The first women's title fight in ONE Championship history turned out to be an instant classic. In a frenetic battle that featured a buffet of scrambles and wild submission attempts, 19-year-old Angela Lee took everything Mei Yamaguchi had and kept on coming to capture the inaugural ONE atomweight strap with a unanimous decision victory over the Japanese veteran in the main event of ONE Championship 42 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Friday night.
Lee (6-0) is one of ONE‘s brightest prospects, but Yamaguchi (15-9) has been in the fight game for over a decade and she was up for the test, taking the early advantage by driving Lee to the ground with a quick single leg. But Lee is a player on the ground, and she wasted little time sweeping into the mount position, then snatching a guillotine that tied up Yamaguchi for much of the opening round. Lee went back to work in the second, hunting for a pair of armbars before finding trouble from a Yamaguchi guillotine as the bell sounded.
Then the already frantic pace slipped into overdrive, as Lee and Yamaguchi traded endless submission attempts in one of the best rounds of 2016.
Yamaguchi kicked things off by flooring Lee in the opening seconds with a heavy overhand right, but Lee kept her composure and worked towards an armbar, then a rear-naked choke. Yamaguchi escaped both submissions and fought back with her own armbar attempt, then rolled for a kneebar, but Lee defended and caught Yamaguchi in a front headlock in the ensuing scramble. Lee smashed a few knees onto the head of Yamaguchi then rolled for a d'arce choke, but once again Yamaguchi toughed it out to survive the round.
From there Lee took control, catching Yamaguchi in a slew of submission attempts as the 33-year-old faded over the final 10 minutes. All three judges ultimately scored the contest for Lee, giving the young Canadian the distinction of becoming the first female champion under the ONE banner.
"I told you guys, I was born for this," an emotional Lee said afterward. "This moment right here, I worked really hard for it. I couldn't do this by myself. It takes a whole army to build a champion, and I'm really lucky to be surrounded by such amazing people."
In the night's co-main event, decorated jiu-jitsu artist Roger Gracie (8-2) made short work of the previously unbeaten Michal Pasternak (11-1), choking the Pole unconscious with a first-round arm triangle to seize the inaugural ONE light heavyweight championship.
It was an easy night for Gracie, as the former UFC and Strikeforce fighter tripped Pasternak to the mat, stepped right into mount, then snatched the fight-ending submission once Pasternak gave up his back. Referee Yuji Shimada pried Gracie off at 2:13 of the opening round, and the Brazilian promptly called his shot to become ONE's first two-division champion.
"I want the 93kg belt," Gracie said. "That's my weight division. I accepted to fight at the 102kg division, the light heavyweight champion, now I want the middleweight. I want two belts. ONE FC, give it to me."
The Lee family had more to celebrate on Friday, as Angela Lee's younger brother, 17-year-old Christian Lee (4-0), stayed perfect and scored his fourth consecutive first-round finish under the ONE umbrella. Lee caught featherweight veteran Cary Bullos (7-4) early in a front headlock, then softened Bullos up with knees to the head and body against the cage, and snapped him down to lock up a textbook d'arce choke. The end came just 2:07 into the opening round.
"Me and my family, we've been doing this our whole lives," Lee said. "It's great that the world can finally see what we've been doing."
Elsewhere on the card, Narantungalag Jadambaa (11-4) scored a decisive victory over Kotetsu Boku (24-11-2) in a battle between former ONE titleholders.
Following a closely contested first round, the 40-year-old Jadambaa seized momentum early in the second, stunning Boku with a nasty spinning wheel kick then ragdolling the Japanese featherweight to the canvas. Jadambaa continued to find success with his takedowns until a Boku mistake opened the door for a rarely seen Von Flue choke, which Jadambaa used to coax Boku to sleep from side control at 1:27 of the third round and push his record to 3-1 inside the ONE cage.
In early action, Japanese light heavyweight Tatsuya Mizuno (15-11-1) used of a salvo of knees to pick up a second-round TKO over Mohamed Ali (10-10), Amir Khan (5-2) earned a first-round TKO over John Zhang (4-4), Benedict Ang (3-0) secured a third-round verbal tapout from Jimmy Yabo (5-3) due to strikes from the crucifix position, Saygid Arslanaliev (3-0) finished Ma Jia Wen (2-2) via first-round head kick, and Agilan Thani (4-0) scored a brutal soccer kick knockout over Brad Robinson (3-2) late in the opening round.