Lee phys­i­cally and men­tally pre­pared for Ya­m­aguchi fight

MMA world champ feel­ing con­fi­dent ahead of de­fend­ing her ti­tle in S’pore in Novem­ber

Today - - SINGAPORE | SPORTS - Ray­mond Tham ray­mond­markt@me­di­a­corp.com.sg

SIN­GA­PORE — Based on her re­cent dec­la­ra­tions, one might get the im­pres­sion that ONE Cham­pi­onship’s Women’s Atomweight world cham­pion An­gela Lee has be­come a lit­tle too cock­sure of her abil­i­ties af­ter be­com­ing the world’s youngest mixed mar­tial arts (MMA) world cham­pion,

“Show some re­spect, An­gela,” said one Face­book user, af­ter the 21-yearold fighter pro­claimed on so­cial me­dia that she would beat her up­com­ing op­po­nent, Mei Ya­m­aguchi of Ja­pan, in less than five rounds at ONE Cham­pi­onships’ next event in Sin­ga­pore, ONE: Im­mor­tal Pur­suit at the Sin­ga­pore In­door Sta­dium on Nov 24.

“You’d best take her (Ya­m­aguchi) se­ri­ously. Fyi, trash-talking your op­po­nent doesn’t suit you, es­pe­cially when they’re a class act like Mei Ya­m­aguchi,” added an­other.

Yet, while Lee ex­udes an air of con­fi­dence, she is no brash or cocky youth. In an in­ter­na­tional me­dia con­fer­ence call yes­ter­day to pro­mote the fight, Lee spoke in mea­sured and ma­ture tones, tak­ing time to also talk up her op­po­nent.

“I know that Mei Ya­m­aguchi is a very tough op­po­nent. She’s def­i­nitely the tough­est I’ve fought so far, and if you look at her fight record, she’s never been fin­ished be­fore,” said Lee.

“I know how hard she’s been train­ing, and I’m go­ing to be pre­pared for that, I’m go­ing to be pre­pared for her best ... I’m pre­pared for ev­ery­thing she’s go­ing to throw at me, and I’m go­ing to throw it back at her even more,” said the Hawaii-based fighter.

Lee was just 19, two months short of her 20th birth­day, when she de­feated Ya­m­aguchi for the ti­tle in May last year. Since then, she has suc­cess­fully de­fended her ti­tle twice, de­feat­ing Tai­wan’s Jenny Huang this March, and then Brazil’s two-time muay thai world cham­pion Istela Nunes in June. Both wins came via sub­mis­sion in the third and sec­ond round re­spec­tively. Both op­po­nents were also older than Lee.

But last year’s fight with Ya­m­aguchi re­mains etched in Lee’s mind — not be­cause she be­came the world cham­pion that day, but also be­cause it re­mains the only fight in her ca­reer where she failed to make her op­po­nent sub­mit.

Lee had to bat­tle through all five rounds, and was even knocked down at one point, be­fore fi­nally emerg­ing vic­to­ri­ous on the judges’ de­ci­sion.

“I’ve watched the fight count­less times ... the third round I came out flat, I had my hands down and she caught me,” she said. “There are so many things I can learn from that fight, which was very back-and-forth.

“I’ve def­i­nitely tight­ened up on a lot of my sub­mis­sions, I’ve im­proved heav­ily on my strik­ing and you’re go­ing to see a lot of it come to­gether very nicely on Nov 24.”

Be­yond im­prov­ing her tech­niques, Lee said one of the big­gest changes she has made in the past 16 months has been in her men­tal game.

“Of course I train all year round, work­ing to im­prove the dif­fer­ent ar­eas of my fight­ing, the strik­ing, the tran­si­tions and the ground game — you know, just the whole MMA as­pect.

“But I think a lot of im­prove­ments have been made in the men­tal and emo­tional as­pect of the fight game.

“I think I have had time to ma­ture a bit more as a fighter ... and I think my deal­ing with that is go­ing to make a lot more (of a) dif­fer­ence in my per­for­mance come Novem­ber,” she said. An­gela Lee was just 19 when she de­feated Ja­pan’s Mei Ya­m­aguchi for the ti­tle in May last year.

Lee, who trains at the Evolve MMA gym in Sin­ga­pore, said that she was “very, very ner­vous” dur­ing her first fight with Ya­m­aguchi.

“Our last fight, I never ex­pe­ri­enced some­thing like that be­fore, it was the big­gest fight of my life. I was 19.”

But she added: “Like I said, I’ve had two ti­tle de­fences since that fight and I’ve gained a lot more ex­pe­ri­ence in­side the cage, and I feel a lot more con­fi­dent.

“This time around, I’m look­ing for­ward to step­ping in­side the cage with her with com­plete con­fi­dence ... I’m look­ing for­ward to show­cas­ing my new skills, and I’m re­ally ex­cited.”

For her part, Ya­m­aguchi, a 10-year vet­eran in pro­fes­sional MMA, says she has also im­proved and is look­ing to avenge her loss last year.

“In the last fight, it was my first time in Sin­ga­pore, it was my first match in ONE Cham­pi­onship, so I wasn’t re­ally used to the en­vi­ron­ment ... and some­times I was kind of con­fused,” said the 34-year-old.

“Now I’m kind of used to it, to ev­ery­thing, and this fight this time, I’m re­ally pre­pared 100 per cent.”

Since her ti­tle loss, Ya­m­aguchi has fought twice, los­ing once by de­ci­sion, while get­ting Huang to sub­mit in June to clinch her re­match with Lee.

Both Lee and Ya­m­aguchi promised a more ex­cit­ing fight for fans.

“I think the cham­pion An­gela Lee is be­com­ing a to­tal fighter by watch­ing her pre­vi­ous fights,” said Ya­m­aguchi.

“We don’t need de­ci­sions, we’re look­ing for a clear fin­ish. I’m go­ing to win this fight and show that ev­ery­one has pos­si­bil­i­ties of achiev­ing a cer­tain level if we don’t stop chal­leng­ing.

“An­gela Lee, I’m so ready for this fight. I’ll see you in the cage.”

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