Angela Lee has been on the sidelines since October 2019 not because of injury or illness, or even the coronavirus pandemic — at least not entirely.
Rather, Lee (10-2), ONE Championship’s reigning, defending atomweight champion, has been out of action after having her first child with husband Bruno Pucci. Daughter Ava was born in April of this year, and Lee now awaits the winner of the ongoing atomweight grand prix, which kicked off this past Friday.
At a ONE media day featuring all three members of the Lee family who fight for ONE Championship (brother Christian Lee is the promotion’s lightweight champ, while younger sister Victoria is 2-0 in the company), it was suggested a champion needs to defend their title at least once a year. And that ONE’s decision to allow Lee the extended time off to have a child was because she was the “poster girl” for the company.
That didn’t sit well with Lee. “Well I disagree with that. First of all, these aren’t normal times. There’s a global pandemic going on, which has made if difficult to host a lot of events. And it’s been hard for everyone around the world,” retorted Lee, clearly annoyed with the question. “Second of all, what Chatri [Sityodtong, ONE Chairman and CEO] did, it makes a statement for everyone. It’s not because I’m the poster girl. It’s because this is just a given right. I worked so hard to get to the position I’m at, and just because I get pregnant and want to have a baby, I shouldn’t be stripped of my title, something that I worked towards.”
It’s an interesting subject, even if the question came off somewhat sexist. In the past, champions in multiple promotions have been stripped of titles for being injured or inactive. But this isn’t injury, and the reality is that pregnancy is part of the natural life cycle. Maternity/paternity leave is standard in most major corporations, so asking Lee to give up her spot seems like a stretch.
Lee believes ONE Championship has shown the way in this case, as to what the standard should be when a female champion does get pregnant. And she knows she’s lucky to be fighting for them.
“I think that I’m very lucky, of course, and I know that it’s going to come with a lot of criticism and hate,” she continued, “but I know how hard I worked for this, and I’m not just going to have that taken from me.”
The same reporter who proposed the subject also suggested that, with live events still taking place, perhaps she should have taken the high road and vacated the belt. In essence to give other competitors a shot.
“And who would fight for it?” Lee fired back. “Denice [Zamboanga] is so-called the number one contender. Who would she fight? There was no one else in the division. There was an atomweight grand prix that was supposed to be happening, and it was planned before I even announced I was pregnant. Who would she fight? I think it’s ridiculous!”
“If I was stripped of my title and there was going to be an interim championship, who would [Zamboanga] fight?” Lee questioned again. “I don’t think that you or me have a say in what this organization does. So let’s leave it up to the people who actually run the company.”
Zamboanga recently lost a controversial split decision in the quarterfinal round of the grand prix. Angela Lee, meanwhile, awaits the winner.
Watch the full special ONE Championship media day with all three Lee siblings below.