Angela Lee’s third defense of her title was anything but routine.
It had been almost a full year since Lee last competed prior to her rematch with Mei Yamaguchi at ONE Championship: Unstoppable Dreams on May 18. Lee won the inaugural ONE 115-pound (classified as “atomweight” by the organization) title in an exciting five-round bout with Yamaguchi in May 2016 and successfully fended off two challengers en route to a second fight with her Japanese rival.
Lee-Yamaguchi II was originally scheduled for Nov. 24, but two weeks prior to that meeting Lee was involved in a serious car accident that left her vehicle mangled, the fighter was able to escape the incident in relatively good health. She recalls being exhausted and dozing off at the wheel for a split second on a narrow road. Her car hit the guard rail and proceeded to roll several times.
The accident left a lasting impression on the 21-year-old Lee who knows she was lucky to avoid a serious injury. Speaking recently on The MMA Hour, she said she emerged from the crash with an understanding that she needed to find a way to better balance her time.
“Surprisingly, very, very minor injuries,” Lee said when asked about her condition following the accident. “A bunch of bruises, minor burns, and a slight concussion. I was more just really shaken up by the whole thing. Pretty unstable. It was kind of traumatizing, so it was really good to take the time off from everything, just pause everything that I was doing regarding fighting and training and get back to my family.
“It’s actually been a few years since I spent solid time at home back in Hawaii with them, so it was definitely good, kind of like a restart button.”
Lee has only been competing professionally in MMA for three years, but ONE has marketed the 9-0 fighter as one of its biggest stars and that means in addition to training she has plenty of media obligations as well. Though the accident took a light toll on her body, it’s the mental aspect that was all out of order.
“I think it was just a lot of things happening at one time. I was overwhelmed by a lot,” Lee said. “Physically, I could have fought, I could have gotten back to training if I wanted to in a couple of weeks. Even when I attended the ONE Championship event in November and I had to go there and do a meet-and-greet and say hi to some people, it was just way too much for me.
“I was trying to act like I was okay, but I was like, ‘Woo, not dealing with that well,’ but after the holidays I think, January, I was good, I was back to normal.”
Lee looked like she hadn’t missed a beat in her comeback fight, winning another unanimous decision after another 25 minutes of going toe-to-toe and hold-for-hold with Yamaguchi. Preparing for Yamaguchi took two months, which Lee says is the longest training camp of her career so far.
The results speak for themselves.
“I came out and I wasn’t as hesitant as I thought I would be,” Lee said. “I think it’s due to the fact that I had a really good training camp and got a lot of sparring in and we kind of went over the game plan a lot and I knew exactly what I wanted to do. It was more towards the later rounds that I got burned out a little bit, so it was the opposite of the first fight. But I stuck to the game plan and everything worked out.”
Lee wasn’t the only member of her family striving for gold at Unstoppable Dreams. Her brother Christian was booked for the co-main event against ONE featherweight titleholder Martin Nguyen. Christian would not join his sister in the championship ranks, falling to Nguyen by split decision, but the moment was a special one for the fighting siblings nevertheless.
“Fighting on the same card as Christian was a dream come true,” Lee said. “It was something we always talked about, just that alone, us being the main event and the co-main event, it was a really big honor and I’m so glad it happened.
“Even though Christian didn’t come away with the belt and the victory, I think definitely everything happens for a reason and he’s going to come back stronger from this. That’s what adversities do to us. We overcome it and we come back stronger.”