Mixed Martial Arts: Stars' victories lift fight night

Angela Lee on the way to retaining her One Championship atomweight title against Istela Nunes at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Friday. She wrapped up the win in the second round with a well-executed submission.
Angela Lee on the way to retaining her One Championship atomweight title against Istela Nunes at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Friday. She wrapped up the win in the second round with a well-executed submission.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Wins for Angela Lee, Ben Askren set the bar high for One C'ship rival UFC to emulate

Mixed martial arts stars Angela Lee and Ben Askren were not the only winners to emerge from One Championship's Dynasty of Heroes event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

One Championship, the homegrown MMA promoter, will also have reason to celebrate after pulling out all the stops to stage a stellar event that breathed life into a wet Friday evening.

A 10-bout fight card, headlined by home favourite Lee and US Olympian Askren - both of whom retained their respective titles - gave the 12,000 sell-out crowd their MMA fix over five action-packed hours.

Victor Cui, One Championship's CEO, International, said: "First and foremost we are very thankful for the support of the Singapore fans and our fans around the world. We hope they had a great experience.

"But wait till you see what we have lined up for our November event. I can't share much now but we've got some exciting, never-before-seen stuff and we've got support from key government departments that will allow us to do something innovative and different."

The action was accompanied by a star-studded guest list that included AirAsia founder Tony Fernandes, ride-hailing firm Grab's co-founder Anthony Tan and even television host Cesar Millan, of Dog Whisperer fame.

One Championship also flew in Olympic champion Joseph Schooling. The swimmer, holding a Singapore flag, accompanied Lee as she entered the arena, sending the partisan home crowd into a frenzy.

The razzmatazz was not without reason.

  • MMA EVENTS IN S'PORE

  • ONE CHAMPIONSHIP (Singapore Indoor Stadium)

    Sept 3, 2011: 
    Champion v Champion 

    March 31, 2012: 
    War of the Lions 

    Oct 6, 2012: 
    Rise of Kings 

    April 5, 2013: 
    Kings and Champions 

    Oct 18, 2013: 
    Total Domination 

    May 30, 2014: 
    Honour and Glory 

    Nov 7, 2014: 
    Battle of Lions 

    May 22, 2015: 
    Warrior's Quest 

    Nov 13, 2015: 
    Pride of Lions 

    May 6, 2016: 
    Ascent to Power 

    Nov 11, 2016: 
    Defending Honour 

    May 26, 2017 
    Dynasty of Heroes

    ULTIMATE FIGHTING CHAMPIONSHIP (UFC)

    Jan 4, 2014: 
    UFC Fight Night 34 - Saffiedine v Lim (Marina Bay Sands)

    June 17, 2017:
    UFC Fight Night 111 - Holm v Correia (Indoor Stadium)

Next month, United States-based rival promoters Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will be staging an event at the same venue. It is UFC's first event in Asia since a Seoul gig in November 2015. UFC are pulling no punches and will bring MMA star Holly Holm for their Singapore show.

Holm is popularly known as the fighter who ended Ronda Rousey's three-year reign as champion with a brutal knockout in 2015.

But Cui said: "I don't want to spend too much time on what the competition is doing. We're focused on delivering a great experience for our fans.

"The sport is in its infancy, there's so much room to grow and that's why it's important we continue to innovate and improve."

Crucial to One Championship's success is its stable of stars, and none are more recognisable here than the cherubic Lee, who retained her atomweight title for the second time.

Even a bout of pneumonia could not stop her as she submitted Brazilian challenger Istela Nunes in the second round with an anaconda choke, which involves strangling an opponent with their own shoulder and the fighter's arm.

Lee, who is of Singaporean and Korean descent, revealed that she was plagued by self-doubt leading up to the fight because of the illness.

The 20-year-old said: "I actually got pretty sick leading up to the fight. I was on antibiotics and stuff so I was fighting through that. It was just a very tough battle with myself, overcoming my own doubt.

"I didn't know if I had it in me. But I trusted in my training, my team, my coaches and I just went out there and got the job done.

"I have so much respect for Istela, but this is my life. I live for this and I can't give up the belt. No way."

Lee, who lives in a condominium near her relatives in the east when she is in town, also spoke warmly about the home crowd.

She said: "When I looked out and saw the crowd and the amazing turnout we had tonight, it was electrifying and I took in all that energy and used it as a motivating factor."

Asked when she will enter the ring again, she said: "This fight camp was kind of tough, so I might take some time off. But you know me, I always get antsy and want to get back in the cage."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 28, 2017, with the headline 'Stars' Victories lift fight night'. Print Edition | Subscribe