Sunday, October 13, 2019

Things need a face - human beings relate best to other human beings, not ideas or institutions. When Michael Jordan retired, the popularity of the entire NBA dropped precipitously. When Muhammad Ali retired, interest in boxing dramatically declined. So too with mixed martial arts.

Angela Lee rose to become the female face of ONE Championship. She had a 9-0 record, with three successful title defenses of the atomweight belt. Early this year Lee moved up to challenge strawweight champion Xiong Jingnan, but fell to strikes in Round 5. Lee tried again at strawweight, but lost a decision to Michelle Nicolini.

Jingnan understands the value of being a champ champ in MMA, and on Saturday night, she dropped down to challenge Lee for the atomweight belt, in the main event of ONE: CENTURY, part 1. Adding to the staggering pressure, earlier on the main card, Lee's brother, ONE lightweight champ Christian Lee fought and defeated Saygid Guseyn Arslanaliev, in a non-title fight he took on ten days' notice. Having a beloved sibling fight is not the ideal pre-fight prep scenario. And the city of Tokyo was shut down by Super Typhoon Hagabis, which has killed dozens. If Godzilla was burning the arena with fire, it couldn't have added any further pressure.

Lee and Jingnan fought back and forth; under ONE scoring which considers fights not round by round, but in their entirety, Lee appeared behind heading into the fifth and final round. With a loss, Lee would have no title and a three-fight losing streak. Then with twelve seconds left in the 25-minute fight, Lee won via the most definitive finish in MMA, a Rear Naked choke.

Tears flowed down the 23-year-olds' face as she spoke to tens of millions of fans worldwide.

"Honestly, it feels like a dream. I feel like I'm still dreaming, and I'm going to have to wake up soon and fight," said Lee, as transcribed by Sazali Abdul Aziz for The Straits Times. "In that last round I was rocked. I didn't know what I was doing. All I could hear were my brother and my dad in my corner. That last round, that was not me. That was all my team and my family, and I owe it all to them for this defense."

And so it was that on October 13, 2019, Angela 'Unstoppable' Lee remained the female face of ONE Championship, the largest sports media property in Asia. And now ONE is coming to America.