Learning curves don’t come much steeper than the one experienced by Angela Lee, who shot to fame as mixed martial arts’ youngest world champion when she lifted the ONE Championship atomweight crown in May at the age of just 19.
She has rarely been out of the spotlight since, as she worked hard on her technique in the gym to add to her arsenal in preparation for her first defense of the title. That will come on March 11 in Bangkok, when the now-20-year-old Lee (6-0) will face Taiwan’s Jenny Huang (5-0).
However, Lee revealed that one of the biggest lessons she’s learned hasn’t come through the sweat, blood and tears of a brutal training regime, but during much-needed time out in her family’s home in Hawaii and returning to being an MMA fan again. It was from there she watched as Amanda Nunes dealt out a harsh lesson to the once seemingly unbeatable Ronda Rousey at December’s UFC 207.
In MMA, every bout teaches you something, Lee said.
“As brutal as it is, that’s the fight game,” said Lee. “And that’s how things go down. The sport is full of ups and downs, highs and lows. For me it’s just incredibly important to just surround yourself with people that are going to be honest with you. And you have to be honest with yourself.
“The most important thing is to just keep learning and keep improving. That’s the whole thing about martial arts – to just keep improving yourself as a person.”
Lee and Japanese 33-year-old Mei Yamaguchi staged an epic bout in Singapore last May before the judges’ nodded unanimously in the youngster’s direction.
“It’s crazy to think about all that has happened in such a short space of time,” Lee said. “I gained a lot of confidence from that fight, just knowing that I went in there and tried my best for all five five-minute rounds.
“It didn’t take so much out of me physically, more mentally and emotionally. There was a lot of pressure going into that fight and the training was rigorous. So I really appreciated the time off. But I’m really excited to get back.”
Lee is now ramping up her training after her break, which came after she had fought five times in about a year.
“It’s been a little while out of the cage, something I’m not quite used to,” she said. “Since the title fight I’ve just been training hard improving all areas, from the striking to the take downs to the grappling. For me as the champion it is really important how I look at things – I don’t want to become complacent, I want to stay hungry and continue learning and striving to just improve in martial arts. I can’t wait to get back into the cage.”
The 26-year-old Huang has only been fighting since May 2015 but she’ll arrive at ONE Championship’s second foray into Thailand boasting an impressive 5-0 record, added to most recently when the Philippines’ April Osenio tapped out in their bout in Manila in December.
Huang will prove the toughest test to date for Lee, a notion the fighter readily acknowledged.
“I’m really looking to make a statement with this fight,” she said. “Jenny has had really great fights and she’s earned her shot at the title. I’m taking her very seriously. But I think that this is my time to show the world who I am as a fighter.
“I’m extremely excited about fighting in Bangkok, and headlining the card is going to be amazing,” Lee said. “It’s going to be awesome.”