In her last fight, Angela Lee came up against an undefeated opponent and made it look easy. The wildly popular 20-year-old will be looking to repeat the trick against Istela Nunes at ONE: Dynasty of Heroes on Friday, but knows it won’t be easy.
“She’s got some pretty impressive highlight reels. Nasty Striker, Muay Thai world champion, she's going to be my toughest competition yet,” said Lee.
Lee won her first five pro fights by submission, including a memorable, rare twister. She is regarded as a grappler, but said she wanted to mix things up ahead of her first title defense earlier this year.
“We train really hard and going out there I really wanted to show another part of my game, so I focused a lot on the striking and I was really happy that I was able to use everything that I practice (and) show everyone that I am far from a one-dimensional fighter and (am) constantly improving in every single area.”
It would be more of a surprise if Lee elected to keep things standing against Nunes. The Brazilian is something of a specialist at finishing fights with head kicks, but the champion has a pretty astute idea of how she’s going to win the fight.
“Her strength is definitely her striking, she’s got good hands, good kicks, she’s solid all around, (but) I definitely see a lot of holes in her game. Even though Istela is a dangerous fighter, she’s not nearly well-rounded as I am. I’ll be waiting to exploit her weaknesses.”
While Nunes has only been training MMA for a couple of years, Lee has a lifetime of experience to fall back on. Her parents are both martial artists and she said they help her throughout every stage of the camp and the fight itself.
“My dad is amazing and I feel he has accomplished so much having his own gyms in the States and Canada and he also did compete at a high level. If MMA was as big as it was now back then, I'm sure he’d be a world champion, but he just told me he didn't have the opportunities. I would be completely lost without him in my corner, and can definitely tune in and hear his coaching when I'm in the fight.”
Lee said that she and her brother Christian, who also competes for ONE Championship, can take tips from both parents.
“Martial arts runs deep in my family. A lot of people don't know, they only see my dad in my corner, but my mom has been doing martial arts since she was a small child too, so it's really crazy to see this is like a whole other generation.”
Lee has roots in Singapore through her father. She always finishes her fight camps at Evolve MMA and said she feels a strong sense of connection to the country.
“My dad is from Singapore. He was born here. We have so much family here still and it’s an amazing feeling walking out in the Singapore Indoor Stadium. Visiting Singapore throughout my childhood, I've always had very fond memories of Singapore. Even though I don't hold the Singaporean passport, it's in my blood.”
Lee has been the subject of a media frenzy, but the 20-year-old has coped admirably and is always humble, respectful, and dignified. She credits the influence of her parents and an upbringing in which trash talking and bravado were espoused in favor of hard work behind the scenes.
However, the reigning ONE Championship atomweight titleholder is all business inside the cage. And as she prepared to defend her title for the second time at the Singapore Indoor Stadium this week, Lee had some words of warning for her opponent.
“I walk out and the moment I step in the cage it’s game time (and) I’m going to kill you. It feels like a really long walk to the cage for some reason. I’m walking and I’m like, ‘yeah this is my time’ and then I step in the cage and I’m like ‘she’s going to die.’ I’m like two different people.”
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