For one fighter, the wait has dragged on for almost a year. For the other, it’s lasted a lifetime.
The world of mixed martial arts will turn its attention to Bangkok on Saturday night when the sport’s youngest-ever world champion, Angela Lee of Hawaii, puts her ONE atomweight world championship belt on the line against Taiwan’s unheralded Jenny Huang.
“I just can’t wait,” Lee said at the face off on Thursday night at the luxury Banyan spa-hotel in the Thai capital. “It’s been a while out of the cage for me so I’m bringing in a different sense of enthusiasm. It’s going to be intense, that’s all I have to say.”
The 20-year-old Lee has not been seen inside the cage since she won the belt in an all-out war against the Japanese veteran Mei Yamaguchi last May. She was 19, and she made history by lifting the title. In the months since, Lee’s star has continued to rise, despite the fact that she’s not had another fight.
With the sport on the rise across the region, Lee has been placed at the forefront of ONE Championship’s promotions, picking up the commercial opportunities that come with a champion’s territory.
Lee said she that while she had welcomed all the attention it was now time to get on with what she does best – fighting inside a cage.
“A lot of fighters lose their edge when they start to think that it’s easy being champion,” said Lee. “Keeping the belt is a lot harder than winning it the first time around,” said Lee. “I won’t take any opponent for granted, especially not someone as talented as Jenny Huang. I still have much to do in the sport of mixed martial arts and I’m going to kick off the next chapter of my career against one of the top contenders.”
Lee has been tucked away for the past few weeks, back home in Hawaii under the watchful gaze of her coach and father Ken, and Christian – brother, sparring partner, fellow pro fighter and “bestie.” The time out has clearly done her good: she arrived in Bangkok to headline the nine-fight ONE: Warrior Kingdom card looking fine-tuned and relaxed.
“It’s this kind of dual life that I am living,” said Lee. “It’s cool that I can just go back home. Everyone in Hawaii is not star-struck by celebrity – they keep it real. So that also helps me to stay grounded as well.”
On paper, at least, the Lee-Huang matchup presents two fighters who won’t mind too much if the fight goes to ground. Both have records – 6-0 for Lee and 5-0 for Huang – that are dominated by victories by way of submission.
And if it goes to the mat, Huang won’t be concerned at all. The 26-year-old might have come as the underdog but she’s been cutting an impressively calm figure.
On Thursday evening at the pre-fight face off with her opponent, Huang said simply: “I am very confident going into this fight. I can’t wait to show the world who Jenny Huang is.”
Mixed martial arts is still taking root in Taiwan — as it is with Chinese athletes in general — and Huang said she wants to inspire those just starting out in the sport, or even people who just want to do the training to get in shape.
“It has always been my dream to be a professional fighter,” said the one-time judoka. “That is a dream that has been with me my whole life. I’ve been trying not to think about the fight that much as I don’t want to put pressure on myself. But I am ready.”