In sport, the disparity in income between male and female athletes is notorious, but one teenage fighter is shattering the so-called ‘glass ceiling’. Angela Lee only made her professional debut last year, but the young Singaporean is already one of the highest-paid mixed martial artists in the world.
Lee’s rise through the ranks within Asia-based promotion ONE Championship has been remarkable. In 2015, matchmakers recognized the 18-year-old Lee’s potential, and handed her a professional debut in front of 12,000 fans at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
She would go on to win her first six fights for ONE Championship, culminating in a victory over Japanese veteran Mei Yamaguchi earlier this month which earned her the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Championship. Now 19, Lee is the youngest world champion in MMA history, and she recently signed a new contract which will make her one of the highest-paid female fighters on the planet.
ONE Championship Chairman Chatri Sityodtong announced the groundbreaking deal on Facebook earlier this week. In his post, he wrote: “I am pleased to announce that ONE Atomweight World Champion Angela Lee’s new contract now makes her one of the world’s highest-paid female athletes in the entire sport of MMA for any organization.
“Without going into details due to confidentiality reasons, she is also now in the top five highest paid fighters—man or woman—in ONE Championship.”
Lee was awarded a S$69,000 ONE Warrior Bonus for her win over Yamaguchi, and sources suggest she is in line for a six-figure payday for her next fight. Sityodtong, a multimillionaire entrepreneur from Thailand, is a strong believer in equal opportunity and doesn’t think that a person’s gender should dictate their pay cheque.
“I believe in meritocracy, and that is how all of my companies are run. Everyone should be afforded the equal opportunity to be the master of his/her own destiny through his/her thoughts, words, and actions,” said Sityodtong.
“At my companies, we don’t care about paper qualifications, CVs, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, social status, nationality, color, or any of society’s typical bullsh*t. I embrace diversity of every kind. I believe in the power of the human spirit to achieve the extraordinary – it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman.”
ONE Championship was founded in 2011 but has grown rapidly to become one of the most recognizable sporting brands in Asia, and the major global competitor to the Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Other champions on ONE’s roster include US Olympian and two-time NCAA Division One champion wrestler Ben Askren, and ten-time Brazilian Jiu Jitsu world champion Roger Gracie.
However, Lee looks set to eclipse them all. Her mother is from Korea and her father is from Singapore, and it is in the latter country where she has proved to be sensationally popular, with the country’s biggest indoor arena completely sold out for her recent title fight.
If Lee continues on her remarkable upwards trajectory, she can expect even greater financial reward and Sityodtong, who has been involved in martial arts in some capacity for nearly his whole life, has tremendous belief in her ability and potential.
“Throughout my martial arts career in the last 30 years or so, I have had the good fortune of working with some of the best martial artists and world champions on Earth across every major discipline,” said Sityodtong.
“And I can tell you that Angela is the single best female martial artist that I have ever seen in my life in terms of talent, skills, heart, cardio, and gameness. She can strike. She can wrestle. She can roll. She can scramble. She can transition. She can finish. Above all, Angela has heart. She was born for this.”
In sports like football, tennis, and golf, even the most accomplished female athletes will never be able to earn as much as their male counterparts. At Asia’s biggest MMA organization, there is total parity when it comes to gender and pay, and at 19 years old Angela Lee has already smashed through sport’s glass ceiling.