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Becoming a champion in mixed martial arts requires more than simply defeating the necessary opposition. At the highest level it requires a mindset featuring self-belief, determination, and resilience.
ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion “Unstoppable” Angela Lee boasts such a mindset in spades, having captured the inaugural atomweight belt in 2016 by winning a unanimous decision over Japanese veteran Mei “V.V” Yamaguchi.
Since becoming a World Champion, Lee has defended her throne four times, in addition to taking two bouts in the heavier strawweight division. However, following her victory over “The Panda” Xiong Jing Nan in late 2019, Lee has been on the sidelines after giving birth to her daughter earlier this year.
While maternity leaves are not unheard of in the world of mixed martial arts, the situation gets tricky when a titleholder is forced to the sidelines for an extended period of time.
This, in turn, caused questions to arise at the ONE Championship Lee family virtual media day session on Tuesday evening, when a reporter questioned Lee’s willingness to vacate the belt, knowing full well she would be away from competition for an extended period.
Lee did not take kindly to the line of questions, firing back and asserting her stance that she still is, and always has been, the rightful ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion.
“First of all, these aren’t normal times, there’s a global pandemic going on which has made it difficult to host a lot of events. It’s been hard for everyone around the world,” Lee said.
“Second of all, I do think that what Chatri did [allowing me to hold my belt] kind of makes a statement. It’s not because I’m the poster girl, it’s because I’ve worked so hard to get to where I’m at. Just because I get pregnant and I want to have a baby, I shouldn’t be stripped of my title, something I’ve worked for.”
Lee continued, explaining that ONE Championship has set the standards for situations like these, lauding the organization’s support for her and her family during the time of her pregnancy. In a show of her aforementioned championship mindset, Lee doubled down on the belief that she has no reason to vacate the belt, describing the notion as “ridiculous.”
The 25-year-old who is fittingly nicknamed “Unstoppable” explained that the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix, an eight-participant tournament featuring the best atomweight fighters in the world, is a vehicle for her and ONE Championship to identify the next contender, elucidating that the delayed timing of the tournament has played into her extended time away.
And when asked if one of the division’s top contenders, #1-ranked Denice “Lycan Queen” Zamboanga, should have fought for a vacant title in Lee’s absence, the champ made her feelings loud and clear.
“There’s an atomweight Grand Prix that was supposed to be happening, and it was planned even before I even announced that I was pregnant. Who would [Denice] fight?” she said, further disagreeing with the prospect of vacating her belt.
“I know it’s going to come with a lot of criticism and a lot of hate, but I know how hard I worked for this, I’m not just going to have that taken from me. That’s what I think.”
Lee is currently slated to take on the winner of the Grand Prix. Her impending return could happen as early as February next year, according to ONE.
The four semifinalists in the tournament are Itsuki “Android 18” Hirata of Japan, Ritu “The Indian Tigress” Phogat of India, “Arale Chan” Seo Hee Ham of South Korea, and Stamp Fairtex of Thailand.
Whoever the winner is, expect a fiery and motivated Lee to show up, ready to defend the World Championship that she has rightfully earned.