THE FINISH LINE

Angela Lee primed for November return to the cage

One Championship's atomweight world champion, now 37 weeks pregnant with her first child, is eager to make her comeback

Lee U-Wen
Published Sat, Apr 3, 2021 · 05:50 AM

NEARLY 18 months have gone by since Angela Lee - arguably the most recognisable mixed martial arts (MMA) competitor on One Championship's star-studded roster of athletes - last stepped into the cage to compete.

And by the time her next scheduled match takes place in November, the 24-year-old's life would have changed dramatically. In about a fortnight's name, Lee will welcome her first child - a daughter to be named Ava Marie - into the world.

"Of course I miss the competition. I love fighting; it's what I do. But right now, I'm totally embracing this new chapter in my life, and that's getting ready to be a mom," she tells The Business Times Weekend over a Whatsapp call from Hawaii, where she lives with her husband, jiu-jitsu practitioner Bruno Pucci from Brazil.

Lee, whose father is originally from Singapore and mother is South Korean, is the current women's atomweight world champion. She is set to face the winner of the inaugural One Championship atomweight world grand prix, which begins on May 28.

During our 20-minute conversation, the bubbly Lee opens up about her plans to return to the cage, her recent guest stint on the One Championship edition of The Apprentice reality TV show (AXN said it is the most-watched English language reality series premier in 2021 in Asia), and why her younger sister, 16-year-old Victoria, is primed to be a future MMA world champion.

Congratulations on the new baby. How do you plan to eventually return to training and competition, and balance that with being a mother as well?

A NEWSLETTER FOR YOU
Friday, 2 pm
Lifestyle

Our picks of the latest dining, travel and leisure options to treat yourself.

I definitely miss fighting, and going to the gym. I've been watching my younger siblings Christian (the reigning lightweight world champion) and Victoria.

If everything goes according to plan, the perfect scenario would be to spend the next few months (after my baby is born) to adjust to a new routine, get back into shape, and eventually end the year in the cage and defending my belt.

I'm lucky to have such a great family and a great support system. We're all part of a big team, and I know I can lean on them and they will be there for me every step of the way.

The atomweight grand prix has some pretty tough competitors involved, such as Thailand's Stamp Fairtex and India's Ritu Phogat. Which potential opponents have caught your eye so far?

I've seen the first-round match-ups for the tournament, and I'm happy and excited to see all the talented women that are participating. They are all really great matches, and I'm eager to see how their different styles match up. I'll be paying close attention and eager to face the winner in November.

You were one of the guest stars for The Apprentice: One Championship Edition, and the episode featuring you just aired in Singapore earlier this week. How was that experience?

I flew to Singapore a few months ago for the filming. It was an abnormally long journey to get there, due to the Covid situation, with fewer flights available. I was already pregnant, so I tell everyone my baby has already clocked more air miles than most people. (laughs)

It was a full day of shooting for the show, and it was a lot of fun. It was my first time on a reality TV set, and I got to meet all the contestants and watch all the activities they had to go through. I was a bit bummed that I couldn't join in the fun.

Do you think you would fare better as a contestant or as a judge?

I think both roles would be very interesting. I'd say it would be tough to be a judge, so I prefer to be a contestant and show my competitive side.

You watched Victoria make her One Championship debut in Singapore in February, winning by submission in the second round. Do you see a lot of similarities in yourself, when you were her age?

At 16, Victoria is just so much more mature than I was, really. Seeing her on the professional stage and how she handled herself, kept her composure and nerves, was amazing. I'm so proud of her. I think people don't really realise the amount of pressure and weight on her shoulders going into this debut.

The good thing is, she's followed my brother and I to a lot of live events in the past, so she knows what it's like behind the scenes. Of course, now with the whole Covid situation, things are completely different with all sorts of new regulations in place, but I must say she coped really well.

Is it too early to talk about Victoria being a future world champion?

I don't think so. Any professional fighter's end goal is to be a world champion and get their hands on that shiny belt. That said, she's very young and we're going to take this one step at a time. It's important not to rush things and she knows it too. She doesn't want to be fast-tracked, and she wants to gain as much experience as she can.

You will be 25 in July and still in the prime of your career. Have you thought about life after you've retired from competition?

I have different options in mind. It's true that the lifespan of an athlete is shorter than other professions, and especially so for female fighters. For now, the best years of my career are still ahead of me and I'm very excited about the next few years once I make my comeback.

I'm always looking for ways to give back to the community. My husband and I have our own jiu-jitsu gym where we teach grappling. That business is growing, and it's a seed we planted for our future retirement. I'm open to doing anything, and it's important to have multiple back-up plans and keep all the doors open.

KEYWORDS IN THIS ARTICLE

BT is now on Telegram!

For daily updates on weekdays and specially selected content for the weekend. Subscribe to  t.me/BizTimes

Lifestyle

SUPPORT SOUTH-EAST ASIA'S LEADING FINANCIAL DAILY

Get the latest coverage and full access to all BT premium content.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Browse corporate subscription here