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Angela Lee, Bianca Bustamante share battle stories in their male-dominated sports

MMA champion Angela Lee and W Series race driver Bianca Bustamante try out each other's sport. (PHOTO: Chia Han Keong/Yahoo News Singapore)
MMA champion Angela Lee and W Series race driver Bianca Bustamante try out each other's sport. (PHOTO: Chia Han Keong/Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — They are female professional athletes in male-dominated, testosterone-heavy sports, so it was no wonder that mixed martial arts (MMA) star Angela Lee and race driver Bianca Bustamante took to each other like kindred spirits.

They chatted and giggled like old friends as each tried out the other's sport at the Evolve MMA Far East Square academy on Monday (26 September), offering tips and advice to each other as Bustamante learnt a choke hold and Lee tried her hand racing the Singapore Grand Prix on a simulator.

Ahead of an important week for both - Lee is challenging long-time rival Xiong Jingnan for the ONE Championship women's strawweight title at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Saturday, while Bustamante will be racing at the Marina Bay street circuit for the first time in her debut W Series season on Sunday - the duo spoke about dealing with toxic masculinity as they made they way to the top of their respective sports.

"Growing up as a kid, when I was always entering competitions and tournaments, I would usually be the only girl," Lee, 26, told Yahoo News Singapore.

"I have to credit my mom and dad for raising me up to not care if I'm the only girl in the room, I trained with my brothers, and took down lots of boys. I think learning that from young was very key for me, being a woman and a male dominated sport and being a pioneer for women's MMA in Asia."

Bustamante, 17, agreed as she recalled her experiences of often being the only female race driver competing in the Philippines and in Asia.

"The male drivers I was against, of course, wouldn't want a girl to beat them, and that mentality sometimes would push them into not taking me seriously," said the 2018 and 2019 winner of the Asian Karting Open Championship junior title.

"I've always had to make sure that I make I prove them wrong. Of course, being able to win titles gave me the confidence to continue to prove the male drivers wrong, and I'm also glad that I had my parents and whole team to support me.

"But Angela and I are very lucky in that we found our passion in life at a very young age. We were very driven and disciplined to pursue our passion, and we were able to block out most of the toxic masculinity issues that we met."

Confidence in key in overcoming obstacles

Indeed, for both Lee and Bustamante, being confident in oneself is key in clearing the numerous obstacles as female professional athletes.

Lee - who is also the mother of one-year-old Ava Marie - said the hardest part is overcoming the internal battles. "Being young in the industry is has its pros and cons. There's a lot of weight that's on your shoulders," she said.

"Everyone has self-doubts, but you have to truly believe that you're in this position for a reason. I believed that I was meant to be a world champion, and Bianca would also believe that she will become a world champion too. That gives you the drive to continue onwards."

Bustamante, on the other hand, believes that she became a much more matured driver once she conquered her fear of failure.

"When you're afraid to fail, it hinders your progress, and I've come to accept that I will lose many times and I will have to learn from defeat," said the Filipino, who will be racing in front of her supportive parents for the first time this weekend.

"I've experienced a lot of firsts this year in the W Series, and I feel the experiences have definitely made me a better driver. Every single time I’m given an opportunity, I have to maximise it. I might never have another chance like this again."

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