesian veteran Yohan Mulia Legowo, while multiple-time Muay Thai champion and legend Sagetdao Petpayathai makes his professional MMA debut against Malaysia’s Kelvin Ong.

To cap it all off, two of Thailand’s biggest bands, Thaitanium and Slot Machine, will be performing at the event as well.

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