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.