A demon in the ring, but angelic out of it

In the ring, everyone sees Lee as a ruthless fighter who deals maximum damage in minimal time.
In the ring, everyone sees Lee as a ruthless fighter who deals maximum damage in minimal time.PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Angela Lee is skilled at turning heads - although most of the time, it is in a mixed martial arts (MMA) ring where she leaves her victims tapping out in agony.

But on the rare occasion that the 19-year-old professional fighter trades tights for a white dress and lets her hair down instead of wearing it in a tight pony-tail, she experiences a similar, although less painful, reaction.

"Someone's got a hot date," teased her fellow instructors, amid wolf whistles, at Evolve MMA. Clearly they too have not seen this side of Lee.

 

The date is with me - but lest anyone gets the wrong impression, it's purely professional. My assignment was to spend a day with one of MMA's brightest talents and find out who the real Angela Lee is.

In the ring, everyone sees a ruthless fighter who deals maximum damage in minimal time. None of her fights went the full three rounds.

NO SLOW GRINDER

The longer you stay in the ring, the (greater the) possibility of getting injured... I like to go for the kill, that’s just my fight style.

ANGELA LEE , on her fight strategy of finishing her opponents early in her bouts

Out of it, Angela is far from a cold-blooded assassin. One thing that never escapes - despite just arriving from Hawaii in the morning, was her sunny disposition. Angela was perpetually armed with a dimply smile, greeting team-mates at Evolve MMA with hugs and friendly exchanges. Jet lag? Pfft.

Her explanation? "I try to be positive and cheerful and happy. Having a negative mentality just brings you and everyone around you down,"she said.

But opponents who want to exploit her kindness should think twice. "If they respect me I respect them. But I wouldn't tolerate everything," she said. "When opponents are cocky it makes me laugh because when I get in that ring, I'll see how confident you really are."

Crossing her would certainly be unwise. Once she is suited up and got in the cage, the indomitable fighter takes over as she rained down a lethal combination of jabs, knees and kicks at her instructor.

Her speed, footwork and force were comparable with her male team-mates. Teeth grit, fists clenched, she kept up the intensity for almost an hour. Being a taekwondo black-belt holder, I was impressed.

At the dinner table though, that steely gaze and unwavering focus was replaced by endless laughter and awkward chuckles as Angela tried to describe herself.

She opened up about her softer side, including struggling with homesickness when she first trained here.

"There are days I call up my dad, crying on the phone, but my dad always gives me positive feedback and at the end I'm 100 per cent back to normal," she said.

But there is also her competitiveness, which sometimes got the better of her. "I would want to beat (brother) Christian at everything, whether it's a board game or helping mum and dad carry the groceries in.

"But it also gives me that fire to compete, to never settle for less and always want to be better."

Clearly, it is hard to typecast Angela. Perhaps she summed it up best.

"It's a different story outside and inside of the ring."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 01, 2016, with the headline 'A demon in the ring, but angelic out of it'. Print Edition | Subscribe