“Unstoppable” Angela Lee had a roller coaster ride in 2018, but she does not look back with any regrets.
The year started with Lee still recovering from a car accident that had kept her out of action for the last part of 2017, but she was able to make a triumphant return in May.
On her return to the cage, she defended her ONE Women’s Atomweight World Title against Mei “V.V.” Yamaguchi in a rematch that was two years in the making.
Unfortunately, 2018 ended on a sour note after the 22-year-old Evolve athlete was forced to withdraw from her ONE Women’s Strawweight World Title challenge against “The Panda” Xiong Jing Nan because of a back injury.
However, despite the disappointments, the Singaporean hero still regards her last year as a successful one.
“A lot of things happened. There was a lot of highlights throughout the year, and a lot of ups and downs that I had to go through,” Lee says.
“I think I chalk it up to a great year because I learned a lot. I still feel like I made a lot of improvements as a person and as a fighter.”
While mixed martial artists are often defined by their record, Lee prefers to take a deeper look at her career, especially when it comes to 2018.
She only competed once – the first time she has been so inactive since she became a professional – but Lee faced all sorts of other battles outside the cage. Overcoming them was just as much of an achievement as getting her hand raised after her bout with Yamaguchi.
“There are all kinds of adversities that people go through inside and outside the cage, and I think that dealing with these obstacles and overcoming it has really allowed me to grow that much more as a person,” she explains.
“It just made me stronger mentally, physically, and spiritually. Nothing is going to stop me from doing what I want to do.”
Their first showdown was an epic 25-minute war that is still regarded as one of the greatest matches in ONE Championship history.
The second time around, Lee wanted to leave nothing to chance, and she was determined to earn another victory over the Japanese challenger to put their rivalry to rest on an emotionally-charged evening.
She began strong, but just like the first meeting, “V.V.” hung tough and roared back in the latter stages of the contest to push “Unstoppable” all the way to the final bell. Once again, it was close, but Lee had done enough to hold on to her belt and her undefeated record via unanimous decision.
“That was a great fight. I was really happy that I got to do it again,” Lee says.
“The first one was really exciting. The fans loved it. So, of course, we were thrilled to see each other again in the cage. Rematches are tough because you’ve already got a sense of the kind of fighter they are and their tendencies, and then you have time to improve from that.
“I was really happy with my performance. Of course, me being hard on myself, I always feel I can do better. It was a great night because my brother was also fighting for a championship that night as well. It was a big night for our whole family.”
Following that victory, Lee was excited for the opportunity to become the first woman to hold two ONE World Titles simultaneously when she was given a shot at Xiong.
Sadly, injury struck. Though the atomweight queen was determined to push through the pain and make it to the cage, she was forced to return to the sidelines so she could rest and recover.
“It was a disc injury in my back,” Lee reveals.
“It was really unfortunate because it happened so close to the fight – it was just a few weeks out. I was really trying to push through, trying any kind of treatment, but I just had to rest it and give it that time it needed.
“It was really difficult because I really never want to turn down a fight, but it was kind of out of my control.”
Despite that blow, Lee still says 2018 was perhaps the best year of her life because of a huge occasion that took place outside of her mixed martial arts career.
“I got married in July, and that was the highlight of my entire year,” Lee says.
“It was a really happy time in between the fights that were scheduled. That’s why I say 2018 was a great year — a lot of great things happened as well.”
The year 2019 could be even better, as the cancellation of the Xiong match turned out to be a mere delay.
Now World Champion will meet World Champion as part of ONE Championship’s historic first show in Tokyo, Japan.
“Unstoppable” will go head-to-head against “The Panda” at ONE: A NEW ERA on Sunday, 31 March at the famous Ryogoku Kokugikan, and Lee cannot wait.
“I’m excited,” she says. “I’m super motivated to get back to work.”