“Unstoppable” Angela Lee is truly living out her wildest dreams.
Training out of Evolve MMA in Singapore and her father’s United MMA in Hawaii, the 20-year-old is the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion, the company’s star female role model, and the smiling face of the women’s martial arts in Asia.
That is a lot of responsibility to bear for a young woman, but she earned those honors through flawless success inside the cage, an impeccable work ethic, and a steadfastly positive attitude. All of that plays into the champion’s primary objective.
“My goal is to inspire other people through my own martial arts journey,” she states. “I want to inspire and empower others, because I want them to chase their dreams, just like how I am chasing mine.”
Lee is anything but an overnight success, however. Behind the heroine’s mesmerizing smile is years of hard work and dedication to her craft. There were even times when she fell off her path, but the martial arts have always re-directed her back on track.
The journey began when she was a 3-year-old toddler. Her Singaporean father Ken — a black belt in multiple disciplines who coached a few Canadian martial arts teams and owned several dojos in Vancouver — taught young Angela boxing and taekwondo. When her younger brother and ONE featherweight prospect, Christian, came along, he would go on to become her training partner for life, and make a mark of his own in the martial arts world.
Soon, after the family relocated to Hawaii in the early 2000s, Ken incorporated elements of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and pankration into their repertoire, because, at the very least, he wanted to arm his children with effective self-defense techniques.
However, for the woman who would become known as “Unstoppable”, that self-defense education quickly turned into a lifelong quest to prove her skills. She was motivated by competition, and that extended beyond the martial arts.
“I was a really competitive child,” she admits. “I love a challenge, so if my dad was like, ‘See how long you can hang onto the monkey bars,’ I was all up for it. I just really love competing, and training is what you needed to do if you wanted to compete.”
Lee put in the hard work, spent countless hours training, and dedicated herself to competition. Under the tutelage of Ken and her mother Jewelz, also a black belt in multiple disciplines, she became a martial arts prodigy.
In November 2012, at the tender age of 16, she traveled to Athens, Greece, where she became a two-division Pankration World Champion. A year later, she won the Hawaii State Wrestling Title in her weight class. She was even awarded her brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, all before getting started in mixed martial arts and winning an amateur championship in short order.
Though Lee was a natural martial artist, there were times when she deviated from her journey to try something different. For instance, in high school, she broke away from the family norm and decided to try her hand – or foot, rather – at soccer. Both her parents were supportive. They drove her to practice, brought the entire family to every game, and cheered her on from the sidelines.
In spite of all that, she lasted just one season. The competitive drive was there, but the passion and talent for that particular sport was not.
“As it turns out, I am a horrible soccer player,” she confesses with a chuckle. “I was so bad. For some reason, I was very uncoordinated and I could not kick the ball, so they put me in as the goalie.”
Lee noticed something else. All the other girls in her team had been playing soccer since they were a lot younger, just like her and martial arts. She decided not to let her solid foundation and training go to waste.
Lee returned to what she knew best, got straight back to dominating martial arts competitions, and racked up the aforementioned accolades on the global level and more.
What’s more impressive, however, is that she achieved so much even though she went through a stage of rebellion, like most high school teenagers have the tendency to do. Looking at the mature woman the world sees today, it is almost difficult to believe.
“I was the wild child – the rebel child. I gave my parents a lot of trouble in high school,” said Lee, who confesses she went to parties, stayed out late, was distracted by the opposite sex, and got up to all kinds of mischief.
Needless to say, her parents got a bit of a scare. Fortunately, they raised their daughter right, and that phase of her life quickly faded away before any real trouble ever came of it.
“I just really wanted to have fun, but my parents did not want me to go down the wrong track, and they did not want me to hang with the wrong crowd. I did not really understand some of it growing up, but now, looking back, of course it all makes sense,” she says.
“There are a couple of moments where, looking back, they are like, ‘Oh my gosh, Angela, you gave us so much trouble’, but they think everything happens for a reason. If I did not go through some of that, maybe I would be crazy now.”
In a way, those trouble-filled experiences gave her a more well-rounded knowledge of human nature, and only made her more relatable to others. Also, it led the former “wild child” back to her martial arts path so she could fulfill her destiny.
Lee soon turned her attention to the world of mixed martial arts. When she finally made her big professional debut in ONE Championship back in May 2015, it was a familiar feeling of success.
The Singaporean quickly racked up five consecutive first-round victories, and a year after her big debut, she defeated Mei Yamaguchi for the inaugural ONE Women’s Atomweight World Championship.
Lee achieved the biggest milestone in her still-blossoming martial arts journey, something she was working towards all her life, and made history as the sport’s youngest-ever world champion in May 2016.
However, just because she has the belt around her waist, it does not mean the hard work stops. In fact, the real challenge has only begun, as she plans to establish a legacy as an all-time great. After a TKO victory over Jenny Huang, her next title defense is at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES on Friday Night, 26 May, where she will clash with Brazilian knockout artist Istela Nunes at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Lee’s competitive spirit is alive and kicking, and she wants to prove to everyone that she is the best in the world.
“Now that I have the belt, I want to keep the belt,” she says. “I do not want anyone to take my place, so that is the motivation — just staying extremely focused and training really hard, because I totally feel like I was born for this. It is what I was meant to do.”