When “Unstoppable” Angela Lee pulled off a twister submission at ONE Championship 33: Pride of Lions in November 2015, you knew right then that she was something special. Just nineteen years old, in her third professional fight, the Canadian born Lee, of Singaporean and South Korean ancestry, had done what few others had ever managed in a major MMA promotion. The twister is an incredibly elusive submission rarely employed successfully in MMA. Over in the UFC, there had been (and continues to be) exactly one twister finish to date. That was executed by The Korean Zombie, Chan Sung Jung, in his 2011 rematch with Leonard Garcia. Over half a decade later, that submission is still talked about with awe.
For Lee to secure a victory with that particular move — it was almost unthinkable. Yet less than a year later, Lee was crowned ONE Championship atomweight champion, just shy of her twentieth birthday.
A twister submission and a belt in a major MMA promotion, all before twenty. Sure brings those years you frittered away playing video games into perspective.
Yet for all of Lee’s early accomplishments — the twister, the title, a perfect 7-0 record amassed entirely within the ONE Championship promotion — it’s what’s ahead that could really put Angela Lee on the map.
Later this month at the promotion’s upcoming Dynasty of Heroes event in Singapore, Lee will look to continue her undefeated streak against Istela Nunes (5-0). Some have called it a fast turnaround for Lee, who fought in March against Jenny Huang to earn her first title defense. That, however, ignores the fact that “Unstoppable” competed in her first five pro bouts within a nine month span between May 2015 and February 2016.
Like many young fighters, Lee fought as often as possible out of the gate. With title gold around her waist, a slower pace is inevitable — but the quick turnaround should not be a concern.
What will be interesting moving forward (outside of title defenses) is to watch just how far Lee’s stock can rise. She is, arguably, ONE Championship’s first truly homegrown star (though Eduard Folayang is certainly on his way). While fighters like Brandon Vera, Shinya Aoki, and Ben Askren built their name elsewhere, Lee is wholly a ONE Championship product.
She’s also a star with potential global appeal. Like Georges St. Pierre and Conor McGregor before her, Lee has the backing of a nation. Nations, in fact. Born in Vancouver, Canada, then living in Hawaii, Western media outlets have been quick to cover her story. She was featured by both CNN and Forbes earlier this year. Canada’s The Globe and Mail has followed her career. She has a huge following in Asian, as she fights out of Evolve MMA in Singapore. Phrases like “The Next Ronda Rousey” have been thrown about.
Thing is, MMA doesn’t need another Ronda Rousey. Rousey broke down the barrier for women hitting the upper echelons of the MMA world. What the sport needs right now is exactly what Lee offers: a talented, marketable star that can cross cultural boundaries and remind us that fighters, not promotions or staged antics, are the focus of the sport.
With a few more big performances, Angela Lee could very well be at the top of the sport, without ever having fought in North America.
Angela Lee returns May 26, 2017 at ONE Championship: Dynasty of Heroes at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, Singapore.