Angela Lee : Evolve MMA, Far East Square : Tanjong Pagar, Singapore
When you hear the words “cage fighter” you may create your own expectations of what that entails, which is why you might be forgiven for a double-take when you meet up and coming MMA professional fighter, Angela Lee. At a slight 162cms and 52KGs, she sports a wide smile and friendly demeanour, but waiting silently behind her genuine affability lives a trained fighter, dedicating her life to vanquishing opponents in the MMA ring. The years of training are now culminating to ensure that she’s focussed and on the way to justifying the earned nickname: Angela “Unstoppable” Lee.
Born into a family of fighters, she found herself on the mat from a very early age as both of her parents have achieved black belt level in Taekwondo and are long time owners of martial arts gyms. But as a child, the training was more a parental insistence that she and her younger brother learn martial arts as a defensive necessity and, as she wasn’t specifically trained in one style, it created the perfect base for what would eventually become her chosen profession.
“My parents didn’t want us to be fighters, they wanted us to have basic self-defence skills; so we actually didn’t learn a certain style, we learned as a whole from the beginning. Very basic, but together. And then we got to tighten up each aspect as we were growing up; that’s how it’s been. Usually you specialise in one thing and that’s your base, then you add onto that; we learned it all together as we were growing up and then we just sharpened up each aspect”
And what was intended as a background skill for self-defence quickly blossomed into a broader passion for Angela. Honing her skills by sparring and training with her father was fulfilling, but as the early years passed she started to look to other opportunities and it was clear that she wanted to take her skills out of the gym and into organised competition.
“I wanted to compete more and more. The first time in my mind that I wanted to become a professional MMA fighter was after me and my brother travelled all the way to Greece for a junior world Pankration tournament. Countries from all over the world gathered in Sparta – it was an amazing experience. We competed in that and we ended up winning the tournament and the junior world titles. That was amazing and after that I was like “wow, this is at a world level; what’s higher than this? A world championship, professionally” so that’s when we went back and then started researching the fighting organisations”
Her family’s guidance continues as strongly for her now as ever and you can always find them by her side, supporting her dream in any way that they can. Her younger brother (Christian) is an accomplished fighter in his own right (having recently been signed to the Evolve Fight Team and awaiting his 18th birthday to pursue MMA professionally) and her Singaporean-born father is also her coach, providing him a unique insight into this fighter’s psychology and physical prowess, having watched and nurtured growth in every facet of her life to help shape the much anticipated champion she is on track to becoming today.
“I love having him as my coach; he knows me best…knows me better than I know myself sometimes. There’s definitely pros and cons; because I get so emotional trying to detach him…okay, he’s Dad and he’s coach…he’s yelling at me and it’s like, “Don’t do that!”. So it’s hard to separate that for me, but definitely he understands me as a fighter and – of course – his daughter. And that’s definitely a benefit”.
At only 19 she is a relative newcomer to the professional MMA fighting establishment, but with an impressive armbar submission win in under two minutes during her debut professional fight against Aya Saber in May 2015, it’s clear that anyone who steps into the ring with her with any preconception that her age and professional experience is indicative of her ability will most likely come off a painful second best. This immediate success is just the start of what is already a flourishing career for Angela – who has been snapped up by One Championship (the largest MMA promoter in Asia) and both Under Armour (the international performance apparel brand) and the popular Evolve MMA gyms as part of their Evolve Fight Team – but what made this win particularly notable for her was that it happened in Singapore; and with her strong generational ties to the Lion City, it was equally a personal and professional victory.
“It was amazing, I was really blessed that they allowed me to fight here in Singapore for my first fight ’cause they could pick anywhere like Philippines or Indonesia, but they were like “fight on the Singapore card” and I was thrilled. I truly consider myself to be Singaporean, it’s just how I was raised in that kind of culture. My Dad’s parents live with us and had a big influence on how we grew up, introducing us to the Singaporean food and what it’s like over here, so we have a really big connection with that; it’s on a deeper level”
Angela’s immediate goal is perfectly in focus; to be a world champion. And, as there is currently no female Asian world champion and historically no female Hawaiian world MMA champion, it would be a compounded accomplishment for her. Additionally, this kind of recognition would help her achieve a paralleled goal in facilitating broader change to the perception of women’s MMA; particularly in Asia where it’s a relatively new profession for women. Ronda Rousey (the first and current UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion) is among a number of martial arts personalities she admires that are helping to achieve a welcome change to the perception of women’s MMA. It’s an important legacy she wants to help continue to shape; to move away from the unnecessary and misogynistic narrative that seems to follow like an inexplicably distorted shadow that, even in 2015, is somehow still deemed societally acceptable in traditionally male-dominated realms.
“With Men’s MMA you look at them as professional fighters…their skill, what their specialties are. You don’t take time cat-calling them, “oh oh you look so good!!”; you don’t get any of that for the men. Here (in Asia) it’s still developing so I think with me as a fighter – just up and coming – I want to introduce it in the right kind of way. I don’t want it to be that stereotype. We’re just fighting; trying to get more fans on our looks or how we dress…you can’t go about it that way. They don’t have a figure to be associating with women’s MMA today and I’m hoping to be that. I think we do have potential to break that barrier one day, it just takes time”
As with any 19 year old she has the normal distractions of life constantly circling, and the realities being on the road and absent from her other life away from MMA are a daily challenge. This of course requires working hard on balancing her personal and social life amongst her training, but fortunately with her family around her at every turn she has a trusted support team to keep her on track, genuinely wanting to propagate happiness and success in and all areas of her life. And as Angela continues to draw strength from the surrounding energy and continues fuel the drive and refine the process, there’s an excitement in the seemingly inevitable moment when she will bring Hawaii, Singapore and – most importantly – her family to their feet as they all celebrate alongside her when the world champion dream is eventually realised.
Watch Angela’s impressive debut win against Aya Saber here.
Keep up to date with her progress and follow Angela’s Facebook page here.