Lee physically and mentally prepared for Yamaguchi fight
MMA world champ feeling confident ahead of defending her title in S’pore in November
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.”