Angela Lee is an undefeated, dominant female fighting champion doing serious legwork for an organisation, all the while seemingly hellbent on changing society’s perception of women. Remind you of anyone? Lee, lazily dubbed the ‘Ronda Rousey of Asia’, or variations on the theme, defends her ONE Championship atomweight title for the second time this Friday (May 26), against Brazilian Istela Nunes, and continues to bat away contenders and comparisons with equal grace and assurance.
That’s not to say she opposes the Rousey link. In fact, like many females who now make their living from mixed martial arts, Lee feels she owes the former women’s bantamweight champion a substantial debt of gratitude. But, certainly, Lee, as tends to the case with anyone labelled ‘The next something-or-other…’, is eager to carve out her own niche.
“I take it as a compliment because she (Rousey) was a pioneer, bringing the women’s divisions to UFC and north America,” Lee told Fighters Only’s Gareth A. Davies. “I appreciate it in that sense. But, really, I’m just looking to build my own brand and be my own fighter and see where that goes. Right now is a perfect time for me to expand women’s MMA in Asia and this side of the world. It’s growing very rapidly and I’m happy to be leading the way for that.”
Drawing attention to women’s MMA is one thing, a commendable goal at that, but where Lee really excels is as a role model to the young females of Asia. Raised by a family of martial artists, she was born in Vancouver, Canada to a Singaporean father and a South Korean mother and ended up moving to Hawaii at the age of seven, by which time she had already started practising martial arts. Since then, she has stayed true to her goal: she turned professional as a mixed martial artist in 2015; she dropped out of her business administration degree course at a university in Hawaii to join Evolve MMA. Now, as a ONE Championship titleholder, Lee is fast becoming a poster girl for every one of the nations to which she has ties.
Her next fight, for example, is set to be broadcast live in 118 countries – mostly on free-to-air television – and with that comes the opportunity for Lee to show the world what women can do, something she holds dear.
“Of course I enjoy fighting and travelling, but I want to do something bigger than just for me,” she said. “I think that here in Asia you still do have that gender inequality, and through martial arts and my own journey I can help inspire and empower more women on this side of the world and hopefully change that in years to come.
“It’s awesome because a lot of young girls are really opening their eyes to this whole new world. They realise they can go out there and do what I do – step in the cage and compete. Anything is possible. They can chase their dreams because I’m chasing mine.”
It’s probably a good time to mention the fact Angela Lee – fighter, martial artist, champion, trailblazer, role model – is still just twenty years of age.