ONE Superstar Angela Lee’s last fight against Natalie “Kilapino” Gonzales Hills was definitely a fight that ONE Championship fans and the MMA community around the world will remember. The minute both fighters touched gloves, Natalie Hills immediately engaged by landing some solid strikes on Angela.
The crowd in the Singapore Indoor Stadium went wild as their favored fighter appeared to be on the losing end of the match. Unfortunately for Natalie Gonzales Hills, Angela Lee is even better on her back than she is on her feet. The submission artist quickly put her Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Brown Belt skills to work and executed a perfect scissor sweep that gave her the dominant position.
As Natalie attempted to recover, Angela managed a swift soccer kick that made Natalie sit up in panic. Angela passed her guard to secure the mount position and immediately landed several strikes from the top. From here, she would execute the first ever twister submission seen in ONE Championship history, solidifying her name as a true submission artist.
There’s something to be said about an MMA fighter who can’t stop smiling. From the moment she walks out into the arena in front of 15,000 screaming fans to the moment she steps into the cage, 19-year-old Angela Lee seems to be in a state of pure bliss. While other fighters seem to nervously pace around the cage before their fights, Angela appears completely zen.
“I’m just so happy to be here, to be fighting,” she says.
It’s hard to imagine Angela as anything but your typical teenage girl. Dressed in colorful culottes with her sun streaked hair pulled back in a ponytail, replete with her trademark dimples and bangs, Angela Lee could most certainly pass for a 17-year-old. However, behind her girl-next-door appearance is a highly decorated martial artist who’s been training and competing ever since she was 3 years old. Today, Angela has earned numerous accolades such as 2-time Pankration World Champion and a Wrestling State Champion. She also holds a 1st degree Black Belt in Taekwondo and TDS, and a Brown Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
“My dad used to put me on the monkey bars and let me just hang there,” laughs Angela. “He would time me and see how long I could last. I was this little girl with really big, muscular shoulders and arms. It was so funny!” As funny as it seemed back then, 6th Degree Hapdosool Master Black Belt and 1st Degree Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt, Ken Lee always knew that giving his daughter an early head start would pay off someday.
As a martial artist himself, his greatest legacy would be passing on the benefits of martial arts to his children. Ken and his wife, Jewelz, a 5th Degree Hapdosool Master Black Belt, continuously encouraged Angela to practice martial arts despite Angela’s occasional protests. “There were days when I really didn’t want to train. I just wanted to hang out with my friends like other normal kids,” reveals Angela. “But I’m really grateful that my parents pushed me to do it. If I stopped, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
While Angela’s father, Ken Lee is her coach, her mom, Jewelz, is how she stays in touch with her feminine side. “We talk about anything and everything, especially about cooking. We also love talking about girly stuff like weddings and babies,” shares Angela. “She’s also great at giving advice!”
Angela’s younger siblings, including 17-year-old Christian, 11-year-old Victoria and 9-year old Adrian are all martial artists as well. In fact, Christian is set to make his professional MMA debut this December at ONE: Spirit Of Champions. No one’s more excited about this debut than Angela, who considers herself Christian’s biggest supporter. Both of them have trained together all their lives, creating an unusual bond between the siblings.
“Christian’s been my best friend and favorite training partner ever since 1998 (the year he was born),” Angela explains. “We’re probably the closest pair of siblings you’ll ever meet.”
Growing up on the mats together, Angela and Christian were each other’s first training partners. Being the older sibling with more experience, Angela would always have the upper hand – up to the point Christian hit puberty. “When he turned 14, training definitely changed,” shares Angela. “Christian was finally bigger and stronger. Most of the time, he’d just let me win because he didn’t want to hurt my feelings. But I knew that he was just giving me a chance.” Finally, three years later, Angela would have her revenge over Christian. “We were grappling in Hawaii and I was able to get him in a choke! I just held on for dear life until he finally tapped. I was so happy!” Angela says.
Angela and Christian are so close that she considers herself to be Christian’s “mini-mom”. From changing diapers to reading bedtime stories, Angela’s bond with Christian is definitely something she treasures to this day. Because of this closeness, Angela admits that she’s quite the overprotective older sister over Christian. “Christian is the sweetest boy ever,” Angela says. “He’s really caring and sensitive so he always manages to end up with girls that aren’t so nice. I just want what’s best for him. And sometimes, I don’t say such nice things about these girls to Christian. He really deserves so much better!”
Apart from training together, Angela and Christian also enjoy watching movies and going to the beach together.
“Christian doesn’t mind watching chick flicks, like A Walk To Remember, The Notebook.He’ll watch it all and enjoy it!” Angela shares.
Ken and Jewelz Lee have always stressed the importance of family and togetherness in raising their four children. As a result, they’ve become quite the tight knit family. In fact, Angela and Christian consider themselves practically the second set of parents to their younger siblings Victoria and Adrian. “If you want to know what I was like when I was a kid, I would probably be a lot like Adrian. He’s really cheeky and naughty while Victoria’s more like Christian.” Angela says. She also talks about how talented they are, especially Victoria. “Victoria was so much better than I was at her age,” explains Angela. “She does all the same things Christian and I do. I could definitely see her being the next MMA superstar.”
Angela is also extremely close to her grandparents. After growing up with them around in Canada and having them visit frequently in Hawaii, Angela says they’re definitely a big part of her life. In fact, she says her grandparents are the reason she loves Singapore and Singaporean food so much! Angela’s grandparents are also her biggest fans, especially her grandfather. “Both of them watched my last fight in Singapore,” says Angela. “My grandfather was all pumped up but my grandmother was worried the entire time. In fact, she claims I almost gave her a heart attack!”
The martial arts training she’s had for the past 16 years has undoubtedly helped her MMA career. It has given her an edge over her competition, who don’t have the amount of training Angela’s had. Her youth also is a great advantage, giving most people the impression that she’s just a newbie. “Everyone who sees me at first thinks, wow, you’re 19? You must be so new at this!” Angela reveals. “Then I tell them how long I’ve been training and they just get shocked!”
There’s no doubt that martial arts has played a big role in Angela’s life. In fact, she credits martial arts for teaching her valuable lessons such as humility, continuous self-improvement, respect, and mental toughness. These are lessons she believes she wouldn’t have learned from any other sport.
“There are many things that I can correlate to martial arts in my everyday life,” Angela explains. “In my senior year of high school, I graduated with honors. I think the discipline and organizational skills I learned from martial arts played a big role in that.”
After winning the World Pankration Athlima Federation Junior World Championship at 16, Angela knew that she wanted to be an MMA fighter. As rare as it is to find one’s passion at such a young age, it is equally rare to find someone as calm and composed as Angela is inside the MMA cage.
“After all those years of training, competitions, and tournaments, you could say I’m a game day kind of girl,” Angela reveals,” When I’m in the cage, I feel so comfortable. It’s like this is what I was meant to do.”
Angela also attributes her ability to focus and concentrate inside the cage to her inspiration and hero, former UFC Women’s Bantamweight World Champion Ronda Rousey. Despite Ronda’s shocking loss, Angela still believes that the former champion will be back stronger than ever. “Every competitive person knows what it’s like to feel a loss. To get belittled, made fun of the way Ronda has is horrible. It’s bullying!” says Angela.
In fact, Angela uses Ronda’s loss as motivation for her next MMA fight. “I’ll be a different fighter in my next fight; I’ve learned not to underestimate my opponent. I’ll go back to my old game plan and focus on my strengths instead. Like my dad said, everything else will come in time so I don’t need to rush anything,” Angela shares.
Fast forward to 2015 – Angela is now one of the fastest rising stars in women’s MMA and ONE Championship. She’s also gathered quite the fan base.
“I’m flattered, but I think I’m still the same girl I was three years ago when nobody knew me,” says Angela.
She’s been recognized at the most random places: on the streets, on the MRT, and most recently, at a bubble tea shop. “The attendant asked me, are you Angela Lee?” she shares, “When I said yes, he just stared at me like he didn’t believe me. It’s really been so surreal.”
Angela trains hard with multiple-time Muay Thai World Champion and ONE Strawweight World Champion Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke.
As a ONE Superstar and member of the Evolve Fight Team, Angela’s life has completely changed. Being in the spotlight means she has less privacy with intimate details about her life revealed for the world to devour. She admits it’s been difficult for her family, especially her boyfriend, but she knows it’s a small price to pay in the pursuit of her dreams. “It’s just awesome to be able to do what I love to do,” Angela admits.
At the age 19, Angela has had to move half way across the globe to pursue her dreams as an MMA fighter, leaving Hawaii and her old gym behind. It’s been difficult for Angela, especially since she’s lived in Hawaii almost her whole life. “Everything I’ve ever known is in Hawaii,” says Angela. “I miss my friends, the food, driving around in my truck, going to the beach – life in Singapore is just so different.”
Every martial artist knows how painful it can be to leave your training partners behind, especially after training with them on a daily basis for so many years. “They’ve become my best friends,” explains Angela. “I’ve become closer to my training partners than any of my girlfriends from school. You have this special bond with them and they just understand you.”
She also misses her dog, Maximus, an American Pitbull Angela bought together with her boyfriend. A self-confessed dog lover, Angela admits that she often speaks to her dog on Facetime, even if he doesn’t recognize her or her voice. “I miss taking Max out for walks. Bobby and I used to take him out everyday to the park and we’d have picnics. I really miss those little things!” Angela says wistfully.
And just like any teenage girl, Angela is madly and desperately in love with her longtime boyfriend. At 19, it’s especially hard to imagine being apart from your first love, but Angela knows that it’s all worth it in the end. “You remember the things you used to take for granted. Car rides to the beach, watching movies — just being together. It really makes me sad,” shares Angela.
“When I found out I was fighting in December, I was so happy. Then all of a sudden, I got really sad. I realized that it would mean two more months away from my boyfriend and then I started feeling really homesick,” Angela explains. ”But then my dad said that my boyfriend could come visit in December and that changed everything.” What’s Angela’s advice for keeping a long distance relationship alive? “Talk everyday! Skype, Facetime, iMessage — communication is the key to keeping any relationship strong, regardless of whether you’re in the same country or not,” says Angela.
The maturity and humility with which Angela conducts herself in and out of the ONE Championship cage are simply beyond her years. Perhaps it is the strong bond that she has with her family that has had such a great influence on her attitude. Facing constant bouts of homesickness and heartache isn’t easy, especially for someone who needs total focus and concentration for those 15 minutes inside the cage.
However, one often forgets that Angela has been training martial arts for over a decade. This has helped her forge a warrior spirit that will continue to guide her through whatever problems she may face. The future certainly looks bright for Angela Lee and we just can’t wait to see what else lies behind that megawatt smile of hers.
Catch Angela Lee as she returns to the cage in ONE: Spirit of Champions on December 11 in Manila, Philippines!