At 20, Angela Lee made history by being One Championship’s first female MMA world champion. By Estelle Low
Angela’s fighting nickname is “unstoppable”, a fitting description of her spirit in a match. Photo: Under Armour
Angela Lee cuts a diminutive figure, and speaks in a small voice. But don’t mess with her: The 52kg, 165cm-tall mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter can pin you down in the blink of an eye.
That’s what she did to defeat opponent Mei Yamaguchi at One Championship on May 6, 2016. Just as Mei, a 33-year-old MMA veteran, prepared to knock her out, Angela fought back with a series of powerful choke-holds to clinch the One Women’s Atomweight World title by unanimous decision.
Angela (top) fought against 33-year-old veteran Mei Yamaguchi at the recent One Championship. Photo: One Championship
Angela gets emotional after her win at the recent One Championship. Photo: One Championship
Fighting is in her genes.
Angela’s Singaporean dad and Korean mum are instructors and owners of United MMA gym in Hawaii, where she’s based. Watching them wrestle and grapple as a child ignited Angela’s interest in the sport. After taking part in her first tournament at six, she has not looked back.
Determined to progress in MMA, Angela put her business administration studies at the University of Hawaii on hold. Her brother Christian, 18, is a competitive fighter too. Her other two siblings Victoria, 12, and Adrian, 10, look set to join the ranks.
“MMA is all I’ve dreamed about. I’m 100 per cent dedicated,” she says.
Q: What’s your fitness regime like before a competition?
A: My fight camp is pretty intense. I train throughout the day, starting from 5am or 6am. I’d go to the gym with my brother Christian to lift weights or run. In the afternoon, we’d have another training session with my dad to hone our fighting techniques. In the evening, Christian and I usually coach at my parents’ gym. When I’m in Singapore, I’d train and instruct at Evolve MMA.
Q: What’s your diet like during training?
A: It’s really clean. No processed foods. Most of the time, meals are prepared by myself or my family. For breakfast, I’d have something hearty like oatmeal with Greek yogurt or a smoothie, to power me through the day. My go-to snacks are almonds, grapes, edamame, baby carrot sticks or trail mix. Lunch is typically brown rice or whole wheat bread with salmon or chicken. Dinner is usually a salad.
Q: Don’t you feel hungry, with all that training you do?
A: I’m hungry all the time! I try not to think about it, as I have to watch my weight and be really strict with my diet to qualify for certain fights. I love food a lot, though.
Q: What kind of food?
A: All sorts, from chocolates and sweets to junk food like pizza and burgers. I also love steak, seafood, pasta and cheese. Actually, there’s nothing I don’t like to eat. Before a fight, I’d make a list of food I want to eat afterwards. It’s a very big list.
Q: What’s on the list?
A: Brazil Churrasco is my favourite place to eat in Singapore. They serve all-you-can-eat meat on a skewer. I also must have my favourite grilled chicken wings, prawn mee, laksa and other local hawker dishes. I love the frozen yogurt chain Llao Llao. Chocolate cake and fresh fruit cake is on the list too.
Q: Do you worry about gaining weight?
A: Indulging in good food is a way of rewarding myself for sticking to a clean diet for weeks and performing well in a fight. I’m pretty confident about my body, so I don’t really pay attention to my weight unless I’m preparing for a competition. As a fighter, I know that it’s normal for my weight to fluctuate.
Q: What goes on in your head when you’re fighting?
A: I’m mostly in reaction mode. During a fight, it’s about how fast I can transition from one move to another. There’s no time to think or assess the situation. It’s important to be in the moment, and adjust my moves accordingly.
Q: Any pre-fight rituals?
A: Before a competition, my family is always with me. My mum braids my hair. Christian and I love to munch on pretzels. Doing so helps us stay calm!