ONE Championship’s first event in Thailand was such a success that the second had to be a big one, and they don’t come much bigger in global mixed martial arts than a popular female fighter defending her championship belt.
No other sport has elevated sportswomen to prominence in the same way as mixed martial arts. For all the personalities and the money they make in tennis, golf, and athletics, no group of women are viewed as being so far up the promotional and ability ladder as women’s MMA.
Undoubtedly, Ronda Rousey was instrumental in developing that unique position in the west, while in the east under the ONE banner, that honor went to Ann Osman. With Rousey on a dramatic downward curve and Osman having lost a few key bouts, Angela Lee is primed to ascend the throne on a global level.
Footage of her thrilling title win over Mei Yamaguchi made its way around the world, far beyond the 118 countries to which ONE gets beamed directly. The acclaim has been unanimous, and the clamor to see Lee’s first defense is likely to be significant.
The honor of making that first challenge falls quite properly to Jenny Huang, the stylish combatant from Chinese Taipei, who apparently springs straight out of the Street Fighter video game to light up arenas across the continent.
This is not grappler versus striker, but submission ace versus submission wizard. It is Lee, the woman who brought the twister to life, versus Huang, the woman who pulled off a gogoplata when nobody saw it coming.
Huang comes out in a cheongsam and strikes a pose that exudes confidence and style. Her 5-0 record promises substance, and Lee has never faced a woman who is at such a career peak.
Huang’s record looks better the further you scan through it. She started with two decision wins, the second of which was her ONE Championship debut against Elena Pashnina.
The third contest saw her register a first inside-the-distance win – a round two submission of Amira Badr. She then submitted Jeet Toshi, the first woman ever to step into a ONE Championship cage. But the win that secured the title shot was that famed second-round gogoplata submission of April Osenio, who had dismantled both Natalie Gonzalez-Hills and Osman herself.
Lee’s ascent has been steep and impressive. Always promising, her rite of passage came in submitting the very tough Lena Tkhorevska in two rounds, before another second-round win, this time over Rebecca Heintzman, which propelled her into the Yamaguchi fight.
That breathtaking and emotional contest with the Japanese veteran Yamaguchi is the only fight on either woman’s record that hasn’t ended by submission.
And that is the obvious key to this fight. For her age, the 20-year-old Lee is phenomenal on the mat. If that development continues, and if she’s still fighting at Huang’s age of 26, she could perhaps become the best pound-for-pound female mixed martial artist in the world.
Steve Dawson is ONE Championship’s lead commentator, a Fox Sports presenter and an author of sporting biographies. He can be found on Twitter & Instagram as @Gulasahi and on Facebook as Steve Dawson.