As the longstanding ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion, “Unstoppable” Angela Lee is used to having a target on her back, but she will not give up her belt without a fight.
Meanwhile, rising star Denice “Lycan Queen” Zamboanga’s suggestion that relinquishing the gold would be the honorable thing to do lit a spark between the pair.
Though they were already on a collision course, any future meeting between Lee and Zamboanga will have some extra spice after they traded shots outside of the Circle.
Here is the lowdown on the growing rivalry between the “Unstoppable” World Champion and her potential future challenger.
Who Are The Athletes?
Lee is the record-breaking queen of the atomweight mixed martial arts division. As well as becoming the youngest-ever Mixed Martial Arts World Champion when she was just 19, the Singaporean star owns the most victories (10) and the joint-most World Title wins (5) of any female athlete on the global stage.
“Unstoppable” has lived up to her moniker at atomweight, where she’s never been defeated. Her five-year tenure at the top of the weight class means she is one of the longest-serving World Champions in The Home Of Martial Arts despite being just 24 years old.
Zamboanga is the #1-ranked contender who has raced her way up the ladder with a string of impressive performances, a perfect 3-0 slate in ONE, and an 8-0 mixed martial arts record overall.
After her biggest win to date over two-time ONE World Title challenger Mei “V.V” Yamaguchi in February 2020, “The Menace” was given the next shot at Lee’s strap.
Why The Beef?
Lee last defended her ONE Women’s Atomweight World Title in a rematch with “The Panda” Xiong Jing Nan during October 2019, and Zamboanga’s win over Yamaguchi a few months later prompted ONE Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong to offer her the next shot at the gold.
Though both World Champion and challenger were eager to get it on, the COVID-19 pandemic derailed any chance of scheduling the bout quickly. And then, “Unstoppable” revealed that she was pregnant with her first child — and therefore out of action until late 2021.
Not wanting to put her aspirations on hold for that long, Zamboanga suggested that Lee should vacate her crown, adding that it would be the “respectable thing.”
The Atomweight Belt is mine. I fought hard for it. I sacrificed my blood, sweat and tears for it. I waited years for…
However, “Unstoppable” was having none of it. The United and Evolve MMA representative emphatically stated that she would not give up the belt she’d worked so hard to earn and retain unless someone took it from her.
Sityodtong also stepped in to back Lee’s case, saying it would not be fair to strip the divisional queen of her World Title under the circumstances.
Instead, he announced the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix, which would keep Zamboanga and the rest of the contenders busy and churn out the undisputed challenger by the end of it.
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Zamboanga: “I have proven myself to the world. I am the #1 contender. I earned it through beating world-class opponents. I already faced Mei Yamaguchi, the fighter that almost beat Angela – the fight I believe Angela was very fortunate to win. She was in trouble most of the time during that fight. I was never in trouble during that fight. Mei is a great fighter, and I have a lot of respect for her. In my opinion, she is a better fighter than Angela.”
“[Angela] made a choice to become a mother, which is great. I am very happy for her. However, she should do the respectable thing and vacate the championship belt herself and not have to wait for the organization to ask.”
“I never asked for the belt to be given to me. Vacating the belt is for the sake of all the atomweight athletes who have also been working hard for it.”
Lee: ”The atomweight belt is mine. I fought hard for it. I sacrificed my blood, sweat, and tears for it. I waited years for the opportunity and once I captured the title, I didn’t allow anyone to take it from me. If no one took it from me, then why should I give it up?”
“Many people are too entitled these days. They think that gold should just be handed to them on a silver platter. Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way.”
Sityodtong: “ONE Atomweight World Champion Angela Lee will not be stripped of her title and/or be asked to vacate. ONE Championship has never stripped anyone of his/her world championship title. It is not right to take away someone’s greatest achievement earned through a lifetime of sacrifice and hard work.”
On 16 April, Lee and her husband, Bruno Pucci, welcomed their baby girl, Ava Marie Pucci, to the world. Just two months later, the Hawaii native was back in the gym training, slowly but surely starting the road back to the Circle.
Still, “Unstoppable” won’t be rushing back, which will give her potential challengers a chance to duke it out.
As one of those potential challengers, Zamboanga’s first assignment in the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix will be Seo Hee Ham — a vastly experienced South Korean who enters ONE on a six-bout winning streak.
It’s an incredibly tough test, but if “Lycan Queen” can get past her 23-8 rival, she would definitely become a favorite to go all the way.
There are still a lot of maybes at this stage, but even if the Filipina does not face Lee in 2021, you can bet it’ll happen at some point in the future, given the skill and age of both incredible martial arts stars.
And whenever it does, their budding rivalry will make the matchup even more fun.