“Unstoppable” Angela Lee now knows the identity of the next challenger for her ONE Women’s Atomweight World Title.
Denice “The Menace Fairtex” Zamboanga earned her shot at the gold in just her second bout in ONE Championship with the biggest win of her career – a fantastic performance against two-time top contender, Mei “V.V” Yamaguchi.
The Filipina star dominated Yamaguchi like no athlete – even Lee – has managed on the global stage as she shut down the Japanese competitor’s grappling and put on a boxing clinic through three rounds of action en route to a unanimous decision victory at ONE: KING OF THE JUNGLE.
Zamboanga’s success in the Singapore Indoor Stadium last Friday, 28 February, extended her perfect record to 7-0 and made an immediate impression on ONE Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong.
Just seconds after the final bell, he announced “The Menace Fairtex” would face “Unstoppable” next, which prompted the 23-year-old to burst into tears of joy.
Now that she has had time to compose herself, the Fairtex representative reveals more about her emotions on the biggest night of her martial arts life, how she authored her victory, and her thoughts about what’s next.
ONE Championship: How did you feel heading into the contest against an experienced competitor like Mei Yamaguchi?
Denice Zamboanga: Of course, there was a feeling of nervousness heading into the match, which was natural. However, I thought that I needed this win to get further in the division.
There are also a lot of doubters and non-believers who keep saying that I am not up to Mei and Angela’s level. Those haters included even some of my own countrymen! Anyway, it fueled me to prove them wrong even more.
My confidence was really high because I was with my older brother since my training camp for this match. He’s been with me since my day one in this sport, so having him by my side from the preparations to the actual match really helped push my confidence to an all-time high.
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ONE: How did it feel to compete in an empty arena?
DZ: I felt like it was just another sparring session. I could clearly hear my corner giving instructions!
ONE: What was your strategy?
DZ: Our game plan was to strike with her. I deliberately avoided using my kicks in the match, because based on what we saw from her, we knew that if I threw a kick, she can easily catch them and take me down. Our main focus was to box her and defend against her takedowns.
My corner kept telling me to keep punching her on that side because they saw it swelling. However, when we were exchanging blows, I had flashbacks of my Korean opponent back in the Philippines – I almost didn’t want to inflict any more damage on her.
I realized I should learn to let go of that feeling because a moment of hesitation could turn the tide quickly against me.
ONE: At what point in the match did you feel like you had the striking advantage?
DZ: During the first round and whenever we exchanged blows, I realized I could take her punches. I feel like Stamp’s punches are more powerful. I guess I got used to the hard strikes of all my teammates here at Fairtex.
ONE: Your takedown defense was superb. Did you work on this more for this match?
DZ: Back when I was preparing to face Jihin (Radzuan), I was already working on my defense. I think it worked to my advantage because I’ve been working on it for so long.
Also, in my first match, I feel like it was a different Denice who competed against Jihin – I was gassed early [then], and my conditioning was not up to my standard.
ONE: You said you wanted to showcase more of your striking, but are you satisfied that you did?
DZ: Not too much. We actually practiced some knee strikes for when she goes for takedowns, which I wasn’t really able to showcase.
I also feel like my head movements weren’t great, but maybe it’s because I wasn’t really afraid of taking those punches, so I didn’t really move much. Overall, I feel like I still have a lot more to show, and hopefully, I can unleash some of my kicks in the next match.
ONE: Yamaguchi appeared to have you in a tight spot with her submission attempts, but were you ever close to tapping?
DZ: Her leg locks were going to get tightened if I panicked. I learned to keep myself calm when I’m put in those situations in order to have a better chance of escaping.
I needed to be all chill so that I could remember what to do to escape – keep striking, and eventually, my opponent’s grip on the hold would loosen.
ONE: After the final bell, you broke out some dance moves. Were they inspired by your teammate, Stamp?
DZ: Is it obvious that we’re close with similar dance moves? (laughs) Maybe next time, apart from mixed martial arts, I’ll practice some personal dance moves as well!
ONE: You mentioned that you weren’t at 100 percent during your last match. This time around, you took the bout on short notice, but you performed brilliantly. What changed?
DZ: During my first match, everything was really so new to me, especially the weight system of ONE. I think this time around, I was able to adjust well to it.
ONE: What was going through your mind when Mitch Chilson told you you were next in line to get a World Title shot?
DZ: I was really overwhelmed with emotions. Actually, before the match, Chatri told me that I should do well because if I win, I could possibly challenge for the World Title.
It triggered my desire to win even more than before, so when he actually said it after the match, I was really happy. It didn’t come from me. Instead, they announced that it would happen. It makes it even more special than calling out the champ because I felt like I really earned it.
ONE: Your first two victories came at the expense of two veterans, so can you end Lee’s reign to get your third?
DZ: That would be great, wouldn’t it? I’ve been an underdog in every match I’ve been in so far, so let’s wait and see what happens.