The eight-time BJJ World Champion may have faced a fellow BJJ black belt, but she showed why she has achieved legendary status with a near-flawless display of grappling for mixed martial arts.
In the build-up, some people predicted the Brazilian athlete might have trouble with the Singaporean’s striking, but she shut down any danger of a knockout with a smothering game plan on the ground.
It was better than her last performance by leaps and bounds, which Nicolini credits to her preparation – first at home in Brazil, and then an early trip out to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
In this interview, the 37-year-old explained how she earned the unanimous decision against Lee, and what she expects to do next in ONE Championship’s women’s strawweight division.
ONE Championship: How did you approach the first round?
Michelle Nicolini: The game plan we made took a lot of homework. It was to close the gap, bring her down, and test her at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
We didn’t get the chance to submit her in the first round, but we did get very close.
ONE: You took her down within 20 seconds and scored a dominant position quickly, but Lee kept you on your back for a while. How difficult was it to grapple with her again?
MN: Angela’s position was good, but I was always confident in my position, whether from the top or on my back.
I felt like I locked out her arms and defended very well. She is fast, but my experience and skills [meant I could] handle someone like her.
ONE: Did your approach change for the second round?
MN: We were getting confident, and my coach told me to just repeat what we did in the first round.
He told me it was working well, and I just had to do what I do best to win this match. The third round was the same, but I started to tire. I managed to get good control of her on the ground, so I was very pleased with that.
ONE: Why was it so difficult to get a submission?
MN: She is very fast with her legs and hands. I almost managed to get her leg at the start of the second round, but I switched my strategy and put her on her back for most of the contest again.
ONE: Did Lee’s striking give you any trouble?
MN: I had a lot of pain on my face, and I don’t look nice anymore! She hits hard, but I [think I damaged her, too].
Overall, I think she was never worried about my striking as she was more worried about my ground game, but I think she definitely now knows I have power in my hands as well.
ONE: Were there any other keys to your victory?
MN: I think she is an atomweight, firstly. She’s very young and talented, but maybe if I was her, I’d work on my strength and conditioning before coming up to the strawweight division.
I feel the women in the strawweight division are tougher than atomweight, but if she really wants to come up to this division, I know she has the potential to become a stronger athlete overall. She can get there.
ONE: How did your training better prepare you to go three hard rounds this time?
MN: I’m at the best place I could ever be for a training camp or at my game. Demian Maia [coach at Vila Da Luta] is one of the best in mixed martial arts.
I don’t want to change anything in my grappling strategy, and I want to carry out my current game plan throughout my career.
ONE: What was it like to spend the final days of your training camp in Kuala Lumpur?
MN: It’s a really nice city, and I love the weather here too. The last time I fought in Singapore, I felt like I arrived a bit too late. My fight was on a Friday, but I landed only on Monday, so it was too tiring. It was crazy.
This time, we did everything perfectly. Seeing out my final week at Monarchy MMA helped so much. We continued our training there, and it was the perfect way to end a great training camp to prepare for Angela Lee.
Working alongside professor Bruninho [Bruno Barbosa] was good. There were good female athletes there who I could roll with there, and it was good to train with good BJJ practitioners a few days before my flight.
[I want to thank] God, then my family, my team, and everyone who supported me from the start of my journey. They held me whenever I broke down, and pushed me to my limits.
They gave me the strength I needed, and built confidence in my heart. After the training camp, I already felt like I had won the toughest battle.
ONE: Who would you like to face next, and when?
MN: I’m here to compete against anyone ONE Championship wants in the strawweight division.
Whenever they want me to fight, I’m ready. Maybe October, November, or December – I’ll be ready for that. I know it won’t be a World Title shot yet, but I hope I could get to it soon.