Eight opponents have tried and failed to defeat Angela Lee. But none came closer to succeeding than Mei Yamaguchi, who pushed the reigning ONE atomweight champion all the way in their five-round fight in 2016.
Their title rematch headlines ONE: Unstoppable Dreams at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Friday. It is almost exactly two years to the day since the first fight and Lee is excited about the prospect of revisiting the date of her greatest challenge.
“I am really excited. We faced each other two years back (and) since our first match, I have had two really great title defenses. I feel really confident going into this match. I think it will go according to the game plan, and I cannot wait to be back.”
The rematch was originally scheduled for last November, but Lee had a car crash on the way to training a few weeks before the fight. ONE Championship found Yamaguchi a replacement opponent, whom she beat, and the champion says there are no hard feelings between them.
“(Yamaguchi) is a great person. I was in the warm-up room and I saw Mei. I went over to her and apologized, but she said, ‘don’t apologize, take as much time as you need to get better and I will see you then.’ I mean, where do you find people like that? I don’t even know!”
However, Lee won’t let the healthy respect she has for her opponent affect her feelings on Friday.
“It just comes down to business. You’ve got to do what you got to do, whether you like the person or not. You have to get the job done.”
Yamaguchi is the only fighter who has ever been the distance with Lee. Her other seven wins have all come by way of either a submission or ground and pound. We learned a lot about the champion during that first fight, as she was able to recover and recalibrate after experiencing unprecedented adversity.
Lee’s reward for that decision win was the ONE Championship strawweight belt, a $50,000 bonus, and recognition in the form of consideration for several "fight of the year" awards. It was a very good night for the 21-year-old, but she prefers the fast finishes that have been a feature of her career.
“That is my style. The way I fight just leads me to these quick finishes and these quick victories.”
Her younger brother, Christian, has nine ONE Championship wins and they have all come inside the distance. He’s fighting for a title on the same card and his sister sees a lot of similarities in their styles.
“The way we fight is very explosive, we are very dynamic and we always mix it up. I think that is how we get all these awesome victories.”
While Lee will be looking to defend her atomweight title for the second time, Christian has been handed his first shot at the featherweight belt. It’s a huge opportunity and something the older sibling says they have been working toward throughout their careers.
“The first brother-sister world champions. That is the goal. That is what we have been talking about ever since we were 16.”
The first fight between Lee and Yamaguchi surpassed all expectations in terms of entertainment. But it was also the first time that the 21-year-old had ever looked fallible and her experienced Japanese opponent seemed on the brink of a stoppage win on several occasions.
The fans will be hoping for more of the back and forth action from the first fight. For her part, Lee would like to show how much she has improved in the last two years by winning in slightly more emphatic fashion.
“I (want) to show how my game is evolving. I have been working to tighten everything up and sharpen my skills everywhere."