MMA: Angela Lee ready to counter her 'toughest' test

With her championship belt slung over her shoulder, Angela Lee (left) faces off against Istela Nunes (right). Lee said her talent as a fast starter will be crucial in winning today.
With her championship belt slung over her shoulder, Angela Lee (left) faces off against Istela Nunes (right). Lee said her talent as a fast starter will be crucial in winning today.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Undefeated Brazilian challenger no problem, says confident MMA atomweight champion

It has been more than a year since Angela Lee's last bout in Singapore and the mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter and One Championship atomweight champion is back and raring to thrill the Singapore Indoor Stadium crowd once more.

On the eve of her title defence against Brazilian challenger Istela Nunes at tonight's Dynasty of Heroes event, Lee was confident that she would retain her belt.

Speaking yesterday at McGettigan's Clarke Quay alongside Singapore's Olympic swimming champion Joseph Schooling, Lee said: "I'm in another class above these girls. I've trained hard and I'm not worried about tomorrow night.

"I'm extremely confident going into this fight. I'm a fast starter and I'm looking to finish this fight as early as possible when I see (a chance). Hopefully it'll be a short night for everyone."

Even with Schooling in her corner as part of her entourage, Lee admitted that Nunes, 24, poses a serious threat when it comes to ending her year-long reign.

Lee, 20, said: "My toughest fight, my next step, is going to be right in front of me tomorrow night. And I don't think it'll be smart to overlook my opponent. I think it'll be the toughest test for me tomorrow.

REALISTIC ASSESSMENT

I don't think it'll be smart to overlook my opponent. I think it'll be the toughest test for me tomorrow.

ANGELA LEE, on her title defence against Istela Nunes today.

"With each (successive) fight and title defence, the (opponents are) going to get tougher and tougher. Especially because Istela is a two-time muay thai world champion, she's decorated. She's undefeated as well. I think she poses a good challenge."

All signs point towards a seismic clash between two of the most promising talents on One Championship's roster.

RELYING ON STRIKE POWER

She is an all-rounder but stronger on the ground... I will look to end it fast with my striking. But if she takes to ground I will be prepared.

ISTELA NUNES, summing up how she intends to counter her opponent.

Lee, who is of Singaporean and Korean descent, is the crowd favourite for the contest. She was born in Vancouver, raised in Hawaii and is representing the Singapore-based Evolve MMA team.

She became One Championship's first female champion last May, when she beat Japan's Mei Yamaguchi after a gruelling five-round bout at the Indoor Stadium.

It will be the second time Lee is putting her title on the line. She retained her title against Taiwan's Jenny Huang at One Championship's Bangkok event in March.

Both Lee and Nunes are undefeated. Lee holds a 7-0 win-loss record, while Nunes' stands at 5-0, including a win over Yamaguchi last August in Macau.

Because of her background in muay thai, Nunes boasts a strong striking game and will look to deal Lee - nicknamed Unstoppable - her first loss inside the cage.

Nunes said: "I am also undefeated so I think we are the same level. I have never let my opponent fight their game plan in the cage. I always control the fight and I will make Angela fight my game.

"She is an all-rounder but stronger on the ground and I am a muay thai champ.

"I will look to end it fast with my striking. But if she takes to ground I will be prepared."

Lee is not the only person who is facing stiff competition. One Championship faces its own contest outside the cage, with Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) set to stage an event in Singapore on June 17. It will be UFC's first event here since November 2015.

But former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin dismisses the thought that UFC is encroaching on One's home turf.

Franklin, 42, who is now One Championship's vice-president, said: "We appeal to the Asian market. Do you think the average Singaporean will resonate and identify more with Ronda Rousey or Angela Lee?

"Ultimately, our local heroes are going to win the fans."

•Additional reporting by Chua Siang Yee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2017, with the headline 'Lee ready to counter her 'toughest' test'. Print Edition | Subscribe